Workout 101: Guys’ Guide to Pilates
it's way more than stretching
I say Pilates and what do you think? Kind of like yoga but weirder? Sixty minutes of stretching? Those bizarre contraptions that look like a cross between a rowing machine and a torture-porn prop from Hostel? Gentleman, it is so, so, so much more.
I’ve been to many a yoga class in my day, and you could always count on seeing at least one intrepid dude in class—more often than not, a super-hardcore yogi who could twist himself into Firefly without a second thought. Pilates shares some important similarities with yoga, and yet, I’ve never—and I mean literally never—had a class with a guy. That’s true even though it’s an incredible strength trainer, body aligner, and rehab supporter. In fact, Pilates might be the ultimate “fit for life” workout—which is probably the reason even a muscle-guy like celebrity trainer Tony Horton included it in his latest P90X series.
Don’t let its rep (namely, that it’s a snooze-a-thon for retired ballerinas) put you off. If you’re tired of endless leg curls and shoulder presses—which more likely than not end in repetition injuries—Pilates probably has something to offer you.
Interested? These are the basics:
WHAT IT IS
Pilates isn’t just appropriate for guys—it was invented by one, the titular Joseph Pilates.
“I think that because Pilates is extremely popular with women and dancers, men think that it’s a women’s sport—and they don’t realize that Pilates was in fact created by a man, and a beer-drinking, cigar-smoking boxer at that!” says Pilates instructor Annie Venier of Le Petit Studio NYC.
Pilates’s big philosophy was that mental health is irredeemably bound up in physical health. As he put it, “Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness.” So he developed an exercise routine that he believed would result in superior conditioning. All you really need to know is that some classes are taught on those machines – called the “Tower” and the “Refomer,” while others are primarily taught on mats.
Some teachers use additional props—balls, weights, and so on—but all will focus on core strength, alignment, and proper breathing, not just for class, but for life: “People love to talk about how Pilates creates core strength,” Halle Clarke of Mongoose Bodyworks says. “Although that’s true, it’s more about how Pilates teaches you to integrate balanced core strength into the way you sit, stand, and conduct your life.”
Well, statistics vary. Like I said: After five years of Pilates classes, I have literally never shared a class with a guy. I might be going to the wrong classes, though, because my experience is apparently not universal: “Half of my clients are men and interestingly most of them are true athletes and martial artists,” Venier says.
Clarke says her male students are there for different reasons: “Most of our male clients have been referred to us because of their back pain,” she says. “It is safe to say that they probably wouldn’t be here if weren’t in pain.” Also safe to say: There’s a good chance you will be the only guy … in a class full of women who have a dancer’s poise and a gymnast’s core strength. This is problematic why exactly?
High. Pilates can quite complicated, in the sense that the desired movements are incredibly precise—a quarter-inch off and it feels like you aren’t doing anything at all. Make that tiny adjustment, and it feels like the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do in a gym. Luckily, most studios offer introductory and novice-level classes. I think it’s worth springing for a private class to start, which allows for a safe space for all your embarrassing/basic questions.
“It’s very easy to take some one-on-one classes prior to group classes,” Venier says. “It’s one of the few group activities you can cheat at by getting a leg up before you jump into a group class, should you choose to.”
Probably not necessary. I’ve taken Pilates classes next to girls who don’t even put their hair into a ponytail. But don’t be fooled – you might not sweat, but if you’re doing it right, you’ll definitely be sore the next day.
HOW HARD IS IT, REALLY
It’s as hard as you make it—and that can be really hard. It likely won’t get you first place in a bodybuilding competition, but Pilates can help develop a core strength that’s difficult to reproduce in other workouts. “I teach some of the toughest push-ups in town,” Venier says. “If you are doing them correctly, they are hard!”