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Is Pilates for men, too?

Walk into any Pilates class and typically the room is dominated by women. But, is Pilates just for women? Or do men get a good workout and reap the benefits, too?

James Perry performing Pilates Single Leg Stretch.
Photo courtesy of Jeff Andros. Shot on location at Platinum Fitness SE, Tucson, AZ.

Pilates was actually created by a man, Joseph Pilates, in the early 1900s. Pilates suffered from asthma and rickets as a child and his method sprang from his determination to strengthen his sickly body. Pilates managed to revive and strengthen his body through his method and reawaken his mind through conscious thought used to master muscle control. He named his method Contrology, which was later renamed after its creator. Joseph Pilates went on to live a vibrant, healthy life, sharing his method with injured soldiers, ballerinas, and eventually the general population. Pilates died at the age of 87 in a fire in his studio. He escaped the flames of the blaze and his strength allowed him to hang for over an hour from the rafters of the building, but his death was due to smoke inhalation. To look at Joseph Pilates in photos, even from his later years, it is easy to see that he was a very physically fit, muscular man. He is a testament to his method.

The Pilates method does not discriminate. Building core strength will benefit anyone, male or female. Building a strong core will allow one to move more freely, feel, and look better. James Perry (36, pictured above), a Pilates student at Platinum Fitness in Tucson, Arizona says, “I found Pilates to be helping me with my core more than anything else I had tried and I started to see results, such as stomach muscles…it’s a great core workout if you’re serious about wanting to see your abs and I would highly recommend starting with Pilates and running with it.” However, strengthening the core goes beyond just having great looking abs. The core muscles include more than the muscles you see in the mirror. The key core muscle is the transverse abdominus, which supports and protects the organs, the outer abdominals, the pelvis and the lower back. In performing Pilates, this muscle is engaged while pulling in your abdomen and keeping your spine still. Besides the importance internally, this action will also give you the appearance of that flat tummy that you’ve always wanted. And who doesn’t want a flat tummy…male or female?

The benefit of using the breath to facilitate movements in a Pilates workout also cannot be minimized for either gender. Breathing deeply draws fresh, oxygenated air into the lungs and expends any stale gas and toxins from deep within the lungs. In Return to Life Through Contrology, Joseph Pilates states that ”lazy breathing turned lungs into cemeteries of dying and dead germs, as well as the ideal haven for their massive multiplication.” Deep breathing including the lungs and diaphragm and engaging the muscles brings great benefits to the body including these benefits listed by VC Reporter:

• Oxygenating the blood and nourishing the body on a cellular level.
• Removing toxins from the body.
• Improving circulation.
• Improving skin tone.
• Calming the mind and the body.
• Boosting concentration.
• Providing a rhythm for movement.
• Assisting in activating target muscles.

Aside from the health benefits of learning to breathe deeply, Pilates student, Perry, states that, “I have always had problems with my breathing in workouts. When I first started Pilates, it was no different, but now doing classes for a few months, my breathing comes much more naturally and I don’t have to think about it. I believe the instructor has a big part in helping you to learn to control your breathing.” Harnessing our own breath for the good of the body must be a good thing.

Pilates will create flexibility. This is an area where men can be especially challenged. Men have muscle. They’re able to build larger muscles than women naturally. Muscle can impede flexibility. How many body builders do you see that can actually move freely, or even touch their toes? Well, they may be able to get there if they did Pilates. Stretching and lengthening the muscles is a key element in Pilates. After a period of strengthening exercises in class, there is a period of stretching. Stretching is beneficial to the body in relieving the buildup of lactic acid after physical activity and creating more freely moving muscles. Muscles that move more freely are less susceptible to injury and also capable of providing benefits in athletic performance other activities. Perry says, “The flexibility does help my workouts when it comes to Crossfit”. Tom Arneson, a Pilates student at Platinum Fitness in Tucson, Arizona, began Pilates after retirement as “something to do with my time”. Arneson says the biggest benefit he gets from Pilates is flexibility. “I’m 61-years-old. Before I started doing Pilates, I could not bend over and touch my toes since I was a teenager, and now I can. I’m thrilled about that…I’m looser and more relaxed than I was before.” Another bonus for Tom, his blood pressure has gone down, and that makes him, and his doctor, happy.

There seems to be a misconception among some men that Pilates is too easy and not a good workout. That is, until they come to a class. When asked if a low-impact workout like Pilates is a good workout, Arneson answered, “Definitely.” Perry states, “Trust me. I have done many Pilates classes where I get winded and sweaty. It’s low-impact, but like anything else, the effort you put in makes the workout. I sometimes add heavy weights to some of the moves and try to keep up. I walk away knowing I got a great workout with little gym effort.”

As for the fact that Arneson and Perry are usually part of a handful of men in a class full of women, they both stated that it was more than intimidating at the beginning. They have both overcome the feeling over time and now feel comfortable in the class. Tom states that, “I try to only look at the instructor.” He also states that, “I’ve also made friends in class and enjoy their conversation…Now (the fact that I’m only one of a few men in the class) doesn’t bother me at all.” Perry has now come to embrace the female presence, stating, “it’s nice to be in a class full of women!”

Bottom line, Pilates can benefit everyone, male or female. The benefits span across both sexes, and Pilates pushes its followers into places they may not have gone before with their workouts. Pilates can enhance anyone’s life. According to Arneson, “I can only see pluses and no minuses to the workout. I highly recommend it.”

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