By Kathy Kukula
Walk through the door at The Pilates Centre in Norwalk, Conn., and, among the forest of Reformers and Towers, you’ll see something that’s all too rare in many Pilates studios: men. And while some of the guys are the financiers and media executives that this coastal area is famous for, quite a few of them spend their time in more old-fashioned pursuits: in a rink, a pitch or a boxing ring. In the past two years, owner Jennifer Mongeluzo and her team of four trainers have strengthened and stretched a growing cadre of pro and semi-pro hockey and rugby players, Muay Thai kickboxers, boxers and mixed-martial arts fighters. Here’s how she did it:
The pro and semi-pro athletes learned about The Pilates Centre in different ways. Cian Stein, an executive from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers AHL hockey team, became a client when he developed back and hamstring problems. Mongeluzo explained to him how his players could benefit too, with increased fitness and protection from injury. “Pilates is like a multi-vitamin for whatever sport you do,” Mongeluzo told him.
Stein and the Sound Tigers’ athletic trainer soon brought a group of hockey players to The Pilates Centre to work out. Mongeluzo also became a sponsor of the team (which is the farm team for the NHL Islanders) and partnered with Sound Tigers TV to create a video that was shown on the team’s website and at games, increasing the studio’s exposure to fans and players alike. The Pilates Studio also had a Pilates demonstration day at the Sound Tigers stadium; Mengeluzo and her trainers set up Reformers in the hallways so hockey fans could see and experience Pilates for themselves. The Pilates Centre trained team members for two seasons.
Mongeluzo forged a connection with the fledgling New Haven Warriors American National Rugby League team when they were looking for seasonal housing for their international players in the summer of 2009. She offered up a spare bedroom in her home and became a team sponsor. Her Australian homestay started Pilates training, and soon most of the team was showing up for workouts.
The sponsorships were not an inconsequential cost for the Pilates Studio: $5,000 for the hockey and $4,000 for rugby. But both sponsorships supported the teams’ community service. The New Haven Warriors and the studio helped with after-school sports programs for inner-city kids. The Sound Tigers work with autistic children. “There’s a day when all the kids can go to a game,” says Mongeluzo. “So the Centre basically bought all the tickets for those kids. Pretty cool, right?”
A Personal Outlet
The boxers are yet another story. As a small business owner, Mongeluzo needed an outlet for stress, especially when knee pain prevented her from her usual stress reliever, long runs. “I was looking for something totally different from Pilates,” she says. So she signed up for classes at an LA Boxing studio not far from her own business and fell in love with Muay Thai kickboxing. “It was a big release for me,” she says. “It became my medicine.”
The other boxers at L.A. Boxing asked the petite Long-Island native how she could be so strong and flexible—she was the shortest boxer in the ring, yet her kick was the highest. Her answer: Pilates. Soon there was a cross fertilization, with boxers and fighters making the trip down the street to her studio, especially in the weeks right before competition.
Once they’re in the door, Mongeluzo has found that hockey, rugby and boxing all require similar training to protect them during competition and prevent repetitive injuries. “I work on creating length and extension because the men’s primary sports are compacting and compressing,” says Mongeluzo.
All of the sports require twisting with power—torque—whether to kick, punch, throw or swing a stick. And in each sport, players are repeatedly struck on the ribs, whether it’s from direct and intentional kicks or collisions complete with jabbing sticks, elbows and pads. “These guys need to protect their ribs and intercostal muscles,” says Mongeluzo. “I build a kind of protective coat or shield around their torsos.” Hamstring flexibility is another area that often needs work, Mongeluzo says. “The fighters especially need flexibility so they don’t tear anything.”
The Pilates Centre trainers put the sportsmen on the Reformer. With their arms in straps, the athletes do front arm raises, side arm raises, arm circles and triceps presses. This not only builds the protective muscle around the core, but also protects the rotator cuff and biceps against tears. “These exercises stabilize the shoulder girdle,” says Mongeluzo. With feet in straps, the guys do front leg raises, open-and-close, frogs, leg circles and diamonds to build flexibility and strength in the hip joint, stretching hamstrings and strengthening the adductors and abductors “The ballistic movements of skating and running all come from the hip,” Mongeluzo says. “Strengthening the hip joint in this way can help prevent labral tears.” The men also visit the Long Box for extension work to protect their spines and push-throughs for hamstring and back strength.
While the Sound Tigers hockey team came mostly pre-season, the boxers come just weeks before competition for the final tune up, making sure they have the flexibility and strength to create the torque they need for kicks and punches. “Everything you squeeze together in fighting you release and relieve in Pilates,” says Mongeluzo.
Mongeluzo is a model for her own medicine, boxing at 6 am most days and greeting clients at her own studio at 7 am. Mongeluzo has always been active: A dancer in college, she is an experienced marathon runner, cyclist, downhill skate skier and serious golfer. The 39-year-old trained in all levels of Pilates at Half-Moon Pilates (now The Fitness Guru) with Michael Feigin and Lawson Harris and taught Pilates and other fitness modalities at Equinox in Mamaroneck, N.Y., before opening The Pilates Centre in 2006.
Recognizing how effective the sports training has been in distinguishing her studio, Mongeluzo recently adopted a new logo for The Pilates Centre—a hard-edged graphic on black. “It’s explosive, powerful and strong,” says Mongeluzo. “That’s how we want people to feel when they leave our studio.” There’s also a new tagline: “For Mind Body Spirit and Sport.” In August 2010, The Pilates Centre won a coveted Best of the Gold Coast award from Moffly Media, publishers of several local magazines.
The result of Mongeluzo’s sports-focused efforts is that about 10 percent of her studio’s clients are men. Having them in the mix helps to build business. Women clients see the sportsmen working out and go home and tell their husbands. And if a basketball player or tennis pro walks through the door, Mongeluzo will see that they get what they need.
Kathy Kukula is a Connecticut-based health and fitness writer.
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