by Ariel Hernandez
Most men love sports, which require strength, flexibility, stability and balance—so why aren’t more men flocking to Pilates studios? It’s been 17 years since I begin teaching Pilates and 10 years since I opened my own studio, and during that time only one thing’s been missing: men. I’ve taught Pilates to men, including a few professional athletes, however, I think many studio owners will agree that women vastly outnumber men as clients.
Until recently, Pilates was a well-kept secret among professional athletes. I recently taught two high school kids who were enthusiastic about taking Pilates because they learned that many NFL players are required to use it (using the Reformer, which I believe makes the workout safer and more effective) as part of their workout routine.
So if macho men who are paid millions to play football can do Pilates, I wonder…Why aren’t more men taking advantage of this exercise? Do they acquaint Pilates with ballet or do they consider it too “feminine?” Do they hear that it strengthens their core and increases flexibility and think, I’ve got a six pack and who wants to be flexible? Has our industry done a poor job of communicating the significant benefits of the exercises created by Joseph Pilates?
I was once a skeptic as well. When I was in my early 20s, I lived in Miami where I taught kickboxing, weight training and gymnastics. Needless to say, I thought I was in great shape. A friend of mine who was a ballet dancer was taking Pilates classes. I watched a class and thought, that’s for girls—it’s a little stretching thing. My friend convinced me to take a class and you know the rest of the story: that class kicked my butt! I fell in love with the Pilates exercises that provided strength and flexibility, along with balance, joint stability and body awareness.
I began taking classes while still nursing a nagging back injury and little by little, the injury went away. I began studying for certifications and along the way got into the best shape of my life. Pilates has changed my body physically, and has changed my life mentally and spiritually, and I want to share that with everyone…from children to adults, to men and women, to professional athletes or office desk jockeys.
So how can a regular Pilates class benefit any man? Well, to begin with, it’s one of the best ways I know to improve your physique or your game, whether it’s hockey, basketball, baseball, running, golf or cycling. Among my former clients are an Olympic skier, two tennis playing sisters of international fame, and probably the world’s best-known golfer. He knew Pilates would increase his flexibility and range of motion and help prevent injuries during a long pro tour—and the results have made sports history time and again.
Like all Pilates instructors know, this golfer realized that most pain and injuries are the result of muscle imbalance and a lack of flexibility. For example, too often men train their upper bodies, and that creates muscle imbalance and misalignment, which can lead to injury. Pilates is one of the best methods I know of for preventing balancing muscles, aligning the body and preventing injury. For that reason alone, men should be running to their nearest Pilates studio. I’ve trained NBA players because they knew that stabilizing their hip and knee joints is critical to their performance on the court, not to mention the increased range of motion they experienced.
In our studio, we can train clients for a specific sport, however, by following the Pilates principles of moving with stability to engage the appropriate muscles, enhance body awareness, strengthen the core and increase balance and agility, we engage the entire body from the head to the tips of the toes.
The men I work with say Pilates is without exception the best exercise they’ve ever done. When they first experience it, they are surprised it is so challenging, and how good they feel after the workout. For example, one of my clients, a former baseball player, was so stiff he could not put on his shoes and socks without difficulty and discomfort. After just five sessions, he was able to bend over with no discomfort and slept without pain for the first time in 10 years.
In fact, many of the men I work with come to me as a last resort before surgery, but if they were coming in during their athletic years, they might be able to prevent the injuries that lead to pain and surgery. I’m glad to see that Pilates is finally being recognized in the rehabilitation field. For so long, most doctors trying to help people recover from their injuries didn’t have much body awareness themselves.
If you are a man who is looking for a full-body workout that’s going to build more muscle fiber and strength while increasing your flexibility, mobility, joint stability and the ability to move with ease in every range of motion, I encourage you to be open-minded and give Pilates a try. Try different studios and different styles until you find the right fit.
Go into it with no expectations and you might be pleasantly surprised. When you look for a Pilates instructor, check out their background and ask questions. Make sure they hold a national certification for Pilates, and find out how long they have been teaching. Once you give Pilates a try, I believe that like most of my clients, you might just find yourself hooked on this not-for-women-only exercise philosophy.
Here are just six challenging Pilates exercises and the benefits they can provide to men, and women.
Arabesque This position provides stability and strengthens the core abdominal muscles. It also promotes flexibility of the thoracic spine and lower extremities.
Boxing using slastix Men know that boxing requires power, agility, control and balance. All of these are achieved by using the slastix attached to the Reformer tower. You learn to box with power and control.
Control front This move provides some serious core and upper-body strength.
Jumpboard with slastix One of the more aerobic exercises done on the Reformer apparatus, this plyometric exercise is a challenging, full-body workout that promotes higher vertical jumping.
Russian Split with slastix This position offers strength, stability, flexibility and balance. It provides hip, quadriceps and hamstring flexibility, while strengthening the knees, hips, lower and upper back and triceps.
Side Plank Tightens the core and midsection; shapes and sculpts the back and shoulders.