Pilates for Men: five top benefits

Pilates for Men. Does it exist and does it matter?

Yes it most certainly does.

I originally wrote a post entitled Pilates for Men: Top Five Benefits back in 2016. That is an eon ago in blogging terms so here is the redo with mostly it is the same info.  Pilates for men was fantastic in 2016 and it is still brilliant in 2024 and I’ve added a few extra benefits.

A quick definition

Before I talk about the top 5 benefits of Pilates for Men, I want to mention that this blog is about Pilates done in a group setting without apparatus, sometimes known as “matwork Pilates”. Joseph Pilates’ original 34 matwork exercises, referred to as the classical exercises are very advanced.

I use a selection of the original exercises when I teach and also use a host of other exercises in my classes. Bodyweight is the main form of resistance. Also in regular use are props like exercise bands, spiky balls for self-massage, foam rollers, yoga bricks.

There is a parallel universe of Pilates that involves apparatus.  The most famous of them is the Reformer but there are other pieces too.

The pictures show the Reformer in use in my studio.

Pilates benefits all men

The approach I took in 2016 and similarly for most Pilates for men articles, is to talk about sporty types and how they might benefit.

Suppose you aren’t the sporty type and don’t feel particularly fit. Perhaps you are recovering from injury?

Even if you aren’t sporty or consider yourself unfit then the same “rules” apply. We all would benefit from greater flexibility, mobility, strength, better alignment.

It will get you through life, whether or not you play football or do the odd ParkRun. Doing regular Pilates will help you to manage functional daily movement better.  The examples are endless: improving balance, mitigating the effects of a sedentary job, sitting upright in said job, preventing the legs from feeling too tight, getting up and down from the floor easily, clearing the garden, walking with greater ease, simply feeling better at the end of the day.

“Will I fit in if everyone else is sporty?”

I’ve taught a Pilates for Men class for 9 years now and when it comes to my class, I can say with certainty that the answer is yes. There is always a good mix of people attending.  Not all sporty or even especially fit and some with chronic pain issues.  We do a big range of exercises, hard for some people, not for others. They are never too extreme or leave anyone behind, not least because most exercises can be adapted.  By not extreme, I mean in comparison to the gym, team sport, or most running regimes.  I appreciate that definitions means something a little different according to our bias and life experiences.

Something which has improved since 2016 is that our society is slowly becoming more aware of and more understanding of neurodiversity. This isn’t directly a Pilates for Men issue I know, but some of you reading this will be both male and neurodiverse. I have taken some training and sought advice about how I can make my Pilates classes more accommodating if you are neurodiverse and how best to make the Pilates for Men classes suitable for you. This is the new neurodiversity page on my website about this.

So, what are the top five benefits?

Joseph Pilates image from his book "Contrology"
Joseph Pilates performing his exercise Control Balance. The image is taken from one of his books “A Return to Life through Contrology”. This is typical of the advanced nature of his original repertoire.

1. Flexibility

The flexibility, or “give” of muscles is a vital component of fitness. It is essential for good posture and strength through a range of body positions. Better flexibility reduces that basic sensation of tightness.

Pilates provides the perfect platform to improve the flexibility of particular muscles. To be honest, I think that is partly psychological, in that we turn up expecting to do some stretches! However, it is genuinely integral to the class. I incorporate specific stretches into the hour long class. I also favour self-massage as well as stretches, using foam rollers, squishy balls and spikey balls.

The flow of many of the Pilates exercises promotes flexibility.  There is a sense of “reach”, “lengthen” and “extend” through a big range.

2. Mobility

Mobility refers to the degree of movement in the joints. They get stiff and lose range of motion due to misuse, or underuse. The really significant ones are the joints of the spine, the hips and the shoulders.    This is one of the biggest reasons why Pilates can be so valuable for men: combatting stiffness.

This is particularly significant for sports conditioning. For instance, without good spine rotation and hip movement, the Golf swing is compromised. Good hip movement is essential for runners. Without good ankle movement, dead-lifting is compromised. With the loss of good shoulder movement, an awful lot is compromised including tennis, squash, upper body resistance training, bowling in cricket, swimming.  If you are not sporty you still need the hip flexibility to walk easily, get up and down off the floor and easily reach your arms overhead.

Still not sure? Well, how about the feeling of stiffness in the joints, even when the functional movement is still there. That could simply arise if your job is fairly sedentary or you do a lot of driving.

There is a big emphasis on joint mobility in my Pilates for Men’s classes and in particular getting the spine to move better.

3. Form and Alignment

image of Joseph Pilates performing the Swimming exercise
Another image from the same book, first published in 1945

Speaking as a gym instructor who goes to the gym regularly for my own fitness,  I know that good form is lacking for most gym users. Good form is absolutely crucial to build strength in the right place without compromising the rest of the  body. In some ways, spending so long in the gym is what has made me so positive about using Pilates to teach strength training properly, effectively and safely.

We are all about form in Pilates.

What I mean by that is the correct whole body set up before and during an exercise which enables the right muscle to do the right move. Doing an exercise really well can feed into how we align our body for the rest of the day. Use the right muscle for the right move. No co-opting all sorts of extra muscles.

And the outcome? After a while, you start to learn how to prevent the head from jutting forwards or start to notice that the shoulder blades are elevated and relax them. Another example is how to sit on a chair without rounding the back excessively. That is partly about the chair height but even knowing that is that kind of thing you can learn from being in class.

Good form enables you to exercise and simply move more efficiently.  It reduces the likelihood of injury.

Don’t visit the gym?  There are still benefits to be had. I think of form as the way you perform an exercise, and alignment as the kind of all-day everyday way that our bodies just “are”.  The alignment is more of an outcome of a Pilates for men session, or put another way, it is day-to-day good form

Posture, habits and body awareness

Posture is a kind of static version of alignment when it meets habit, old injuries and the repetitive actions of routine activities.   We all seem to acquire postural, shall we go with issues as we grow and develop, and the issues start early.  I remember when my two were at primary school noticing, on the occasions when parents were invited in for a special assembly, that many of the children were already unable to “sit tall” on the hall floor.  Many teenagers have have head forwards position and overly curved upper back.

The body/mind philosophy of Pilates encourages and teaches body awareness which can then confer an element of control over your posture.   You have to know what your posture is, then notice it, to be able to correct it.

4.  Strength Gains

Not just any old strength though. For the most part I’m referring to both functional strength, and the need for strength throughout the body. It’s tempting to focus on the muscles at the front of the body but some of the most important ones are at the back.

Runners you need your hamstrings and glutes (back of the leg and buttocks) to be really really good.

Triathletes? Well, you need a bit of everything.

Footballers? You need your adductors on side in order to cross the ball (not to mention great hip mobility).

Abdominals – functionally everyone needs them to stabilise the trunk and get it to twist really well.  That is one for the golfers.

Back muscles – well it is vital that the back muscles can keep us sitting or standing tall – to counteract that tendency to slump.

You need back of the shoulders and arms for good press-ups and for racquet sports.

Some of you will have been told that your glutes aren’t working properly and this can mean discomfort on prolonged standing or walking. The  entire muscle group can be coaxed back to functionality.

Pilates will work the whole body, initially with isolated exercises but also with compound or full-body movements.

Eccentric Training

Many of the Pilates exercises emphasise both the concentric and, significantly, the eccentric phase of muscle action.  The eccentric phase of an exercise is where the load of either body weight or external resistance is let go of, as the muscle returns to its normal length or goes slightly past that length, to a slight stretch.    Working in this eccentric phase is beneficial for strength gains.   It is also necessary for the control of each exercise because you can’t “cheat” and just let go or collapse or use speed and momentum.

Take a poorly executed elbow curl. You yank the dumbbell, bending at the elbow, overusing the back muscles and some momentum, then just allow the dumbbell to “fall” back again as your arm straightens. If you work in the eccentric phase you control the way the elbow goes from bent back to straight again.   I am always staggered by the absence of eccentric training in the gym and it absolutely present at all times in my Pilates for Men class.    Here is a recent article from Men’s Health talking about the benefits of eccentric training.    Their focus is muscle building but there is another hugely important element to eccentric training.  The way the body works, the way movement happens is a series of eccentric moves.  For example, walking necessitates eccentric loading of the calves and the buttock muscles.

What about  Core Strength?

There is a big mismatch between the real inner core and how to develop real core stability vs the conventional wisdom that states that the core is the abdominals and more exercises like the Plank, will confer core strength.

Rather than talk about this here I will direct you to an earlier blog where I explain why I don’t cue the core very much.  You can read it here.

Developing real core strength is integral to what Pilates is.  At a basic level, real core strength requires synergy between the breath and the deepest abdominal layer.  Do not underestimate the value of optimal breathing patterns.  Core strength also needs that all-important alignment, and, working from an easier exercise towards tougher ones, ensuring that the trunk is stable.

5. Pilates as mindfulness

“Pilates is just breathing and stretching isn’t it?”

This used to be a criticism of Pilates. These days rather than rebut the statement, I embrace it. We are slowly coming to terms with the fact that relaxing, slowing down, detaching the mind from the overwhelm of the day is a really good thing. Good for the body, good for the mind, good for our mental health.

Pilates for men, and anyone else for that matter, can be a useful opportunity for being mindful. Ideally, you focus on your form.  Slightly more rarefied but relevant: noticing where your body is in space, how it really feels, as opposed to a hot mess of no pain no gain. This is an opportunity to detach and stop noticing the mind’s normal chatter. Honestly, if you are immersed in the exercise you can’t be thinking about what you are going to have for tea or what happened at work.

Time spent simply breathing is tremendously beneficial. That can be as practical as optimising the breathing or, simply breathing through the nose.  It could be even more basic and actually remembering to breathe steadily.

The body and the body/mind enjoys movement, benefits from movement, needs movement. An hour of exercise that isn’t going to beast the body to death is by its very nature soothing for the body.

Pilates and pain

What a title eh!

Oh and yes, that makes 6 things.

The fact is that back pain is a common reason for people turning to regular Pilates practice.

There are many good reasons why Pilates will help.  Sometimes it is discovering new strategies for movement or new ideas for day by day body alignment.  By that I mean how you sit, how you stand etc.  Because of the  focus on alignment and choosing goal orientated exercises you can use Pilates to change faulty movement patterns, or optimise them.

Sometimes back pain can be alleviated by going gently and carefully.  Starting gentle shows the body, the mind and the nervous system how it can have a positive experience of movement.  Then we use that to  build back normal, ideally pain free movement.

More generalised aches and pains can often be remedied by regular movement practice because that reduces stiffness and increases strength.

The Image of Pilates

If you do an image search for Pilates on google or try #Pilates, you will be bombarded with pictures of mostly white, female, young, half naked bodies doing Pilates.  This is a huge problem for the industry and it needs to change.  To add insult to injury there is a faintly pornified air to many of the pictures and a distinct lack of Pilates with men.

It isn’t just men that are failed by the images and the hype.  The marketing of Pilates fails to embrace most people who aren’t in the thin white mainstream, including older people, people of colour and fat people.  I have written about that in another blog post here.

So, please ignore the pictures, and the fact that it is probably your female friends and family who are currently doing Pilates, and come on board.  Men’s Health magazine have very recently written about Pilates for men.  Gratifyingly it basically concurs with my take  and you can read their article here.

Real vs commercially available pictures

I just visited the site I use for stock images to use in blog posts, websites etc.  Full of innocent hope I typed in “Pilates for men”

My hopes were dashed so  I typed  “Men and Pilates” and a few other word combos.  No luck there.

I got women doing Pilates, men doing Yoga,  people doing weird stuff with fit balls.  (Photographers love fit balls).    Then there were the Men’s Health cover bros doing this and that and definitely Planks, whilst being impossibly ripped, half naked, tanned, and of course, smiling.  With perfect teeth.

There was a distant lack of clothing, Pilates, and real men for that matter.

So here are some real men doing a real class.

I have been teaching a Pilates for Men class for 9 years now, despite not being a man.  Back in 2016 there weren’t many male instructors so I thought I’d just get on it with it myself.  For further details about the Pilates for Men class click here or to contact me directly click here.

 

 


1 thought on “Pilates for Men: five top benefits

  1. I like how you pointed out that pilates can help increase your body strength throughout your whole body. I like lifting weights as a form of exercise, but I’d be willing to try anything to help me get stronger. How often would you suggest I need to do pilates in order to reap the benefits?

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