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Pilates? Me? But I'm a guy...

While stopping in for a quick caffeine fix at Café Grumpy in Chelsea, I was introduced to  Matt Blanchard, a former book editor, Pilates enthusiast and friend of Studio 26 co-owner, Jared Kaplan. A few minutes into the conversation, Matt shared that he had been getting more and more interested in his Pilates practice, having found it a challenging workout, and that "it's definitely not just for women." This statement piqued my interest. Pilates is a form that is stereotypically thought of as a 'woman's workout.' In an article from Muscle and Fitness magazine, author and Pilates trainer Jennifer Olsberg highlights the fact that Pilates' title gains its name from its founder and creator, Joseph Pilates. "Pilates, a bodybuilder, boxer, gymnast and dancer (sic), developed a system that provides a method for obtaining true strength, structural alignment, increased athletic performance and injury prevention, regardless of the practitioner's sex." Inspired by this interplay of gender and fitness, I posed a few questions to Matt about his entry into the world of Pilates, and how he has navigated his own training. Matt said, "I started doing pilates because I'd been vaguely curious about it and was looking for an alternative to the overcrowded core classes at my gym. In October 2010 I went randomly to a pilates mat class at Equinox, loved the teacher (Sasha Dmochowski), and have been going religiously about 2 times a week ever since." I soon found that Matt isn't the only one who's mind has been changed about Pilates. In an article from 2003 in USA Today  several professional athletes including professional basketball player Jason Kidd, professional baseball player Curt Schilling, and PGA Tour professional golfer Rocco Mediate all cited the profound impact Pilates has had on their pro-sports careers. Finally consenting to try Pilates at the urging of his wife, Kidd now does Pilates 3 times a week. He said "Pilates has made me quicker, more explosive." Many of these athletes found Pilates after serious injury and were amazed at Pilates' efficacy in helping rehabilitate the body, and further prevent injuries. Schilling and Mediate  mentioned that they finished high-intensity seasons with few or no injuries since consistently adding Pilates to their workout regime.

Matt expressed his interest in Pilates' as a way to balance his other athletic fitness training. He said, "I like the mat class because it's an intense core workout and feels more thorough than your standard crunches-type abs class. If you're tall and fairly big through the legs (I'm about 6'2", 200 pounds) it's especially challenging. Because the class uses only my own body weight, I don't feel like I'll ever injure myself. I like that there's a little flexibility work thrown in as well." When asked about the benefit of Pilates for men, Matt shared that he thought a lot of men could benefit from adding Pilates into their mix of workouts. He said "I used to do primarily weights workouts, but now I've split things out into weights three times a week, Pilates two times a week, and spinning two times a week, and I feel like I'm getting better results. I definitely see better definition in my torso and have greater core strength overall." Buffalo Bills' offense-man Ruben Brown agrees. He said "I learned how to breathe through my muscles. My posture is better. I can run more fluidly. And I increased my bench workouts." For men, it seems as though Pilates is not only a substantial workout by itself, but provides balance and variation in one's approach to fitness.

While the fitness and sports world seems full of Pilates converts, the difficult part seems to be getting men to let go of the female Pilates stereotype. Matt said, "I do get some initially dubious reactions from people - Pilates definitely has a reputation for being a 'lady workout', but I think most guys would be surprised by how hard and effective it is if they gave it a try. I've successfully dragged a few male friends along with me to classes and all of them have loved it so far."

In searching for more information on men's relationships with Pilates, I was surprised to find detailed Pilates workouts in testosterone heavy magazines, next to photos of iron-pumping linebackers and bodybuilders. Some try to give Pilates a macho-edge, using tag-lines like "Get on the mat. Pilates isn't just for chicks anymore." Many of the workouts and articles highlighted Pilates' awakening of the deep abdominal muscle, the transverse abdominus, which lies below the rectus abdominus-commonly thought of as the '6-pack' muscle. One writer went so far as to call the transverse abdominus muscle the originator of 'true strength.' Many of these magazines and sources do tailor their material so it appeals to a more masculine ideal, but it is interesting to note their observance of Pilates' usefulness and clarity as a strengthening medium.

Balanced Body, Inc., the provider for all things Pilates, features Pilates students' "Real Stories" from around the country on their website. The testimonials range from cheerleading coaches to heavy weight lifters, and include many men. One article features the story of Adam Kanter, a self-described 6'4'' weight lifter who had never been happy with his bulky physique, and claims "Pilates has improved my posture and basically changed my muscle structure." Kanter was particularly attracted to the clear attention to form in Pilates, and this attention has informed his own fastidious notation of his own body positioning when he lifts weights. He added, "I’ve never had a dull class. There are so many exercises and so much variation – its just always fun." A 64-year old man named Roger Yohe shared the tremendous rehabilitative effect Pilates has had on his range of motion after suffering a severe horseback riding accident. He found Pilates benefited his internal organ health, the mobility in his neck, shoulders and hips, and he lives a life with virtually no pain. He quoted himself, saying he often says to his weight-lifting pals, "Stop killing yourselves and give this a try.” He says this not to demerit weight-lifting, but simply to note his changing capabilities as he gets older, and the practices that make a difference for him physically.

This seems to be a common conclusion for men who practice Pilates. Regardless of gender, the practice provides bodies with balance, stability, and strength, and that definitely works.

Source Material taken from articles found in Balanced Body, Men's Health Magazine, Muscle and Fitness Magazine, and USA Today.