When people think of fitness regimes that don’t require a gym with sophisticated workout machines and that don’t concentrate on high-impact workouts, they often associate these with soft exercises targeted at females.
This is also true for Pilates. When you look at Pilates classes, you will find that the majority of group members are female. So males often ask themselves: Pilates and men, does this combination work? And the clear answer is: YES. In fact, they are made for each other, and I’m going to explain why.
Pilates: Developed by a man for men
Few people are aware that the originator of Pilates was actually a man: Joseph Pilates (1880-1967), a man who liked his cigars and beer and indulged in sports such as boxing, wrestling and skiing. So why did he invent Pilates?
He had good reasons for carefully developing a fitness regime that was to work wonders. Having experienced some tough times as a frail and sickly child suffering from various health issues, he was determined to overcome this fragility.
Instead of following an established fitness program, he experimented with a variety of methods and tried them out on himself until he worked out a system with the perfect balance of strength and flexibility that provided the foundation for a long healthy life.
During the First World War, when interned in the UK, he also helped out in the camp infirmary. Many of his fellow internees there were war veterans with serious wounds and spine injuries. So he decided to develop a rehabilitation program specifically targeted at these war veterans, with astonishing success: most of the injured soldiers were able to lead a normal, more or less, pain-free life after following the rehabilitation program.
Later, after emigrating to the United States, he opened his first studio where he taught male boxers and wrestlers, along with professional dancers.
So this shows clearly that, initially, Pilates was an exercise regime specifically targeted at men, which, later on, evolved into a general fitness regime for men and women alike, regardless of age and profession.
Elite athletes’ fitness regime of choice
It is no secret that many professional athletes have taken to Pilates to gain a competitive edge over their rivals. And there is a good reason for this. No other fitness regime provides such a balanced workout that not only targets the entire body, but also the mind.
One of the outspoken advocates for Pilates, the British tennis superstar Andy Murray, turned to Pilates after undergoing back surgery. The exercise program helped help him rebuild his core and recover in a balanced and sustainable way.
The result was tremendous: Despite of his previous back issues, Murray managed to scoop up a gold medal in the 2016 Olympics. Aware of the great benefits Pilates offers, Murray has even been known to travel with his Pilates instructor abroad making sure his body is in top condition.
There are a number of other Olympic medal winners and elite athletes who rely on Pilates as a fitness regime. One of them is the American diver David Boudia, another one Tiger Woods, one of the most successful golfer of all time. You could put together a long list with further well-known names of athletes who all embrace Pilates as a core part of their fitness program.
So it is obvious that Pilates delivers great results, even to the most capable athletes, and offers something other fitness regimes can’t. It improves endurance, coordination and balance and – most of all – strengthens the core in a safe and controlled way so it’s also perfect as a rehabilitation program after spine injuries, regardless hether whether you are male or female.
From soft option to challenging workout
One of the main reasons why many men hesitate to try Pilates and think it’s more targeted at women is that the exercises tend to look easy. So that’s why many people conclude that Pilates must be a soft exercise regime that does not challenge you too much. However, they couldn’t be more wrong.
There are thousands of Pilates exercises to choose from and each exercise has various difficulty levels to make them suitable for beginners and advanced practitioners alike. So even those with a high level of fitness and generally good strength can be challenged enormously in a workout.
I have heard people say that they already go to the gym for boosting their strength and go running regularly to improve their stamina. That’s all very good exercise but very different from how Pilates works and helps you.
Unlike other exercise systems, Pilates focuses on the whole body and also includes the mind, as body and mind are closely connected, ideally building a harmonious unit. Let’s look at that in combination with three of the major principles of Pilates: flexibility, strength and stamina.
Flexibility is something you wouldn’t usually achieve in a gym but which is essential for muscle balance. If the movement of your joints is restricted, not all the muscles in a particular muscle group can be addressed so it’s not possible to work the muscles inside out.
Also, the type of strength you gain from doing Pilates is very different. For example, when you work out with weights, you increase your muscle mass and the result is ‘bulky’ muscles, but often not evenly balanced as only certain muscle groups are worked. In Pilates, however, all muscle groups are addressed in the various exercises leading to toned ‘lean’ well-balanced muscles that are strong and flexible.
Finally, you gain a lot of stamina in the form of endurance or ‘staying power’. And this endurance is built into the key or core muscles by progressively challenging your stability. As your muscles get more powerful, you will discover that your overall stamina will improve considerably as you will no longer be wasting energy moving inefficiently holding on to unnecessary tension.
Back pain – a common phenomenon in men
It is a fact that many men suffer from back pain in general and particularly from sciatica and disc problems. There are various reasons for that – working in an office job that requires long hours of sitting in front of the desk, or working in a highly challenging physical job which involves heavy lifting every day, or focusing on an unsuitable type of exercise.
Also, despite of having more muscle mass than women, men tend to be weak in the smaller muscle groups, such as the deep abdominals, inner thigh or groin, and the hip stabilizers. And this is where Pilates can help.
One of the major targets of Pilates is building strength by developing the muscles, both the small and the large muscle groups, but particularly those that stabilize the joints and strengthen the core. This, again, will improve the function of the pelvis, hip, shoulder, elbow, ankle, wrist, knee, foot and of all other joints making it easier to build strong pecs, biceps and legs in a safe way.
So it is crucial to work the various muscle groups and, in particular, the ones that stabilize the spine. When all muscle groups are strong and balanced – so the superficial ones as well as the inner ones – they will be able to support the spine in a maximum way thus avoiding injuries during heavy lifting and back pain.
Last but not least, the whole Pilates exercise regime underlies the principle of body control, which is a critical factor that can help men enormously. Men tend to have less body awareness than women, and, as a result, body and mind might not be perfectly in tune with each other.
With Pilates’ focus on control and breath, you will develop better balance, coordination and neuromuscular control. You learn how to precisely control movements, including how to stabilize and how to initiate from the core, and you become more aware of your body’s warning signs reducing the risk of injury and back issues.
New body, new mind
Pilates has so many benefits for everyone that it is surprising not everyone is practicing it yet. However, once you start and try it out for yourself, you won’t want to stop again. It is such an efficient and targeted exercise program, that you will notice a change quite quickly.
Pilates can also be a real game changer, not only making you look more toned, but also improving your flexibility, coordination, stamina and overall body control. It will help you look and feel better with your back pain gone and your mind relaxed and in tune with your body.
You will know exactly what Joseph Pilates meant when saying: