Ask Jess Hughes when her passion for Pilates began, and she’ll laugh and say that she is still waiting for it to kick in.
That’s not what it’s all about for Hughes.
The owner of Citizen Pilates isn’t proselytizing about fitness or trying to convert anyone to a particular format. Instead, she’s bent on creating a place where everyone feels like they can join.
“You’d be hard pressed to come into my studio and not have someone call you by your name,” Hughes said. “It’s just not going to happen. I want everyone to feel welcomed. I don’t want anyone to feel intimidated.”
That means that instructors do not have to “pass a crop-top test,” Hughes added. Everyone has a different body type, she said, and a perfect coach can sometimes deter others from achieving their goals.
“I want everyone to have a positive body image,” she said. “Our beginner classes are super friendly to whatever human walks through our front door. Maybe you’re in the best shape of your life. Maybe you’ve just been diagnosed with diabetes. We don’t want anyone to feel rejected.”
“Come as you are” is the philosophy at Citizen Pilates.
Take the BYOB class, for example. “B” stands for “baby” instead of beverage in this case.
When Hughes noticed that more and more of her clientele were pregnant about 18 months ago, she decided that she would need to offer a baby-friendly Pilates class in the near future. Now moms meet a couple days each week at the studio with babies in tow.
Hughes gets creative with solutions to make Pilates appealing to all.
“Our whole goal is for you to find the strongest version of yourself,” she said. “The physical part of that is secondary. We want you to be able to lean in, walk tall and feel better about yourself.”
Not being exclusive makes more people engage in exercise, Hughes said. Her desire to open her doors to everyone is part of the reason she decided to start her own business.
Hughes has a heart for entrepreneurship. She also likes economics. “That’s where I flourish,” she said. “I like all the aspects of running a business.”
A Houston native, she earned her bachelor’s degree in liberal arts at the University of Texas at Austin, before returning to her hometown to start her career in oil and gas.
Starting a fitness studio was a leap of faith, she said. “I took a big breath and said, ‘I can do this.’ It’s either going to work or it’s not.”
Citizen Pilates just celebrated its four-year anniversary. Classes filled so quickly at the first location, 3217 Houston Ave., that she opened her second, 940 Heights Blvd., six months later.
Two more spots will be under construction soon. The ink is just drying on the contracts, she said. “It’s going to be a big Pilates empire.”
Hughes became a certified Pilates instructor in college. The exercise technique complemented her competitive cycling.
Pilates, named for founder Joseph Pilates, includes stretching, body alignment and strengthening, as well as developing core muscles and the ability to balance. The device used for the exercise style is called the “Reformer.”
Because it is low impact, Pilates can work for any age or body type.
“What I love about it is that everybody can do it,” she said. “It’s not a fad. Anyone can come. You can be 20, or you can be 80. You can be injured, you can be healthy, or you can be overweight.”
Helping clients reduce anxiety is one of her main goals, Hughes added.
“Pilates can be your happy place,” she said. “You just get a moment to take care of yourself. It’s more than just a workout. It’s a place where you can get away and forget your next task for a minute.”
That’s how Stacy Treviño feels about Citizen. “It’s my favorite place to go,” she said.
She went five days a week, even through her pregnancy, up until four days before giving birth. She couldn’t wait to get back to the studio — and planned to bring her son Henry to the BYOB class the following week.
Treviño started attending fitness classes when she moved to Houston. “I tried a whole lot of work-out places first, and they were just OK,” she said.
Then, she discovered Citizen. “I ended up loving it so much that I stuck with it,” she said. “I’ve been going for three years.”
The inclusivity of the place is what keeps her going back.
“It’s different people from different walks of life,” Treviño said. “It’s people who are physically fit, people who just had a baby, people who’ve never worked out a day in their lives. That’s what I love about it.”
Having all types of people in the studio makes it easy to have a conversation and make a friend, she said.
“Exercise is important and that’s why we’re all there. We all want to be fit and feel healthy. But it’s also real. Jess will say, ‘Let’s work out so then we can all go out for tacos and margaritas.’”
Article written by Lindsay Peyton. Peyton is ReNew Houston's Transformation columnist.