Stereotypically, Pilates is a form of exercise which is associated with women between the ages of 20 and 40 years old who are often seen with a yoga mat under their arm as they make their way to meet the ‘girls’ for brunch in their activewear. However, it might surprise you to know that Pilates was developed by a man, for men. Because the Pilates method was designed around the male body, it may actually be more beneficial for men’s health than women’s.
So, where does Pilates come from?
Pilates is named after its founder, a German named Joseph Pilates, who had been interested in total body conditioning for much of his life. In addition to working on his own build, Pilates researched the various methods of exercise used across the world to promote strength and stability in the body, taking the most effective parts of each one and using them in his own regime.
The exercise method known now as ‘Pilates’ was born while Joseph Pilates was being held in an internment camp by the British government during the First World War.
While working as a nurse in the internment camp, Pilates experimented with making modifications to hospital beds which could be used to help patients build up their strength without injuring themselves further. These modifications included the use of springs and handles to provide resistance.
After the war, Pilates emigrated to the USA where he opened up the first ever studio for the method he named ‘Contrology’ due to its focus on balance, coordination and having full control over the body and mind. His method was a success and became particularly popular among dancers who had sustained injuries and wanted to prevent more in the future.
So, though it may appear to feature movements similar to the ancient practices of yoga and martial arts, Pilates is perhaps one of the most methodical and scientific ways to exercise. Specifically designed to promote strength and coordination, the Pilates method is as efficient as it is beneficial.
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What is Pilates For and How Can it Help Men?
During his childhood, Joseph Pilates did not enjoy the best of health. Living with the effects of suffering from asthma, rheumatic fever and rickets, a young and determined Joseph Pilates sought ways to improve his physical health through exercise.
After several years of bodybuilding and gymnastics, by his teenage years, Pilates had sculpted a body which was so well-defined that he was in demand as a model for anatomical drawings.
We know that Pilates is good for building core strength, promoting a good posture and strengthening the joints, but what specific aims have the Pilates method been developed around? And how can the benefits of Pilates help men in particular to achieve their fitness goals?
As we know, in its early stages, Pilates was designed for rehabilitation purposes, but there is much more to it than this.
Joseph Pilates based his method on six key principles:
- Centring: This is about concentrating on the centre of your body known in Pilates as the ‘powerhouse’. The powerhouse encompasses the abdominal and pelvic muscles, which, according to the principle of ‘centring’, should drive each Pilates movement.
- Concentration: Joseph Pilates firmly believed in the link between mind and body when it came to health and exercise. By learning to concentrate on the movements your body is making, you will build mental as physical stamina.
- Control: Originally called ‘Contrology’, Pilates is to do with having complete control over your body. Every movement you make should be entirely deliberate.
- Precision: Making your movements precise is also about having complete control over your muscles as well as developing an awareness of the relationships between the different parts of your body.
- Breath: Like yoga, Pilates exercises include the coordination of inhalation and exhalation with each physical movement to enhance the effects of each one.
- Flow: As Pilates is a method of total body conditioning, making transitions between movements as graceful as possible is essential to getting the full benefits from the routine.
The six Pilates principles are not only fundamental to getting the most out of your workout, but they are also goals in themselves. For instance, making sure that each movement comes from your ‘powerhouse’, or centre, will build a strong core, but it is also an aim to be pursued in order to fulfil your potential in Pilates.
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There is much to be learnt and many rewards to be had by doing Pilates, but what makes it such a good workout for men in particular?
Once regarded as a fitness craze which swept the West, the popularity of Pilates seems to have been driven by women and is pregnancy safe. However, contrary to popular opinion, there are many ways in which Pilates is optimised for men.
Here are just some things that make Pilates a great exercise technique for men:
- Be strong as well as flexible
While working on increasing the range of motion of your joints and therefore overall flexibility has many benefits, the traditional methods by which this is achieved do not generally appeal to men.
In practices such as yoga, the stretches required to reach certain poses may not offer much in the way of building strength. Pilates, on the other hand, takes a dynamic and functional approach to both flexibility and strength with movements that increase capability in both areas simultaneously.
- Tone your figure
While Pilates does build full-body strength, it won’t build you the bulky muscles you might get at the gym. However, instead of isolating and building certain muscles, Pilates exercises strengthen your body as a whole. The result of this is that after several months of Pilates lessons, you will likely notice that you have a more lean, toned physique.
If you’re looking to improve your strength and tone-up, the method developed by a once sickly child turned anatomical model could be just what you need.
- Build a healthy mind
Joseph Pilates’ belief in the link between physical and mental wellbeing inspired many of the movements that are used in Pilates classes today.
The principle of concentration in Pilates centres around paying attention to your body and the way in which it is balanced as well as focussing on breathing. This gives Pilates many meditative qualities which build mental endurance and improve mental health.
For many men, meditation is not as appealing as looking after their body. Thankfully, Pilates kills two birds with one stone.
Pilates Toning Workouts for Men
The Pilates method is made up of many specific movements designed by Joseph Pilates to target various muscle groups and joints. The beauty of these exercises is that they can be modified or made easier without compromising their benefits.
As you get to know more about Pilates through attending classes at your local leisure centre or following online video Pilates tutorials at home, you will begin to recognise these movements and learn about their purpose.
Here are a few Pilates moves you can expect to see in classes and online:
- Supine Twist
This exercise works the abs and increases spine mobility.
Begin by laying on your back on the mat in a ‘tabletop’. Stretch your arms out to your sides with your palms facing up, then bend your knees and lift them above your hips with your feet together. Slowly move your knees to one side of your body (keeping your back flat on the Pilates mat) then bring them back to the centre. Repeat on the other side.
You should feel a burn in your abdominal muscles. To increase the difficulty of this exercise, straighten your legs.
- Chest Lift with Rotation
You’ll have probably seen this being done in the gym before – but did you know it was a Pilates move?
To start, lay in a ‘tabletop’ position with your knees bent, feet on the floor and your hands supporting the back of your head. As you exhale, engage your abs to lift your chest off the floor, making sure that your neck stays relaxed. Next, rotate to one side, making sure that your core is engaged at all times and you are not resting on your sides. While your chest is still lifted, rotate to the other side. Repeat this a few times before you relax.
- Side Plank
This is probably another Pilates workout exercise you’re already familiar with. The side plank also targets the abdominals as well as the back muscles.
Start on your side with your shoulders stacked on top of each other, then place your elbow underneath your shoulder as you raise your body off the floor. Make sure that your torso is always in-line with your legs, and place your top foot in front of the bottom one for support. Hold this pose for as long as you can, ensuring that your hips don’t sink and your whole body is in a straight line.
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