Pilates for men

I was flattered to be asked to be a guest blogger by Pilates Plus. The subject I was let loose on was why men should do Pilates. Here are my thoughts…

–o0o–

There are two groups of men who would benefit from doing Pilates. These groups are:

1) Sportsmen
2) All Other Men

Which group do you fit into?

SPORTSMAN: As a triathlete (and endurance athlete for 15 yrs), my training week has to cover swimming, cycling and running… but it’s also really important to me to include sessions that improve my core strength, flexibility and balance. For me, that means Pilates.

It’s hard to come up with a single sentence definition of what sport is, but here goes: a rule based contest of physical skill, where a trained physiology is crucial for good performance. 

Let’s break that definition down a bit and see where Pilates comes in. Remember this applies to your sport, not just mine. Often sports have one (or several) ideal postures – and the top performers mostly display textbook alignment, think of Bradley Wiggins’ flat back time trial position, Rory McIlroy’s torque generation at the tee, Mo Farrah’s stride length on the track… the list goes on. You don’t often see slouchers on the medal podium, and that’s because poor posture kills technique and impairs breathing, which in turn deadens concentration. By becoming aware of posture as Pilates teaches, you are putting your body into a better position to perform your skill.

Now let’s look at physiology. Endurance sport often refers to the engine – that is the capacity of the heart and lungs to deliver oxygen rich blood to the muscles. It could be said that your limbs are like the wheels of a car, converting the energy of the engine into movement. But there are a lot of unseen components connecting the engine to the wheels. If any of the cogs loses a tooth, if a seal doesn’t quite hold, if a chain gets gunged up…. the machine’s efficiency will suffer.

Pilates works on maintaining, strengthening and controlling the wee interconnecting and stabilising muscles that allow the power and speed to pass more efficiently from the heart and lungs to the major muscle groups. More speed / power with no additional effort? Yes please!

Lastly, I find that Pilates is great for injury prevention, and an excellent antidote to overuse. As a former rower, I had a very strong back but sometimes found myself immobilised by spasms of pain due to my lack of mobility. My hips and lower body in general were also really tight, not helped by increasing running and cycling volume.

Correcting this with a series of simple exercises (some shown at the bottom of this article) has really made the difference in my athletic abilities as well as normal life.

ALL OTHER MEN: Just because you’re not in pursuit of silverware doesn’t mean you’re not pushing your body hard. In fact, some of us put in as much sweat over the course of a normal working day as some people do in an evenings workout. Work in a coffee shop or pub? You’ll be on your feet all day. Postie? That’s a lot of weight shifted a lot of miles. And that’s without mentioning professions we naturally think of as hard physical graft. They key points about posture, overuse (especially of the back via heavy / repetitive lifting) and efficiency made above apply here. If you work with your body, Pilates can help safeguard the most valuable tool you have, and make it even more fit for purpose.

Those of us who do our work behind a desk might be thinking ‘none of this applies to me, all I need for work is eyes to look at the screen and hands to operate the keyboard’.

Honestly, I’d say this group needs exercise like Pilates most of all.

If overuse can break you, UNDERuse is guaranteed to corrode you to dust. As more of us earn our daily crust through sitting at a desk, we are exposing ourselves to a dangerous piece of equipment every day; the chair. Humans are simply not designed to sit down for long periods of time. Like sharks, we have to move or die. Unlike Jaws, however, sitting still kills us by inches at a time, day after day. Pilates acts to reverse the damage that slumping over a keyboard causes, strengthening and opening joints that are locked up for the working day.

And I’m assuming that you do something in life other than work, right? How about running for a bus, gardening or DIY, playing with your kids? I’d say it’s worth a Pilates session a week to make sure that you can have a kickabout with your grandchildren. Stay strong and flexible long after most of the guys you went to school with are surgically joined to their sofas.

SO, MEN, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR???

The good news is that a Pilates class is suitable for just about anyone, and it’s not something that would reduce you to a sweaty mess. Some movements are physically and technically hard to do properly, but there are progressions so there will be a level everyone can do, even if you are just returning to exercise.

I suspect the reason some men are shy of going to a Pilates class is because they are scared of being the only guy there (the polar opposite of a normal exercise scenario), and, horror of horrors, all the women there will be way better then they are! Men who have a pair are not troubled by such trivial distractions.

I don’t worry about being in a minority and can happily admit that some people who are better than me at some things happen to be women. So start something with the humility and determination of a beginner, stay the course and FACILITATE YOUR MANLINESS!

–o0o–
Supine spinal twist. Arms in a crucifix, legs one way, look the other and relax into it. I love this one for getting mobility back into my spine. A nice variation is to gently pull the top knee down with your arm.

 

Squat: Get your ass to grass and your body between your knees and hang out here for a while. We have lost the squatting habit in the west due to sitting down (esp on the cludgey), and our hips are not lasting longer because of it.

 

Pigeon Stretch: Great for runners with tight ITBs. Leading shin at right angles to your trailing leg, and ease yourself down.
Foam roller: A great bit of kit to have. Not too pricey and easy to have to hand (mine lives beside the bed so I can have a quick roll – ooer! – before bedtime). There are a ton of exercises, I like rolling down the spine through the length of the ribcage (and counting the cracks and pops on the way), and rolling down the outside thigh to massage the ITB. Either support your weight with the top leg as shown or go full side plank for an extra joyous stretch!
With many thanks to Niall for composing his thoughts on how Pilates has benefited him.
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