Men I work with, men I date, and men I chitchat with in the Starbucks line are always intrigued with the concept of doing Pilates. Pilates is as mysterious to them as say, the way women think. It’s also as impressive to them as say, being a contortionist. With eyes alit, they enthusiastically inquire, “So you can put your legs behind your head?” Well, not exactly. But we women know what men are actually thinking behind that kind of question, and it’s got nothing to do with manipulating our limbs into a pretzel.
As I dig into the topic of Pilates and help men reach an understanding of the overall health benefits of Pilates practice and deciphering between Pilates and yoga, the practice seems more attainable and alluring to them. “Wow! Pilates can improve my golf swing?” I’m in. “Pilates can strengthen my core?” Where do I sign up? “Pilates can alleviate my back pain from weight lifting and lengthen my inflexible muscles?” Win-win.
Now if you are the Tin Man and can barely touch your knees, have no fear. Pilates will serve as the catalyst in producing synovial fluid to your joints so you too can achieve a comfortable roll down.
Pilates was developed by Joseph Pilates, (yes, a man), also a former gymnast, bodybuilder, and professional boxer in 1926. The exercise emphasizes the balanced development of the body through core strength, flexibility, and awareness of your body to support graceful, fluid movements that will engage your mind and body in the most efficient way. You will become stronger, longer, and leaner and basically a well-oiled machine.
Core Strength & Transverse Abdominis – the Spanx of abdominal muscles!
At the foundation of the Pilates Method is core strength. Pilates will engage your transverse abdominis, the deepest, innermost layer of all your muscles located underneath your rectus abdominis, also known as your six-pack abs. The TVA acts as a muscular girdle and stabilizes your pelvis, and keeping your cervical spine in a neutral position during core training. A strong TVA will transfer force from the muscles, engaging your core, instead of relying on back and joints, which reduces injury and inflammation.
Here’s the bad news. You can do as many sit-ups as your heart desires and develop a noticeable six-pack, assuming you have a low body fat index, but being a superficial muscle, it will expand outwards, creating a belly pooch or bloated look. Think the beer belly. (Yikes.) However, the transverse develops inward, hence acting as a tightening belt or girdle. As you develop your core strength, you’ll develop a strong back and alleviated lower back pain.
At its Core, Pilates is an Integrative Approach (Really!)
The six Pilates principles:
- Centering – Bringing the focus to your powerhouse, or center of your body, between the lower ribs and pubic bone, aka pubic symphysis
- Concentration – Focus + full commitment to each exercise and you’ll reap the full value of the movement
- Control – Conscious + deliberate movements, engaging your mind with the physical motion
- Flow – Fluidity + grace + ease acquired through practice and keeping it in your body
- Breath – Exhale during spinal flexion (when you round forward), inhale during spinal extension. In general, you shouldn’t become obsessed with the breath pattern as that will distract you from the exercise
- Precision – Being aware of placement and alignment, which comes with practice
Core strength and the six principles above sets the exercises apart from majority of all other types of fitness. Not only is it rehabilitative and strength building, but its also holistic in nature, meaning it engages every body part whether on the mat or the reformer machines, and develops a mind-body connection to achieve maximum value from each movement.
Fundamental Pilates moves on the mat at Pilates Anytime