Pilates is not just for women

Pilates
is a form of exercise designed to strengthen your core, improve your posture
and create long, lean muscles. It is ideal for everyone from the sedentary
office worker to the elite athlete – female or male.

So
why is it that men shy away from Pilates? 
Often I hear responses such as “Pilates is for women and dancers”, “Pilates
is too much stretching and too slow”, or “Pilates isn’t hard enough to challenge
me”.

Pilates
was started by a man, Joseph Pilates; it has been a training method for elite
male and female athletes for more than 50 years; and men have figured
prominently as instructors and promoters of the Pilates method.

However,
the surge of popularity that Pilates has enjoyed in recent years has been powered
to a large extent by women participants and instructors.

This
often leaves the impression that the Pilates method is more for women, which it
is not.

It
is true that men are physically different from women in numerous ways and also
move quite differently. However, this doesn’t mean they don’t benefit from the
type of exercises practised in Pilates.

Men
are generally more muscular and less flexible than women. Most commonly, men
are extremely tight in the lower back, hamstrings and chest which lead to many
posture-related issues.

Tight
low back and hamstring muscles can alter the natural curve of the spine while
tight chest muscles coupled with under-trained upper back muscles can lead to a
forward-leaning head and rounded shoulders or a 
‘hunched’ over type of posture.

In
Pilates, the emphasis is on maintaining the most neutral or correct posture
possible while working through the exercise. Exercises can also be easily
modified to allow those areas to stretch out gradually so the exercises are
done virtually tension free.

Core
strength, flexibility, balance, uniform muscle development, and efficient
movement patterns are all aspects of Pilates training which are highly relevant
to men’s fitness.

The
Pilates approach can be especially beneficial for a man whose workouts
emphasise an isolated (one muscles at a time) approach to muscular development
such as is found in traditional weight training.

In
contrast to weight training, Pilates emphasises moving from the centre of the
body or the “core” and developing strength in the deep muscles of the centre to
stabilise the trunk and protect the back. This kind of core training makes
Pilates an excellent technique for whole-body fitness, as well as a great base
for cross training for other kinds of sports and exercise such as running,
swimming and tennis. 

Core
training that goes beyond the superficial muscles requires more subtle
attention and micro-adjustments that some men are not used to finding in an
exercise class. There is none of the ‘just power through’ attitude that men may
be used to from gyms.

This
point often becomes most apparent when working with the Pilates equipment,
which, though it is resistance equipment, is not intended to be overpowered. In
fact, sometimes the lightest setting on a piece of equipment, such as the
reformer, is the most challenging for the core muscles.

In
Pilates, controlled, well aligned movement is the key to a deeper level of
fitness.

Along
with training the muscles of the core, increasing flexibility is another goal that
Pilates addresses. It works toward functional fitness; that is, the ability to
have the strength, balance, and flexibility that allows one to move through
daily life tasks with grace and ease.

Pilates
exercises seek to increase flexibility and range of motion in a functional way
and not holding static poses, so you won’t find the same pretzel stretches in
Pilates that one might find in gymnastics or yoga.

The
benefits of increased flexibility, increased core strength and improved posture
are why Pilates is a fantastic form of exercise for everyone – including men!

Deanna
Smith is an Exercise Physiologist and Pilates Instructor at ENERGY. She can be
contacted at: [email protected] or 946-6006