There are a lot of preconceptions about Pilates as a fitness practice, and to begin with: it’s not the same as yoga, and it’s also not a ‘women only’ exercise. Pilates is often viewed as one of those leisurely studio sports for the ‘ladies that lunch’ crowd, but there is a lot more to it than you may think. I caught up with STOTT Pilates Instructor Trainer and advanced neuromuscular therapist, Paul Thornley, from Real Pilates, to discuss men and Pilates – or men doing Pilates should I say.
Me: How do you define Pilates and why do you think it is an important practice?
Paul: Pilates is not new; inventor Joseph Pilates called it ‘controlology’ and he created it way back in the 1920s. Over the last century it has developed into the primary method of reeducation of the neuromuscular system of the body. Our understanding of science and how we approach physical education and therefore how we function and move influences our approach to teaching Pilates.
In short, Pilates has become the foundation of positive and effortless exercise. It’s also renowned as the primary tool in the field of rehabilitation; however, its’ most powerful effect if practiced and incorporated into daily life is the preventative effect of avoiding soft tissue damage and poor bio mechanical movement, resulting in longevity of our awesome myofascial skeletal structure.
Me: What’s your personal take on Pilates?
Paul: I have been training since I was 8 years old and I’m 45 now. I’ve done most of what the fitness world has to offer. But I’ve been doing Pilates now for 15 years and honestly it’s the only method that’s kept my attention; I love it’s specific attention to detail. Done well it’s truly the hardest exercise I’ve ever done.
Me: What was your view of Pilates before you began practicing it yourself?
Paul: At first it was a little difficult to understand how something so subtle could have such a profound effect on the body’s movement, strength and stability, but once I got an understanding of why it worked I was hooked.
Think of this, our body is the most technically advanced structure on the planet, and we all have one. Imagine it’s a Ferrari for example. It requires fine tuning; if you use it like a 4X4 and just hammer it like we do with our bodies in the gym and in life, then it becomes a very expensive badge. Our structure is designed to take a lot of punishment and is very resilient, but it is essential to incorporate quality maintenance for it to last us throughout our lifetime. The problem is we don’t like to invest in ourselves, so more often than not people wait until they injure themselves before looking into why it occurred in the first place.
Me: Why do you think there is a general preconception that Pilates is a female-only practice?
Paul: Because men are daft. Men want to be like other men: work hard, train hard, live hard. Pilates requires finesse and concentration for you to be able to reap the benefits that it offers. However, if men don’t make time for Pilates now, they had better plan for it in the future, as it’s the foundation of movement and without incorporating it now into their daily schedule, they will have to eventually – due to life and ageing, as we all break eventually. Pilates is what all surgeons and physical therapists prescribe for recovery.
Me: Is male participation on the increase?
Paul: Male participation is on the rise, in no small part to greater recognition from our sporting elite. Without it they cannot perform at the highest level, and it’s all about ego for men.
Once a guy told me, he didn’t know it was possible to sweat so much on a mat, but it’s fantastic that men are more open to trying. But let’s be fair, to be in a room surrounded by women, trying to concentrate on these super specific movements and look graceful, strong and fluid at the same time, is not generally playing to a guy’s strengths. Slowly but surely they are seeking the benefits and they are our best advertisers for Pilates becoming an exercise of choice.
Me: What has some of the feedback been from men after experiencing their first Pilates class?
Paul: Most men struggle as Pilates requires them to coordinate a huge amount of information being given to them. They have to be in control, recognise that aggression is not the root to successful movement, and what’s most difficult is ensuring that they breathe… whilst moving haha.
Let’s be honest, multitasking isn’t our best strength, but in my experience once they get that light bulb moment and it all clicks into place, more often than not they are hooked and as their confidence grows so does their ability and overall experience. Patience is the key – another man strength!
Me: Why should men do Pilates?
Paul: As I said it’s all about education. They have to understand that your body needs more than high intensity training, more consistency. We are just an elaborate mechanical device.
Banging it repeatedly doesn’t fix it… ultimately it makes the body weaker. Our muscular structure is a complex matrix of fibres. Some fibres are designed to create movement and strength = gym. Some fibres are designed to ensure stability of joints = Pilates. Combine both and you will be stronger, leaner, more flexible and healthier overall.
Me: What are the most common injuries that you see among male clients?
Paul: The male clients are injuring themselves. We create injuries over our lifetime, often catching them unawares until it’s too late. Most common injuries are lower back, shoulder and necks. The said thing is that these injuries are preventable, but men firefight; they wait until there is a problem and then they look for a solution.
The solution is don’t wait; just like your car, it requires attention from a trained mechanic to ensure that it runs properly. Your body is exactly the same; don’t wait guys, see a body mechanic – namely, a Pilates instructor.
Me: Have you seen the male: female ratio change in your classes over the course of your career?
Paul: Here in Dubai over the last 5+ years my private sessions are in the range of 40% men and in the group classes maybe 25% men. But it’s great to see the ratio becoming less women dominant and guys being more open to less aggressive training methods with the knowledge that it has a positive effect on their body and it has nothing to do with their masculinity.
So there you have it – from one of the experts. There is a lot more to Pilates than many people think, and it’s fantastic for rehabilitation as well as a daily exercise routine. It complements other sports effectively because Pilates exercises train your body in precise and specific movements, build up your core stability and work on your posture – these are all things that help with your performance in other sports and fitness routines. There are so many Pilates studios to try out, although I recommend those practicing STOTT Pilates – Real Pilates in Dubai is definitely a good shout!