So there are a fair few misconceptions out there about Pilates but I think this is probably one of the more common ones. Some men are put off trying Pilates, seemingly believing it’s ‘just for women’ or is ‘too easy’ to be real exercise. Now Pilates definitely is for women but it can be of equal value to men too. On top of that an exercise system that calls for flexibility, strength and concentration and is used by elite athletes worldwide seems unlikely to fall into the ‘easy’ category.
I think it is fair to say that Pilates was originally developed by a man for men. The beginnings of Pilates saw Joseph Pilates trying out a new exercise system to help with the rehab of injured soldiers in an internment camp during the First World War. After this he moved to New York opening his first studio where Pilates as it is now understood began to evolve. His first clientele along with professional dancers were male boxers and wrestlers showing just how suited it has been for men for the start.
This is partly because of the emphasis on controlled flexibility. This is not about pushing joints as far as they can go but is instead about encouraging a full range of motion at joints without the restriction of tight muscles. Men are physiologically more predisposed to muscle tightness than women, particularly around the pelvic area which can translate into tight lower backs, calves and in particular hamstrings. This is a really common theme amongst the men I see in my practice and is something which regular Pilates can address over time.
Along with flexibility the other key way in which Pilates can help men is in getting the smaller stabiliser muscles to wake up and do their bit. Many men suffer from low back pain in general and sciatica and disc problems in particular. In these cases getting the deeper abdominal muscles or core to work and stabilise the spine is absolutely crucial. This understanding that there are layers of muscles and that we need to work them all is really fundamental to Pilates. As such whilst Pilates will address the more superficial muscles (such as the rectus abdominus which gives the traditional six-pack appearance) it also goes a lot deeper.
This is often very apparent in the upper body – men who have spent a lot of time in the gym tend to have very overdeveloped global muscles, which is great until you ask them to lift their arms overhead! This is a classic example of too much gym work resulting in people becoming muscle bound and as a result having a limited range of movement. Traditional gym work with weights can be great but I would advise it in conjunction with a Pilates program to help create a strong, integrated and flexible body. Professional athletes have understood the benefits that this kind of comprehensive program can bring their performance for a long while now with everyone from Tiger Woods to the English Cricket team having said Pilates is a valuable part of their routine.
Men are often concerned that they are going to be the only man in the class. Whilst in the past this has perhaps been the case in recent years I have personally noticed a real increase in the number of men doing Pilates, both on a 1:1 basis and in a group setting and we now have several men in most of our group classes. Once they experience the benefits it can bring whether that be pain relief, injury prevention or just better movement they can often be some of it’s biggest enthusiasts, adding substance to the idea that Pilates can be just be just as valuable for men as women.