Pilates was created by a man for men but, until recently, it was considered a rather female exercise.
Let me immediately state that this is definitely not the case. In fact, I challenge any man to take a Pilates Reformer Class with a good, experienced teacher and then say it's only for women.
“I can honestly say that I would much rather go to pilates than attend the gym to increase my strength, flexibility and posture. It doesn't matter whether you are at the height of fitness or you haven't exercised in 20 years, pilates does not discriminate and the sessions can be tailored to your personal specifications." -Tom C
The creator, Joseph Pilates, was an alpha male; a cigar-smoking, whisky-drinking boxer, wrestler, body builder and diver, obsessed with human anatomy, strength and form. Having extensively studied yoga and martial arts, he wanted to create an exercise which promoted ultimate body control, strength, flexibility and endurance. Originally named"Contrology", its ultimate aim was to to improve the complete coordination of body, mind and spirit.
Pilates initially devised the Reformer (a tortuous looking bed contraption with moving carriage, pulley, straps and spring resistance) to rehabilitate injured bed-bound soldiers interned during the First World War. Rumour has it, that despite the massive 1918 influenza epidemic, none of the soldiers under Joseph's care died. His body transforming skills were subsequently coveted by the Nazis who wanted him to train the army. So let's all breathe a sigh of relief (but more on breathing later) that he fled to America, where he continued to develop his body changing techniques.
Benefits for Men
“I must be right. Never an aspirin. Never injured a day in my life. The whole country, the whole world, should be doing my exercises..." - Joseph Pilates
My new male clients often shuffle into my studio somewhat sceptically (and even a little embarrassed) usually following a referral from a surgeon or GP due to an injury. They depart shaken by its rigour and discipline, yet impressed that it is so beneficial and effective. Most continue to do pilates long after they are rehabilitated and are fighting fit because of it. Once the fundamentals are grasped, it becomes an integral part of their exercise routine and often replaces the gym.
Pilates is not just about learning to exercise properly; it stretches well beyond that. When practiced correctly, it can transform the way you breathe, sit, move, and use your muscles in your every day life.
There are myriad benefits for men, including:
- Transforming core strength
- Learning to breathe effectively
- Increasing flexibility
- Improving posture and form
- Preventing and rehabilitating injuries
- Complementing and enhancing other exercises, sports and activities
During gym work, people (typically men) generally focus more on exercising the larger superficial muscles e.g. biceps, triceps, hamstrings, quads etc. Even when crunching and doing sit-ups in the gym, emphasis is placed on the rectus abdominis (six pack) and obliques (side muscles). Rarely does it go deeper than that. Pilates teaches deep core strength and how to activate the very important muscle, transverse abdominis (the deepest stomach muscle that is like a girdle around the waist).
“At pilates not only did I get a wake up call on my core muscle weaknesses (having worked out the big muscles all my life) but it was also very challenging. The time flew, a one hour session felt like 20 minutes, so did the next days session and the day after that (couldn't get enough!)."- Jamil M
This deep core strength is essential, not just for aesthetics (although I don't know many guys who'd say"no" to a flat, compressed and ripped stomach) but primarily to protect your back and to provide pelvic stability. Which each correct breath you take - deeply in through the nose into the back of the rib cage, and out through pursed lips - your deepest stomach muscles are fired up. So as your core strength builds, you'll be able to lift heavier weights with less risk of back injury. So it's a double whammy, as you learn how to breathe, you work your stomach and protect your spine.
Breathing and why it's important
“Above all, learn how to breathe correctly..." - Joseph Pilates
As we all know, oxygen is essential for your body and also helps burn calories. A deep breath can rid the body of carbon dioxide thereby stimulating and cleansing your internal organs. However deep breathing doesn't only reap chemical and medical benefits but it enhances fluidity of movement and encourages your shoulders to relax and lower, reducing stress in your upper trapezius. In turn, this improves posture and form. In essence a good breath decompresses and lengthens the spine, engages the stomach, calms the mind and creates fluidity of movement.
“True flexibility can be achieved only when all muscles are uniformly developed." - Joseph Pilates
In most workouts, limited emphasis is placed on flexibility, and as muscle mass increases, flexibility is affected. Many male clients start out with tight hamstrings and little movement in the spine. When the larger, more visible muscles are overworked, this can cause muscle imbalances and neglect of the important deep stabilising muscles, in turn leading to injury, stiffness, and overall discomfort. Pilates radically improves your flexibility in a controlled and measurable way while simultaneously building strength. In short, increased flexibility minimises the chance of injury and leads to an increased range of movement and a feeling of greater agility and power.
“If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old. If it is completely flexible at 60, you are young." - Joseph Pilates
So you are only as old as your spine. Walking, standing and sitting tall doesn't just make you feel and look good, but also helps to protect your organs and joints. Slumped over a desk all day can really adversely affect the way you hold your back and spine. Pilates teaches you to engage the correct muscles effectively around the core, back and shoulders thereby improving posture.
Injury rehab and prevention
“Contrology develops the body uniformly, corrects wrong postures, restores physical vitality, invigorates the mind, and elevates the spirit." - Joseph Pilates
Pilates is an excellent and safe way to rehabilitate injuries and due to its low impact nature, it strengthens muscles in a controlled manner. It teaches you to exercise with a neutral spine i.e. the spinal position between arching your back and tucking your pelvis under. It is also highly functional and you will carry those techniques into other aspects of your life well beyond the Pilates studio. Understanding why and how to achieve a neutral spine is essential: a neutral spine is the most shock absorbent and safe way to exercise.
Excellent complement to other exercises and famous athletes who do Pilates
Many male elite athletes like Tiger Woods, Gareth Bale, the All Blacks, and Andy Murray practice pilates to complement their chosen sports. However, rest assured, even for us mere mortals, it can act as an excellent foundation for other fitness endeavours. Whether it's running, weight training, swimming, cycling, rowing and everything in between, we all can benefit from improved form, stronger core and better posture.
So to all you men out there (fit or unfit, game or sceptical), I suggest you jump on to your nearest reformer or mat, enjoy the low men-to-women ratio, and start resculpting your body, the pilates way.