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5 Ways to Hook Men on Pilates

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Pilates for Men
By Julian Littleford

 

During my Pilates career of 33 years I have seen a significant increase in the amount of men practicing Pilates. At my Pilates studio, there is a 65/35 ratio of women to men. That’s pretty good, I feel, considering the majority of my male Pilates clients are not dancers. Movement-based exercise programs such as this can sometimes seem to be too challenging and somewhat overwhelming, but my male Pilates clients include a wide spectrum of performers, professional athletes, weekend warriors, coach potatoes, husbands, doctors, senior citizens and pre- and post-surgery patients. They come for a variety of reasons. Sometimes their wives send them, others are fed up with the gym approach, some come as personal referrals from clients, doctors and physical therapists. It doesn’t matter how they come, they come!

Once a man walks into your Pilates studio, the hard work and your very best intuitive work begin, because you have to “hook” him on Pilates. You have to open his eyes to the depth and importance of the work and allow him to experience everything it can do. AND you have to allow him to experience it with ego intact, to turn the skepticism to advocacy and to help him feel new physical sensations and feel like he got a great workout.

Depending on their physical needs, I tend to work men fairly hard, always making corrections where needed but acknowledging good work throughout the session. Here are some more of my tips for hooking men on Pilates:

1. Schedule men with other men.
Men usually have a very cautious and curious response when seeing the equipment and exercises for the first time. With this in mind, I try to bring a new male client in when there is at least one other man in the studio going through a session. This really helps deter any resistance a man may be feeling towards the work. I find that most of my male clients come at specific times; before work, early afternoon and nights. The energy at those times in the studio is very different to when it is mostly women in the studio.

2. Let him do it his way, first.
Sometimes they want to use more resistance than usual (they want to feel like they are working harder); sometimes there is a bit of competition in the air. When these things arise I simply go with it and allow them to experience the work as they need. Normally at this point all correct form seems to exit the studio and the grunting starts, just like at the gym. When they have finished and look towards me for approval, I then ask them to try it this way (light resistance, correct form and attention to the breath). By this time in their practice of Pilates, I now have their attention and they are beginning to see how difficult this can be and how deeply it works. This is the way I sometimes work when trying to convince a male client who comes from the strict gym approach that there is another way of working and the results can be the same, but without the strain and pain.

3. Show him the masculine side of Pilates.
When I started teaching Pilates, the majority of teachers were women, which I found surprising since the system was originally created by a man; however, I suppose as a dancer rehabbing from a congenital hip issue, being drawn to this movement-based exercise system was a natural path for me. Sometimes I believe that men see the system as a more feminine form of exercise. It is understandable—most of the Pilates DVDs and teachers are women. Their impressions are often of a very easy and passive exercise program—no sweat, no grunting with heavy weights—just simple breathing patterns that are not going to leave them feeling the way they desire. I really believe that the pace of a session is very important. Too much “down time” can be the downfall of a potentially good workout. I try to keep a good steady pace while directing and correcting, trying to avoid lulls in actual exercises. Social chattiness among teachers and clients and clients with other clients is a turn off—try to discourage this from happening. In general I find that men do not like socializing while exercising. They want a good workout, they want to help alleviate pain, and they want to do it in a timely and effective manner. Keep them moving, they’ll sweat a little and their bodies will feel worked!

4. Show him how it will help him on the field, court or green.
The male professional athlete can also be a challenge. They also are often on a tight schedule and want to see the benefit straight away. I try to show them how the Pilates system will improve the things they are required to perform and accomplish. I give them exercises that mirror the movements they are required to do, keeping in mind, that they have coaches that are very specific of what they are asking of them.

5. Give him time.
When putting a program together for men, I try very hard to correct muscle imbalances, but I also try to improve their posture and body awareness. We work on them seeing and working their body as a whole rather than individual muscle groups. With time, I am able to introduce the finer and more subtle aspects of the work. This takes time and I like to allow the time necessary for the man to feel some ownership in his Pilates work.

It is my feeling, that good teachers, of any discipline, have the ability to “read” their students. They are able to acclimate to individual temperaments and still teach their planned session, but with great awareness to their student’s frame of mind and the particular stresses that they bring with them into the studio. Being constant in quality of work, challenge and acknowledging work well done, goes a long way when teaching Pilates to men.

 

About the Author
Julian Littleford opened J.L. Body Conditioning, Inc. in 1990 in San Diego after spending eight years in New York City as a principal dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company. He originally studied the Pilates method in England with Alan Herdman and was one of Mr. Herdman’s original teachers during the late 1970s. In New York, he worked for and trained with Deborah Lessen at Greene Street Studio. He is a founding member of the Physical Mind Institute and gold certified through the Pilates Method Alliance. He directs the Pilates training at Pilates de Mexico and was the Director of Pilates for the San Diego Padres baseball team. He is a regular presenter for Balanced Body University Pilates on Tour and Pilates Method Alliance conferences.

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Reader Comments (4)

JL, you rock. I had the pleasure of taking a class with you in Phoenix, and you had all of us, men and women, working hard, feeling it deep and enjoying the process. I've worked with only a handful of men and will use your tips with them. Thanks for your expertise!

March 3, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterluann klein

JL,

Exactly! I just had a man come into the studio this morning. He announced that he had a business meeting to raise 40 million for a project. He could dedicate only 45 minutes and still took the time to come despite the stress. I kept him going, let him feel the workout, and gave him a grunt as well as a Pilates education. If we really believe in the work, we can trust that they will come back. Over time the refinement will happen.

In Boulder, I have the same attitude present with the elite runners, bikers, etc. This includes the women. The professional athlete does not have time to come in if there is not a value to the training time in the day. They will not suffer what they percieve to be a waste of time. So I relate the method to the sport.

An inspiration for me was a young man who was 15 and a hockey player.He was sent to me by a sports psychologist. (YES, in Boulder all the athletes have this training tool too!). His mother came to the session and was amazed at his lack of bilateral symmetry in The Roll UP, The One Leg Circles, etc. He was leaving for a prep school in the East and I had ten sessions to give him a workout that he could do without cutting into his hockey practice. I designed a 15 minute mat series for a him. He was not going to have any more time than that with study and hockey practice. I have worked as a gymnastic coach and I can assure Pilates teachers that coaches are not happy if you give their team members too many exercises that steal from practice time. You must be efficient and keep them challenged. His psychologist reported that he does the exercises everyday! He understands that the balance in his program helps his hockey game.

Thanks for the good information!

March 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPat Guyton

JL,

Exactly! I just had a man come into the studio this morning. He announced that he had a business meeting to raise 40 million for a project. He could dedicate only 45 minutes and still took the time to come despite the stress. I kept him going, let him feel the workout, and gave him a grunt as well as a Pilates education. If we really believe in the work, we can trust that they will come back. Over time the refinement will happen.

In Boulder, I have the same attitude present with the elite runners, bikers, etc. This includes the women. The professional athlete does not have time to come in if there is not a value to the training time in the day. They will not suffer what they percieve to be a waste of time. So I relate the method to the sport.

An inspiration for me was a young man who was 15 and a hockey player.He was sent to me by a sports psychologist. (YES, in Boulder all the athletes have this training tool too!). His mother came to the session and was amazed at his lack of bilateral symmetry in The Roll UP, The One Leg Circles, etc. He was leaving for a prep school in the East and I had ten sessions to give him a workout that he could do without cutting into his hockey practice. I designed a 15 minute mat series for a him. He was not going to have any more time than that with study and hockey practice. I have worked as a gymnastic coach and I can assure Pilates teachers that coaches are not happy if you give their team members too many exercises that steal from practice time. You must be efficient and keep them challenged. His psychologist reported that he does the exercises everyday! He understands that the balance in his program helps his hockey game.

Thanks for the good information!

March 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPat Guyton

What a great article! Any information that helps break down the gender misconceptions about Pilates is really needed. Great job, JL! Bring on the men!

March 18, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterart altounian

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