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Pilates for Men: It’s Not Just for Ballerinas Anymore

Pilates is a popular workout method that involves a variety of exercises designed to develop functional strength and flexibility in tandem.

In modern fitness, Pilates as a methodology focuses heavily on improving core strength, flexibility, posture, and balance.

This article gives an overview of the benefits of Pilates for men, a few Pilates exercises that can benefit men, and some tips for getting started on Pilates training.

What is Pilates?

Pilates exercises include both bodyweight matwork and exercises involving the use of equipment.

Pilates matwork exercises are usually performed while lying on your back or stomach and drawing in your abdominals to create functional core support.

Gravity is the primary source of resistance, and the goal is to maintain mobility in your spine and joints while strengthening the intrinsic muscles that support alignment.

Pilates exercises can also be done with the support of spring-based equipment, including the reformer, stability chair, and Cadillac or tower, as well as a set of barrels.

While more research is needed, studies suggest Pilates may improve strength and flexibility, reduce nonspecific low back pain, help lower glucose levels, reduce arthritis pain, improve balance and gait, enhance sport performance, and even boost your mood.

Historically, men have tended to overtrain certain muscle groups in the weight room, such as the chest, biceps, and rectus abdominis (“six pack” muscles). Either in conjunction with strength training or as a stand-alone fitness regimen, Pilates can be an effective way to counteract the imbalances that arise from overtraining certain muscle groups. You can incorporate it into a general fitness plan that includes both aerobic and traditional strength training exercises alongside a nutritious diet.

Pilates builds deep core strength in men and can help reduce muscular imbalances and the associated aches and pains.

A brief history of Pilates

Although current fitness marketing focuses heavily on Pilates for women’s fitness, men can reap substantial benefits from performing these exercises as well. In fact, the Pilates method of training was originally developed by a German man named Joseph Pilates in the early 20th century. As a child, Pilates was sickly and dealt with numerous health issues, including asthma and rickets. He was determined to strengthen his body through his lifelong pursuit of various physical disciplines, including martial arts, bodybuilding, gymnastics, and boxing.

During a stint in the circus during World War I, Pilates was detained as a foreign national on the Isle of Man. To help rehabilitate the injured soldiers interned with him, he fashioned the first version of the Pilates Cadillac machine using springs attached to hospital beds. Allegedly, the soldiers who took part in Pilates training recovered more quickly than those who did not. Pilates also took it upon himself to keep the 24,000 men in the camp healthy during the Spanish Flu pandemic, leading daily exercise routines and serving as an orderly in the camp hospital. Legend has it that none of the soldiers fell ill.

Why Should Men Consider Pilates

Perhaps because of the way Pilates is marketed or the popular perception of Pilates, people often associate this exercise method with women. But although Pilates is marketed toward a specific gender, its benefits are, for the most part, the same for men as for women. The biggest difference in benefits of Pilates for men as compared with women lies in the tendency for men to train in a way that overemphasizes certain muscle groups in their workouts and neglects other muscle groupsAccording to Matt McCulloch, Pilates educator and co-founder of Kinected and the Functional Anatomy for Movement and Injuries (FAMI) workshop, Pilates can help men learn to find balance in their workouts. “Men tend to overtrain certain joints, regions, and muscles such as the rectus abdominis ‘six-pack muscle,’ the biceps and triceps, and the quads. Due to this overtraining and resultant muscular imbalance, men tend to incur certain frequent injuries.” McCulloch says men often get stuck in the training routines they learned in high school and focus only on building bigger muscles rather than on bringing the body into balance and alignment by training the intrinsic muscles too.

“Pilates, as a system, remedies faulty patterns by balancing the body’s strength and flexibility and optimizing its efficiency,” he says. “When the body is symmetrically aligned and muscles function efficiently, injuries tend to occur less frequently.”

How popular is Pilates with men?

Pilates on the whole is becoming increasingly popular with men.

This includes athletes, fitness enthusiasts, and working professionals hoping to counteract the effect of static positions such as extended periods of sitting.

McCulloch says, “As Pilates originally grew in popularity, it was mostly marketed to the female population and associated with dancers only. Now, men are realizing this is far from the truth.

“As professional athletes across many sports add Pilates into their practice (Drew Brees and Antonio Brown, to name a couple), those stereotypes have fallen by the wayside and many individuals (not just men) have come to realize the versatility of Pilates.”

Pilates equipment exercises

Pilates traditionally includes 50 matwork exercises. Additional Pilates work with equipment like the reformer, chair, Cadillac, and barrels can help enhance your Pilates routine and offers many benefits, but you should attempt it only under the supervision of a trained and certified instructor. While the full use of Pilates equipment is beyond the scope of this article, understand that Pilates is far more than just bodyweight exercises, although matwork is still foundational to all Pilates training.

Scientifically verified benefits of Pilates

Numerous studies have found that the unique neuromuscular full-body functional training approach in Pilates leads to many benefits in both exercise performance measures and mental well-being. Given the “mind-body” connection that Pilates emphasizes, practitioners can improve their executive function through consistent training (10). Older adults who practice Pilates can improve their balance, coordination, and mobility, which significantly reduces the risk of falls as they age (11). Research also suggests that performing Pilates reduces the symptoms of chronic nonspecific back pain, which affects upwards of 80 percent of the general population (1Trusted Source). Additionally, Pilates training improves scores on functional movement screen (FMS) assessments when compared with yoga training. FMS screens include seven tests, including deep squat, lunges, hurdle steps, shoulder mobility, and straight leg raises. Improvements on these tests reflect overall benefits for everyday movements and athletic performance (12Trusted Source). One particularly interesting study in young men found improvements in psychological symptoms, such as anxiety and fatigue, after a single 30-minute Pilates matwork session (3). In terms of cardiovascular fitness, research has found that Pilates training improves performance on submaximal aerobic tests in people who don’t otherwise engage in aerobic exercise (13). Finally, a 2020 study found that people with elevated blood pressure showed an acute reduction in blood pressure after a single Pilates session, suggesting that Pilates training could be useful in addressing hypertension (14).

Muscles worked in Pilates training

While Pilates training will activate a variety of muscles throughout your body, the primary muscles strengthened are the muscles of your core that work to stabilize your spine (15Trusted Source).

Some of these are:

  • transverse abdominis

  • multifidus

  • internal and external obliques

Still because the exercises are designed to bring muscular balance and alignment to the body as a whole, you'll find that a well-rounded Pilates workout targets multiple regions of you body including your legs, shoulders, chest back and arms, in addition to your core.

The bottom line

While Pilates is commonly associated with women’s fitness, men can greatly benefit from this form of exercise as well. In fact, Pilates was developed by a man and was originally used to help men recovering from war wounds in the early 20th century. The overall benefits of Pilates include both cognitive and physical improvements such as reduced pain and improved mobility, For men specifically, Pilates can help counteract the common overuse tendencies associated with men’s fitness routines, as well as the general issues that arise from sedentary desk work in both men and women. Pilates can be incorporated alongside other strength and aerobic training but can also be used as a stand-alone fitness training method.

This article appeared on the Healthline website at: on April, 27, 2021.

Written By Tyler Read, BSc, CPT, Edited By Saralyn Ward, Medically Reviewed By Jake Tipane, CPT, Copy Edited By Jill Campbell

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