.. And women of course!
The title of this article still makes me smile every time I say it to myself!
About 10 years ago when Pilates first came in to main stream fitness, and I was still in the military, one of my old physical trainer instructors – a lovely lady called Debbie (or rather; Sgt Massey!), always used to say “real men do Pilates!”
Back then, and to a great extent today, Pilates was seen (by us blokes) as a ‘girls form of exercise’..and something that was a bit of an easy cop-out that you did instead of ‘real’ exercise!
I never took it seriously then, and it’s only recently that I’ve started attending Pilates classes at my local gym.
It’s still very much a women’s dominated form of exercise, however, more and more of us guys are taking it up – and with good reason.
What is Pilates?
Pilates (pih-lah-teez) was developed around the time of the first world war by an ex boxer and gymnast by the name of Joseph Pilates.
He was German born but lived in England during this time, and was incarcerated, along with a number of other Germans.
His story and how he came to develop various exercises out of necessity for his, and his fellow inmates’ health, is really interesting.
You can read more here about the man Joseph Pilates.
Joseph developed two methods of exercises.
One method needed nothing more than a mat or something similar for comfort. Another, (which was more for rehabilitation purposes) involved a table and equipment, such as pulleys, straps, pads and springs, for resistance type of exercises.
His influences and inspiration came from his background of boxing and gymnastics, but also from yoga and Chinese acrobatics.
Don’t be mistaken into thinking that Pilates is pretty much the same as Yoga – it isn’t.
Yoga involves holding a series of poses, known as asanas, which you are required to maintain for anything from a few seconds to many minutes.
Pilates involves exercises that are performed continuously, rather than holding positions for a prolonged period.
The Pilates we are more familiar with today – for fitness and better health, primarily involves the use of a mat and the odd piece of equipment for resistance and stretching.
How Pilates Works
As I’ve mentioned, Pilates requires you to perform a series of exercises that keep you moving.
It is designed to engage your whole body with the focus on developing a strong core and lower back.
The exercises also engage and strengthen muscles while stretching others.
The result being; improved flexibility and improved muscle strength without the bulk.
For the guys reading this, don’t worry, your weight training workouts will provide you with all the bulk and muscle growth you need.
The Pilates Principles
Joseph Pilates installed 6 principles into his exercises that have formed the philosophical foundations of Pilates today.
These 6 principles epitomize how the movements should be performed.
Once you have experienced a few Pilates classes you’ll soon understand that it’s not like traditional exercise where you are concerned about lifting heavier, or completing a certain number of reps, in a certain time.
Pilates exercises are all about performing a movement/exercise with absolute perfect form and technique.
Less is more, as long as the ‘form’ is the best it can be. (Hey, I might have invented a new Pilates saying!).
The benefits of ensuring perfect form far outweigh completing dozens more of the same exercise, but with incorrect posture.
It’s quality not quantity that counts, and it produces significantly better results, in shorter time.
Who is Pilates For?
Anyone from total beginners to serious athletes can benefit from the challenges of Pilates.
As we get older our joints are not quite as forgiving as they were in our youth.
Pilates exercises don’t place any stress on joints and so is perfect for any age group, but particularly so as we move into our 60’s and beyond.
Joseph Pilates was still fit and strong right into his 80’s.
Athletes and professional sportsmen and women now incorporate Pilates into their training routines.
It is even incorporated into professional football and soccer teams.
Anyone who might be concerned with lower back problems can significantly benefit from Pilates.
This is one of the reasons I participate in a weekly Pilates class.
I am often hunched over my computer desk working 7 or 8 hours a day, with an extremely poor posture.
Among other benefits, weight training and Pilates keeps me from seizing up and developing a weak back.
Runners, cyclists, computer users and anyone who sits down for prolonged periods will benefit from a strong core and better posture.
If you think you already have a strong mid section and lower back – try a couple of Pilates sessions. You might decide otherwise!
The Benefits of Pilates
Improved Core Strength, Stability..and Defined Abs!
Your core is pivotal to everything you do physically. If your mid-section and lower back are weak, you’re more likely to suffer physical problems such as a ‘bad back’ and possible injury.
Pilates stimulate the muscles deep within your abdomen and lower back as well as the many connecting muscles.
A strong core will enable you to perform exercises and movements with much less chance of injury.
While developing the strength of your core you will also develop stability.
As a result you ease the pressure and subsequent pain in the lower back, allowing greater freedom of movement.
For anyone who has ever experienced lower back pain, you know how debilitating it is.
Don’t take your back for granted, it can be a fragile cog in your body, and one that gets neglected too often. Look after your back (Pilates will help) and I promise you, your whole life will be better for it.
Want washboard abs?
In addition to a strong and stable core, you will also see a flattening of your stomach and more defined abdominals!
Forget about doing endless amounts of sit-ups. You’ve tried that right?
Did they make a difference?
You don’t need to answer, I’ve been there and done it, and it makes not a jot!
Cut out simple carbohydrates, sugar and processed food from your diet – work on your core with exercises like Pilates, and all of a sudden you’ll start to see stomach muscles appearing like gorillas in the mist!
Pilates is a triple whammy in my book – strength, stabilization and a defined mid-section.
For those reasons alone it’s worth taking up! J
Longer and More Flexible Muscles
This is an area that is rarely touched upon in strength and muscle building programs, yet could have a significant impact on how your physique looks and develops.
Most of us who lift weights don’t really think about how our muscles work. We are primarily concerned about them becoming bigger and stronger.
Lifting heavy weights will do that, but we are in danger of building short, bulky muscles which can be prone to injury.
Pilates movements are designed to elongate and strengthen your muscles, improving joint mobility and improving elasticity.
It is this strength and flexibility that helps to prevent injury.
Longer muscles will give your physique a more balanced and athletic look, rather than a short, stumpy appearance!
Flexibility is also crucial for optimal health, and without it your muscles will start to seize up, causing pain and possible injury when you get older.
This is a huge concern for me, as I am about as flexible as a twig! At the time of writing this I am 8 inches away from touching my toes with straight legs – I kid you not!
I have incredibly short hamstrings which in the past has lead to a lot of back pain.
Pilates will help lengthen my hamstring muscles and relieve the pressure around my hips and core that are currently preventing the pain returning to my lower back.
I’ve been warned (in no uncertain terms) by a physio, that unless I improve my flexibility, I will suffer serious back problems when I’m older.
How’s your flexibility? Probably not as good as it could be, right?
Full Body Conditioning
If you participate in a certain sport on a regular basis, or continue with the same fitness/weight training program for a long time, you may be in danger of isolating and therefore weakening muscles that don’t get used as much.
This muscular imbalance can easily lead to back pain and injury.
Pilates provides a full-body workout – from your ankles to your wrists and everything in between!
There’s no over-training or under-training, just a balanced, full-body conditioning.
It is one of the reasons professional athletes and sports teams are now incorporating Pilates into their training routines.
Every movement, stretch and hold is designed to improve your physical performance.
When you start to learn more about the science and philosophy behind Pilates you’ll naturally start to sit better and to hold yourself better, because you know the positive effect it has on your health.
My posture has never been great. I used to walk with hunched shoulders, and slouched whenever I sat down.
Pilates re-trains your mind and body with regard to how you carry yourself.
I walk tall now, and take notice how I hold myself, how I sit, etc.
Just little posture changes can make a massive difference to your physique and health.
A better posture also improves sports performance and helps prevent and recover from injury.
It’s Low-Impact and Safe
So many sports and training programs have the potential to cause injury.
Unfortunately there’s not much we can do about that, and to be honest they wouldn’t be as much fun otherwise!
However, low-impact exercise such as swimming and Pilates is a great addition to add to your sport or workout routine. Your joints will benefit from less stress and help you recover faster.
Most of the Pilates exercises are done in a sitting or reclining position and in a very controlled, measured way.
This makes it perfect for the elderly, pregnant women and anyone with specific injuries.
After a 45minute Pilates session you’ll have used muscles you never knew you had, and you’ll feel like you’ve been pulled around like Stretch Armstrong!
You may not get a ‘sweat-on’ like other forms of exercise, but you will benefit hugely from a stronger core and more flexible muscles.
How to Get Started
You should be able to find Pilates classes in your local town or gym.
A good instructor will be able to correct your form and show you how to properly execute all the exercises.
If you can’t get to a gym or you would prefer to try it in the privacy of your own home first, there are tons of good DVD’s you can buy that teach you dozens of exercises.
One of the most popular introductions to Pilates DVD’s is: Pilates For Beginners & Beyond
It is a 3 DVD set that contains –
- Pilates for Inflexible People
- Pilates Complete for Weight Loss
- Pilates Complete Sculpt and Tone
The set has over 40 routines you can try (which really is a lot!) and is one of the leading sellers on Amazon, with great reviews.
This is a great DVD program that pretty much covers everything you need, and is ideal for anyone new to Pilates or just starting.
Even for beginners there are some very challenging exercises included.
Although the DVD is aimed at men and women, there is an excellent book that is geared solely towards men – TheComplete Book of Pilates for Men: The Lifetime Plan for Strength, Power & Peak Performance.
Again, it has some great reviews on Amazon like the following:
Phenomenal book — changed my life
“I have been doing Pilates now for over a year. I knew I needed something to develop core strength and flexibility, and I wanted to try Pilates. While I started out with DVD’s, this book has become my bible and I couldn’t do without it. While the “for men” hooked me in, women would benefit just as much from the book.”
To perfect your form and to ensure you are doing the exercises right, I would suggest you study a DVD and/or attend some classes, in conjunction with this book.
As well as books and DVDs there are tons of other equipment you can buy once you get the Pilates bug!
The benefits to Pilates are clear to see. It was originally designed by a guy, for guys..so what’s stopping you? Go try it.
If you are a guy or girl and have tried Pilates or thinking of doing so, please let me know what you think below.
Photo credit: pilates – myyogaonline