This is What 20 Years of Pilates Looks Like

For the past two decades, Denise Richards has maintained her slim, strong physique, not to mention her sanity, while raising three kids, appearing in nearly four-dozen film and television roles and dealing with her share of hardships along the way. And the former Bond Girl’s secret weapon is better than anything 007 might be stashing. It’s Pilates.

by Claire Connors • Shoot location thanks to Lynn Jacob of SPN Pilates Malibu

A lot has happened in Denise Richards’ life since her breakthrough role in the sizzling-hot 1998 crime drama Wild Things. Since then, the now 46-year-old actress has appeared in more than 75 television and film projects, including starring as Bond Girl Dr. Christmas Jones in The World is Not Enough, and in next year’s sci-fi thriller, Alpha Code. Her personal life has been just as eventful. In 2002, she married actor Charlie Sheen, with whom she has two adorable, tow-headed daughters, Sam, 13, and Lola, 11; after divorcing Sheen, she adopted a third child with special needs, Eloise, who is now six.

Star Student: “When she comes to me, she really ‘shows up’ and is very present,” says Denise’s Pilates teacher, Lisa Gordon (at left), who trained with Stephan Frease. “She’s easy to train because she’s so open and isn’t too critical of herself. She loves trying out new exercises, but knows the ones she really likes and that give her results. She is truly as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside.”

One thing that hasn’t changed is Richards’ nearly flawless body, which is as sculpted and toned as it was when she was in her 20s. Her age-defying secret? A two-decades-long devotion to Pilates. “I’ve always loved to be fit and active,” she says. “I had tried all kinds of workouts in my early 20s, but Pilates made my body feel unlike any other exercise I had ever done.”

Of course, the first time she saw the Reformer she was understandably confused. “I came from classic gym machines and weight lifting,” she explains. “I couldn’t figure out what you could do on a Reformer to make you feel like you’d worked out.” She quickly learned that Pilates was definitely a real workout. “Anyone who thinks that Pilates isn’t challenging enough hasn’t found the right teacher.”

Twenty years later, she has the hard abs, lean, toned limbs and impeccable posture that is proof-positive that Pilates has remained her practice of choice. The busy mom of three tells us how the method continues to help her stay strong—and grounded—and why it never, ever gets old.

She fell in love with it, hard.

Richards was introduced to Pilates by an older actress who had been doing it since her 20s and had an amazing body. It was love at first stretch. “I immediately noticed it affected muscles that you can’t typically work out with traditional weights,” she says. “My muscles were sore, but it wasn’t the kind of pain where I felt bruised or didn’t ever want to do it again. I felt taller, longer, lighter and stretched out, as opposed to when I used regular workout equipment, which made me feel more ‘compact.’”

L.A. Pilates teachers are like rock stars, and she was one of their first fans.

Early on, she met Pilates teacher Kim Lee and started following him to different studios around town, like a groupie stalking her favorite band. “Wherever he was, I’d find him,” Richards says, laughing. “Pilates was relatively new and there weren’t any real studios yet. People were still like, ‘What’s Pilates?’” But as it caught on, more studios opened, and over the years, Richards trained with many different instructors, including the iconic teacher Mari Winsor.

Flooring It: Denise does matwork at every session with her trainer Lisa Gordon (who was her first Pilates teacher in Malibu), and whenever she’s on location. “If Denise is traveling, she can mimic the apparatus exercises with a chair or towel on the floor, and spend 15 or 20 minutes working out in her hotel room,” adds Gordon.
“My favorite mat exercises are a leg routine I do with Lisa every training session,” says Denise. “I do leg lifts and circles in different positions. [Doing so] works different muscles in the tush and legs.”

Her Pilates teacher keeps her mind and body in alignment.

Richards has been working with her current trainer, Lisa Gordon, for 10 years. “She has a very nurturing, healing energy,” she explains. “For example, if I’m exhausted because I was up all night with my daughter when she was sick, we’ll do stuff that gives me energy. Or sometimes we just do an hour of stretching.” Generally speaking, though, a session consists of a bit of everything: matwork for the legs and tush, the Reformer and the Chair for the upper body and abs, and lots of stretching. “Or if I’m going on vacation and want to look good in a bikini, we’ll work on those areas (i.e., butt, legs and core),” says Richards. “Lisa always figures out what my body really needs.”

She has occasionally hit “pause” on her routine…but now realizes it’s counterproductive.

It’s normal to get busy with life or become unmotivated to follow your exercise routine, even for someone as dedicated as Richards. “As my kids were getting older, I was driving everyone around, trying to coordinate their schedules, my work schedule, and then to fit in a Pilates class? It wasn’t going to happen,” she confesses. “I’m lucky because I’m naturally thin, but that doesn’t keep things super-firm. I get a little soft when I stop.” What gets her back on track is remembering the results of a good session. “I just feel better, physically and mentally,” she says. “Whatever challenges were holding me back from sticking to my regimen, like kids and work, they’re easier to handle when I do Pilates. I love taking that hour to not answer the phone, breathe and take care of myself.”

(Mountain) Climbing High: “I like the Chair because it’s great for balance and strengthening the quads and buttocks,” says Gordon, who works with Denise at least three times a week. “Everything has to be lined up perfectly, of course.”

Pilates is the best post-baby body fixer-upper.

After giving birth to her two daughters only 14 months apart, Richards was forced to take a break from Pilates, just when she needed it most. “I had two C-sections, so I couldn’t work out,” she says. “I wasn’t crazy about that!” Once she got the okay from her doctor, she was back in the flow. “Pilates was the only thing that actually got my core back to pre-baby shape,” she explains. “I loved that my body responded so well to it, keeping it elongated and well-stretched.”

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