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Monday, April 16, 2012

Pilates for Men...? by Monica Delgado

The fact that the Pilates industry nowadays is dominated by females, breeds the misconception that Pilates is a female-only activity.  That it is only for dancers.

That you have to be flexible and crazy coordinated to do Pilates.  I have seen and heard men patronize other men who practice Pilates, and many men are concerned whether they will be the only one of their kind in studios charged with females, practicing this so-called women’s exercise.

What most people don't know, is that Pilates was created by a cigar smoking, whiskey drinking boxer, acrobat, and gymnast named Joseph Pilates, who created his exercise program from this background first and foremost for men.  I have archival footage of Pilates teaching high energy mat classes to large groups of men outdoors in a field. He started developing his method at an internment camp in England during World War I, attaching springs to the beds of the bedridden to rehabilitate them, and gave the physically sound his floor exercises. Pilates also was a physical education instructor with the military police in Germany prior to migrating to America and settling in our very own New York City.

Pilates originally trained athletes--boxers (he trained boxer Max Schmeling), wrestlers, skiers, gymnasts, and circus performers. It wasn’t until when choreographer George Balanchine and dancer Martha Graham caught onto his method, influencing the influx of dancers to seek out his studio, and embrace the Pilates practice, which perhaps is when the gender shift in the method started to occur, hence the misconceptions that Pilates is only for women or dancers. I have attended workshops wherein Jay Grimes, who studied under Pilates himself, mentioned that Pilates did not like training dancers and he would send them to his wife, Clara.

More men are now starting to rediscover the Pilates method and its benefits for their distinct own goals. We have seen men come into the studio seeking to improve their balance, flexibility, coordination and posture, increase their core strength, address low back pain and muscular imbalances, as well as to cross train. Many male athletes have turned to Pilates to find their edge and strengthen their game. A few athletes who have made Pilates integral to their physical conditioning are golf stars Tiger Woods, Rocco Mediate, and Phil Michelson, NBA’s Greg Oden and Jason Kidd, NFL’s Ruben Brown, and MBL pitcher Curt Schilling. Some NBA and NFL teams have invested in Pilates equipment to incorporate the method in training their athletes.

Pilates complements every movement and activity one does, whether it be sitting behind a desk, climbing stairs, picking up a bag of groceries, running in the park, swinging a golf club or bat, or dribbling a ball across the court. It will heighten coordination, and improve balance, flexibility, and posture. It is an intelligent workout that will sharpen focus and increase the ability to concentrate. Those looking for an auto-pilot type of workout must look elsewhere. It will re-educate the body on how to move with more efficient movement patterns, initiating from the powerhouse (center of the body), and develop core strength in the deep muscles of the back to stabilize and protect the back.

The truth is, Pilates is for everyone: men, women, teens and children, the athlete, the sedentary and de-conditioned, the injured, the flexible and inflexible, the coordinated and the uncoordinated, the survivor, and the elder. Pilates is ageless, colorless, and genderless. Pilates is not black or white, but shades of grey.

To the Pilates-practicing man, may you continue to reap the powerful benefits the method has to offer. For the curious men out there who are intrigued by Pilates, but have been hesitant to try it for one reason or another, I urge you...perhaps even challenge you, to try the method and explore what its benefits can do for your mind, body, and entire being. The true reality of the method lies not in what one thinks they see on the outside, or in the noise they hear about what people say it is for, or whom it is for. Its true reality lies inside ourselves, where if the Pilates method is invited, it will revolutionize our mind, body and lives.