The number of men taking Pilates classes is on the rise and with good reason.
The perfect complement to cardiovascular and resistance training, Pilates increases strength and stability, especially in the core muscles of the abdomen and back.
“I have been working with men since I opened The Pilates Greenhouse in 2009,” says owner Jane Bradley. “The men I teach tell me they find the focus on strengthening the body’s core muscles to be of great benefit to them in many ways, whether they are interested in Pilates as a tool for rehabilitation or as a valuable addition to their overall fitness program.”
Bradley, a multi-certified instructor with more than 15 years experience teaching Pilates, offers a full range of individual classes at The Pilates Greenhouse in Ridgefield. Two of her male clients, Chris Schabacker of South Salem and John Zembron of Ridgefield, agree.
“I started Pilates about three years ago, because I was having lower back problems and was diagnosed with lumbar stenosis,” Schabacker says. “It got to the point where I had such serious pain from sciatica that I couldn’t stand for more than a few minutes at a time. I went to physical therapy for a while, but it didn’t do much good. My wife, Carol, a client at The Pilates Greenhouse, suggested I give Pilates a try and I have gotten great results and am now pain-free.”
Zembron came to The Pilates Greenhouse for entirely different reasons.
“I retired from my career as an accountant last June and was offered a wellness package,” he says. “I was evaluated by a physiologist and told my aerobic and strength training was fine, but I was paying no attention to my core. For example, I found it hard to balance on one foot during the assessment. My wife, Linda, a client of Jane’s, said I should try Pilates and I decided to add it to my personal fitness regimen. What I find most interesting is the focus on the body and mind together to work on controlling and strengthening the body’s core. I find it a great part of a balanced fitness routine and have seen a major improvement.”
Bradley explained the origins of Pilates and what the popular discipline aims to accomplish.
“Joseph Pilates, an asthmatic boxer, developed and refined the regimen in an effort to overcome his physical disabilities and rehabilitate bedridden patients, opening the first dedicated Pilates studio in New York in the 1920s,” she says. “The method he created uses a series of movements that engage the mind and body in developing strong, flexible muscles without adding bulk. Pilates emphasized developing deep torso strength and flexibility, or centering. He also drew on Eastern traditions of controlled breathing and movement while adding the Western approach of resistance training.”
When illustrating the objectives of his new technique, Pilates often described the lithe musculature and ease of movement possessed by a cat, an image that still often comes to mind because Pilates improves posture, balance, coordination and flexibility.
“When evaluating which of the many ‘schools’ of Pilates to subscribe to, I chose Stott Pilates, because I believe it offers the most progressive and contemporary approach to core stability training,” Bradley says.
According to her, Pilates exercises require concentration, control, precision, conscious and specific breathing patterns and dynamic, fluid movements. Deep abdominal muscles remain fully engaged during the workout, while fluid torso, arm and leg movements are performed against body or machine resistance.
“Pilates is well-known for its ability to exercise, tone and lengthen muscles, increase abdominal and back strength, improve posture and body mechanics and reduce joint and lower back stress,” she says. “Balancing flexibility with strength while reducing stress and tension, Pilates is a perfect addition to a fitness program.”
Schabacker and Zembron have both reaped the rewards of the discipline.
“For me, the biggest benefit has been the relief from pain,” Schabacker says. “I no longer have to be uncomfortable standing at an event or just doing routine things around the house and yard. It has greatly improved the overall quality of my life.”
Schabacker, an attorney, takes Pilates twice a week and says it is far better than the physical therapy he started out with after his diagnosis.
“I needed rehabilitation, but in my case this worked out better. My male friends are interested and supportive, and I feel there is a growing consciousness among men in my age group (60-plus) about just how valuable this can be.”
Zembron takes three classes a week and says he now has a much more balanced fitness regimen.
“I believe that men taking Pilates is a trend that is going to grow. It has great preventive benefits and can help you stay healthy and fit as you grown older. Hopefully it will one day be covered by insurers. My male peers are much more focused on their health than even a few years ago. Taking Pilates is a fresh new idea for many of them but I believe it will take hold.”
Bradley says she is gratified that her male clients take so well to the discipline.
“Many men are geared to thinking in terms of a weight workout and building body mass. It is my job to break through that and get them to focus internally while I educate them about the importance of strengthening their bodies’ core.”
Another area that requires extra work with men is developing flexibility, she says.
“Men tend to be tight and locked into certain postures,” she says. “Some of this comes from sitting at a desk all day in front of a computer screen. Many muscles become shortened and tight and it is my job to loosen them up.”
As a point of interest, both Bradley and her two clients say there are few jokes out there about Pilates being a “girlie” workout.
“On the contrary, Pilates is now taking hold with athletes,” she says. “The benefits are different from other forms of athletic training and are now getting recognition. More and more athletes and their trainers are now recognizing Pilates as technology for functional living in a healthy body.”
Bradley says she was gratified when a client goes from being in constant discomfort when he first comes to her to emerging pain-free after a few weeks.
“Helping my clients achieve a pain-free existence is very important to me,” she says. “I want my clients living in physical ease and happiness and enjoy working with them to achieve that state.”
For information, call 203-431-8900 or visit thepilatesgreenhouse.com.