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IN THE STUDIO WITH ELAINE HAYES

IN THE STUDIO WITH ELAINE HAYES

Elaine Hayes Masters a Triad of Tailored Favorites at Mint Studios

If you check out the Pilates, yoga and barre classes at Elaine Hayes’ Mint Studios, you’ll be able to practice the popular workouts. But, at the San Francisco hotspot, each familiar, favorite option has also been given new oomf: The California-born Hayes (who also lived in Brazil and England) created her own technique for each area—and trained each of her teachers herself. Overachiever much? Absolutely—and the result couldn’t be better, as Mint offers some of the best sweat sessions in town.

When it came to choosing which classes she would tailor, she turned first to Pilates. Like many other teenage dancers, Pilates helped Hayes enjoy ballet with less aches and pains, plus it catalyzed a huge improvement in her technique. So when she went to UC Berkley later on, she continued practicing mat Pilates and eventually discovered the Reformer, as well. When law school turned out to be less thrilling than she had hoped, she got certified and began to teach immediately. Within a year, she was seeing 60 clients a week in her San Francisco apartment studio, turning customers away. A year later, she opened Mint Studios. Read on to learn how she then crafted her unique take on the effective triad of choices.

SBS: How did you choose the three modalities of barre, Pilates and yoga to offer at Mint?

EH: First and foremost I’m a Pilates instructor, and that was my first certification. To me, that’s the key in being able to do all the other things you love to do. It keeps you supple, strong and balanced, it aligns the spine, creates better posture, helps the lymphatic system and teaches you how to breathe correctly. It’s like your daily multivitamin.

Then, the year I got married, I started barre classes because they were effective, accessible and immediately noticeable (whereas Pilates takes more time to take effect). So, I got certified to teach barre and felt strongly about that, too.

Then about two years ago I got into yoga personally, and I found it helpful with managing stress. Since there’s a good measure of intensity as a business owner, yoga helped me find that balance and calm down. I wanted to share that with my clients, so I got another certification. Before that, I had hired yoga instructors and we had yoga classes at Mint, but to lead the team I needed to connect in a deeper way. Since then our yoga, which is athletic, has thrived.

SBS: You’ve created your own training system for each fitness area. Why did you go that route? How does it affect your instructors and overall team?

EH: I train every single person I hire for Pilates and barre, whether they’ve been teaching or are brand new. That way, they learn the ins and outs of our style, and we all offer excellent, specific instruction.

Before the trainings, I’m looking for detail-oriented, good communicators who can command a room. I also want people who practice what they preach. It’s hard to teach Pilates if you’re not practicing it on your own body. Being a compassionate person with empathy for your clients is key, as is having good intuition about what people need.

I appreciate those who are willing to learn and take constructive criticism too. In fitness especially, it’s so important to have open communication in terms of feedback. We have frequent reviews. We share feedback with our clients and it’s an essential part of our growth. I always want to grow and get better. When clients look for teachers, this applies, too. Do they ask you questions? Can they communicate their inspiration and approach to teaching to you?

SBS: What mistakes do clients make in fitness classes?

EH: Often it’s surrounding injuries. If you have an acute injury you shouldn’t be going to a group class. But say you have been cleared by a doctor, attended PT and are now ready for a class: If it’s your first time, introduce yourself and make sure you share what your injury was specifically (which vertebrae, for example), explain the timeline and any limitations. Then listen to your body. If it hurts in that ‘bad’ way, speak up! It can be scary to say so in a group class, but even a keen instructor doesn’t know how you are feeling if you don’t tell her.

SBS: What’s the Mint Pilates style?

EH: We developed a style that is athletic. It’s in the middle between the classical flow that’s serious, requires a long time for results and doesn’t make you sweat versus the bootcamp style that’s more modern and vigorous. I am classically trained so that’s the base, but I also incorporated fitness techniques so the every day person could see results faster.

For example, in our sequencing, we might incorporate a prop or use a heavier spring. Take the starting footwork: In classical Pilates, you move in and out six times, then on the toes six times. With the Mint approach, we might use a ball in between the inner thighs, squeeze 10 to 12 times, come in half way, pulse down, pause there and squeeze the ball. That engages the inner thigh and the core, activates the stabilizing muscles and requires coordination. If you aren’t concentrating, you will drop the ball. Or, say you’re doing a lunge on the Reformer. Instead of just having your hands on the hips, you can use hand weights. As you go out to the lunge, lift the arms up and come in with the arms down, using a bicep curl or triceps press.

Those are ways to challenge our clients in a safe way incorporating classical Pilates and contemporary fitness techniques. If you do our Pilates twice a week, after a week, you will start seeing changes in your body!

SBS: And what about Mint Barre?

EH: Again, it’s not traditional. We took elements of barre we loved and then put athletic elements and cardio blasts in, as well. It’s upbeat, fast-paced, accessible to any fitness level and burns more calories in a dance party sort of fun workout that uses full range of motion and cardio.

SBS: What mix of fitness do you recommend?

EH: I think Pilates is the secret ingredient to doing anything else forever. It keeps you young! Then, I’m a true believer in mixing things up. I still run three to four times a week, and I’m able to do that injury-free because I do yoga, Pilates, and barre! I’m well balanced and know how to listen to my body. I encourage my clients to try different things: Go skiing or snowboarding and take TRX.

SBS: How can clients use the three Mint modalities for different goals?

EH: What’s great about exercise formats like Pilates, barre and yoga is that while you increase muscle mass, stretching and increasing coordination, that mass makes you burn more calories all day. You might not be dripping, but you are burning calories all day.

So, I’d suggest two to three Reformer classes a week, one to two barre sessions and one yoga practice. Then, enjoy a brisk walk or two outside, grab your friend or partner and go for a hike. Exercising doesn’t have to be miserable. To be sustainable, it has to be enjoyable.

Also, if you’re looking to increase strength, make sure your diet is healthy and you’re nourishing your body. We recently hired a health and wellness coach as an asset to our clients. So much of getting into shape is about the fuel you give your body. There are so many emotional reasons behind what we eat, so food has to be a lifestyle choice, not a diet.

SBS: What tips do you have for new business owners?

EH: Opening a business is really an amazing growing experience, and I don’t think there is any way to do it but to dive in. Know you will make mistakes. And you will feel out of your element for a year or two. That’s ok. It’s ok to not know what you’re doing and be panicky at first. With that said, you need to be passionate about it. I worked seven days a week for about six months, but I was able to do it because I was obsessed.

The biggest mistake I made was trying to do everything myself. I was afraid and unwilling to ask for help. I felt like I should do it on my own, and I was afraid if I asked, it wouldn’t be done the way I wanted. Over the years I’ve learned to set expectations, ask for help, communicate what I need clearly and then give feedback. That created a much better support system to take our studio to the next level. I trust my team completely now. I don’t check my e-mail on vacation: They have it handled. Now, I’m at a place where we have plans for expansion. I’m excited to be able to impact more people.

Elaine’s Faves:

Favorite Fun SF Activities: Try a day-long long walk from the Embarcadero, swing by the Ferry Building, continue on past Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf, do some window shopping in Union Square and then head to the Marina for brunch/lunch, followed by walking by the water. Or, get sushi in Japantown before a movie at the Sundance Kabuki theater.


Favorite Calming SF Place: Crissy Field for a walk with a friend or a long run. The view is stunning, and you simply can't beat the sunsets.


Favorite SF Splurge Restaurant: Marlowe on Brannan St.


Favorite SF Fitness Studio: Vibe Yoga for Alison Buchanan's Power Yoga class

Elaine’s SBS Mantra: My favorite is Be Kind because being kind to yourself and others is an integral part of leading a positive, healthy life. 

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