Why Don’t More Men Do Pilates?

We are very excited to introduce to you our guest blogger Mike Perry frompaleolates.com We have enjoyed reading and sharing his posts for a while now and he has, at last, agreed to write for us, an article about Men and Pilates. Read on and let us know what you think?

The old questions of: Why don’t more men do Pilates? and its natural follow-up: How do we get more men to take up Pilates? seem to always be doing the rounds. Articles often crop-up in the media about elite sportsmen who integrate Pilates into their training, and one would think that these would help.

Then again, images like the one above can look a bit ridiculous. What’s this exercise for: biceps? There are plenty of less elaborate (and more effective) ways to work your biceps. Abdominals? Again, no need for a whole machine to work those muscles.


Pilates for holding hands, anyone? Seriously, anyone?

When I was first invited to write this I tried to get some ideas of why teachers I know want to teach more men, as this seems to be integral to answering the “How do we get them?” question. The typical response was along the lines of not wanting men to feel excluded, or wanting men to feel the benefits of Pilates.

I then got to wondering why Pilates has the reputation for being women’s exercise. Is it the way it’s presented in the media? And, if so, what is that presentation?

Usually a) helping with pain; b) toning abdominals/regaining shape post pregnancy; c) copying the workout regime of celebrity X (presumably with the suggestion that one might start to look like said celebrity…).

I realise that this could take me into inflammatory territory – in thinking about a, b, & c above, and wondering which are likely to be motivating factors for men, I find that my instinct is that only helping with pain is likely to have an impact.

Then there’s a whole subtext about why women do Pilates, and what outcomes they’re wanting, not to mention achieving. Do women do Pilates because it’s ‘relaxing? Because it won’t make them sweat? Because it won’t make them build muscle? Are those benefits that we can sell to men? – I think not.

I have heard disciples of Romana (Kryzanowska), and other second generation teachers repeating that Pilates meant his exercise system to be for healthy people, and that he would be disappointed that there are not more fit men practising Pilates. Those, in fact, are the men that we tend to see in the media as examples of ‘real’ men who do Pilates – professional athletes who, perhaps, incorporate Pilates into their training regime to help with injury prevention. Fantastic! Yet how applicable is that to the non-professional sportsmen out in the world? If you haven’t been injured the possibility of injury might seem remote, thus spending an hour or more a week not training, but doing something to prevent injury may well be superfluous.

Readers of my own blog may be aware of my enthusiasm for my local butcher. Not too long ago one of the young men that works there, on learning what I did for a living, told me about an ongoing back problem that was disrupting his football – clearly he plays league games and trains regularly. I suggested that he come to our studio for a session, on me (I’ve had a lot of freebies, and discounts at my butcher), but travel and work schedules made it tricky and it didn’t happen. He now reports, after a visit to a Physio, only minor twinges after 90 minutes of football, which he’s content to live with. See, there’s no point to Pilates… Or, at least,he’s back doing what he wants to do without needing to spend time and effort on something other than football.

I’m telling this particular story not so much as a failure to interest someone in the benefits of Pilates, but as an illustration of the fact that a lot of people, perhaps men in particular, want to just get on with the stuff that they like to do.

I sometimes think that a lot of the women that do Pilates regularly (and bless each and every one of them) are happy to, as it were, tick the box of “exercising” for the week. Others may well be content to maintain their shape, or level of fitness, and not look beyond that. I don’t think this is a scenario that men are generally content with.

So, what is the scenario that might be more appealing to men? How about this idea?

We need to have a way of measuring achievement. 

By way of illustration, both my wife and I see the same Crossfit coach regularly. I have an app on my phone (ok, 2 apps) on which I record nearly every workout, and my PRs (personal records) in most singular activities and combined workouts. I could probably tell you a number of my weightlifting PRs from memory. My wife, on the other hand, doesn’t keep any such records, and has no interest in comparing her performance now to her performance two months ago. I probably remember some of her PRs better than she (1.5 x body weight deadlift – pretty impressive). I’m not suggesting that I represent all men, but I do think that I’m describing a more male trait.

And what does Pilates offer by way of measurement? 

One of the most common first stages of understanding, or valuing, Pilates seems to be increased body awareness which, whilst undoubtedly great for anyone to acquire, may well be of limited interest. Again, this may be another case of a gender divide: I wonder if some women may appreciate body awareness for its own sake, while some men may well only be interested in as much as it pertains to a particular activity.

Another common measurement of the value of Pilates is the relief of chronic pain – truly a fantastic result. And in the years that I have been teaching I can remember a number of occasions when a client of mine, or of another teacher, has stopped attending Pilates classes after a relatively short time, because they were no longer in pain. Pilates had worked its magic, they were cured, and had no further need of it. In every instance I can recall it was a male client who responded this way.

Some of those men subsequently returned to Pilates because their pain returned – now convinced that they need to do Pilates forever, in order to remain pain free. This seems a bit like blackmail to me: “Do Pilates, or be dysfunctional” – not very positive motivation for anyone (for more on this idea please see http://wp.me/p1VirK-9Z) If we want to retain male clients I think we have to come up with a better reward than ‘pain-free’.

We are not all alike, and there are certainly quite a number of men who enjoy the more subtle aspects of Pilates, and anyone (male or female) who appreciates deeper sensations and subtle distinctions in movement can be a pleasure to teach. I would still argue that a  new experience of one’s body, or increased physical awareness, that may be gained from practicing Pilates are only useful in as much as they can be applied to other activities. Pilates for its own sake looks to me like a much more indulgent activity than I imagine Joseph ever intended.

Further research, via social media groups, on the subject of ‘why do you want to teach men Pilates?’ question yielded some interesting comments.

Rainer says: “I really enjoy to work with them as they have a special attitude. They want to accomplish the task you give them. They see the more difficutl [sic] work as an opportunity. This is not the usual pattern I see with my female clients and I have to admit I can relate to this”.

Tracy says: “Because they’re there to work! Hard! They don’t whine. They don’t chat during the session. They don’t gossip about other clients they see in the studio. They’re on time. And they don’t cancel. Generalities, to be sure, but that’s been my experience with male clients”.

Both these responses would seem to speak volumes on the question if how to attract men: invite them to work hard, give them targets to meet, or goals to attain, make them feel that they’re using their time well. I’m compelled to add, give them value for money.

One of my clients, a 73 year-old keen golfer, is able to walk 18 holes without his back playing up, and his shoulders feel more flexible. He’s now working on a new grip that I think Pilates can help him to master, and I believe he can reasonably expect to be driving further in the months to come. I would expect him to be asking why he carries on with Pilates if he doesn’t continue to see changes.

An unexpected consequence of me thinking about and writing this, is the realisation that, what I think we should be offering any potential client, and what we should be offering men specifically are one and the same.

We need to deliver Plates that offers men (and women; and the young, and not so young) the possibilities of:

Increased physical awareness

Freedom from chronic pain

Postural improvements others will notice

Greater ease of movement

Improved performance (maybe on the playing field, or at work, or in the bedroom etc. )

Increased strength, vitality, stamina, joie de vivre

Steadily increasing but attainable challenges

In short, we should be offering Pilates as the possibility for being better at living (or at least finding it less effort), and we should be offering this to everyone who walks through our doors.

In summary, and in answer to the “Why do people think Pilates is for women?” question – Pilates, as it should be done, is for everyone. The practice that appears to be for women only isn’t really Pilates at all.

Images sourced from LA Muscle Sports

Mike Perry

Recently Mike has developed an interest in nutrition, and strength & conditioning, both of which, he believes, have an important role to play in health and fitness. This is in keeping with the Pilates in Motion Studio philosophy that Pilates is a beginning, rather than an end in itself, and that, along with the many other benefits of Pilates, increased strength is an outcome we hope all of our clients will seek. He is also a Crossfit Level 1 Trainer. www.pilatesinmotionstudio.org

Post Author: Mike Perry

Mike Perry
Recently Mike has developed an interest in nutrition, and strength & conditioning, both of which, he believes, have an important role to play in health and fitness. This is in keeping with the Pilates in Motion Studio philosophy that Pilates is a beginning, rather than an end in itself, and that, along with the many other benefits of Pilates, increased strength is an outcome we hope all of our clients will seek. He is also a Crossfit Level 1 Trainer. www.pilatesinmotionstudio.org