with Physical Therapist Dr. Tara Gibson, PT, DPT, CFMT
Certified Classical Pilates Instructor, Director & Managing Partner of EHS Pilates
Everybody is aware of Pilates as a form of exercise these days. It’s as common as yoga. Or spinning. Or weight training. The list certainly goes on. But there is the notion that Pilates may only be for certain demographics, markedly women. This is interesting, considering that Joseph Pilates was an athletic man and designed his apparatus and exercises first of all, for himself.
Only in the last decade or two have men generally become more savvy to the remarkable benefits of practicing Pilates. Interestingly, the most masculine elite athletes in our culture have brought it to the forefront. It has become a critical part of the physical training for professional sports teams throughout the NFL, MLB, PGA, and NBA. CLICK HERE to see a VIDEO two familiar faces (to most men) challenging themselves during a Pilates exercise.
So what is it about these incredible athletes doing an exercise system mostly practiced by women? What are other men missing?
Here are 10 good reasons men are realizing Pilates is just what they need:
1) No more pain. Pilates is designed to build a stable but pliable spine. It protects the major joints of the body by building balanced muscles and healthy tissue. It is a full-body system that restores injuries and promotes optimal posture and movement. Working intensely for hours at a desk becomes easier. So does everything else.
2) Improved focus at work. Better listening at home. One of the key principles in Pilates is concentration. Through smooth and controlled movements, the mind and body form a new connection. Think of it like a moving meditation. Fullness of breath allows you to feel calm and focused while using only the muscles needed to complete the exercise. The entire body is engaged but without unnecessary tension. Energy is not wasted but actually restored. The body is relaxed but stronger. The mind is quiet but alert.
3) Be tall and lean. And more attractive… It sounds like a hoax, but it’s actually true. Research suggests that people who are tall, or perceived to be tall, are richer, more attractive, and more successful. With Pilates, the 5’8″s become “tall” 5’8″s, and sometimes actually evolve into 5’9″s. How? Daily habits, age, and gravity have us falling into pruning postures that we often don’t even realize. Pilates trains muscles that hold us upright and elongated. Place your hand under your lowest side ribs and the top of your pelvis, there should be inches of space between them! IF you stand sideways and look in a mirror, your relaxed posture should have your head and shoulders in the same line over your pelvis. Your neck should be long. When you look at yourself, your stature should feel broad but relaxed. Breathing should feel easy. You should appear quietly confident. Truly, the Pilates system trains a natural posture that can change how others see you. And certainly how you feel in yourself.
4) Improve your game. Think about this statement: We need more options to move. Say you’re a golfer. You know how important your drive is. You want more power and distance. You want relaxation and trained precision. You want freedom to twist your spine. You want your hips to rotate. You want core control. These components add up to the optimal swing. Not only does Pilates improve your hip mobility, it allows you to FEEL it move. You feel your spine learn to wind and unwind with greater freedom. You feel your body in a way that improves your game. This is also true with all performance sports: football, basketball, tennis, running. Not only does Pilates improve mobility and recoil for greater speed and power, it trains coordination for agility. It gives you options for movement you didn’t know you had.
5) Active recovery. For the do-or-die athletes out there, pay attention now. You love the burn. You love the intensity. You love the high. You are self-proclaimed masochists! But what of those times when you’ve mostly destroyed yourself forcing you to stop completely to heal the damaged goods from your efforts? Or perhaps you are so close to improving your cycling time of your triathlon, but something always breaks down in the end? You need Pilates. Instead of pushing yourself repetitively day after day to the ultimate limit, take 2 days a week to let your global muscles and cardiovascular system rest while you more gently engage your deep stabilizers around your hips, feet, shoulders, spine. Improve your breath capacity. Elongate your hip flexors, your pecs, your calves, your hamstrings. Balance your muscles groups again to optimize maximal recovery in a shorter period of time. So you can take it to the limit again! But this time with greater reserves in the bank. It’s just smarter.
6) Feel young longer. Perhaps you’re the opposite of the guy above. The truth is, you don’t exercise. You don’t like it. Or you’re more of a weekend warrior who plays with your kids on Sunday, pumps some iron at the gym to keep your guns, joins a rec team in town, or hikes the trails on occasion. You may suffer from the overall stiffness in the neck and shoulders, the hip and leg tightness, the random ache or pain. You think to yourself, “getting older sucks”. You like to tell the 25 year old unstoppable kid to “just wait….”. Consider Pilates. You will learn to move your body in a way that keeps you feeling more flexible, energized, and toned. You will sweat and you will work hard, but you don’t have to be “maxed out”. You will feel lighter, yet stronger. Taller and more confident. In a word, younger. As Joe Pilates said, “If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old. If it is completely flexible at 60, you are young.”
7) Ok the obvious one, ABS. This was saved to mention because it’s really just a collateral benefit. If you practice Pilates with a good instructor at least 2 times a week and cut out a few of those processed sugars (including beer sorry), YOU WILL GET STRONG ABDOMINALS. Period. Though it is not emphasizing the rectus abdominus first, you will eventually get the 6-pack you want. But please note, you can also get those “rock hard abs” from doing intensive crunches that may or may not be great for your spine or posture that has nothing to do with Pilates. In fact, if that’s primarily what you’re looking for without the rest of it, I would suggest following one of the articles in Men’s Health that gives you that killer ab routine. The truth is the 6-pack muscles are the shell of our abdomen. They are aesthetically pleasing and do serve a functional purpose for certain intense flexion movements, but they do not necessarily give you a “strong core”. The transverse abdominus and internal oblique’s along with a few other critical and under-appreciated muscles are responsible for this. The 6-pack is an ancillary support system to the deeper core muscles. But you will get that perk if you commit to Pilates for 3-6 months of your long life!
8) Don’t fall. Ok this is for those who over time have developed less of a connection to your feet. Perhaps Diabetes is to blame, or a lower extremity surgery, or neuropathy from an old spine injury. You know who you are. You don’t talk about it much to people. Not something to discuss. But it affects your sense of control and of balance. Not only can you not do what you used to do easily, but you actually fear sometimes you might fall. Or perhaps you already have. With these conditions it is critical that you learn to move in your body in a way that reconnects you to your base. The sooner the better. Because it’s not going to get easier if you do nothing to change your movement patterns. Just walking is not always enough. Pilates has a strong emphasis on connecting your core to your feet. There is emphasis on engaging your pelvic floor muscles. Yes! Men have pelvic floors! Shhhh. And upright standing exercises are used to teach you to become aware of what it means to reconnect to your lower legs and feet and sense where you are in space. Pilates will teach you to balance again. Don’t fall.
9) SEX. IF you zoned out, you’re back! Let’s talk about it clinically for a second. For it to be good, there are few prerequisites. You need pelvic floor/sexual function, hip and pelvis and lumbar spine mobility (men too must twerk), cardiovascular health, both respiratory and erectile endurance, an active core, and hopefully a good partner. Some of that is certainly beyond what Pilates can offer. But, Pilates can help you: slowdown in your movements and learn to feel your deep core and pelvic floor muscles for better control and endurance, improve your pelvic mobility, and maximize your breath control and capacity for good respiratory endurance while keeping your heart rate in a safe zone if you’re at risk. Do not underestimate these benefits.
10) Finally, connect with your wife or partner. Do a duet! Experience – in-sync- how going through the Pilates system with a partner makes it more fun and more focused. Your teacher will adapt the exercises based on what your body needs compared to hers (or his). Everybody needs something different. Pilates is not a cookie cutter system. There are over 7 pieces of apparatus to work with that challenge the body in different ways. And the resistance spring settings are adaptable based on your own strength level. The only thing to fear is the possible ego blow that initially comes when you see how much better she is since she’s been doing it for years without you. But you will catch up! And if you choose not to do it with her, consider doing for her. Trying something new that changes how you feel in your body is always a good thing. You will feel better, and thus so will she.
Whew! That’s a lot to consider. Now take a moment to consider yourself. And ask yourself this: Say I try Pilates, what do I have to lose? Or even better, what might I gain?