If you think that Pilates is a gentle form of exercise best left to Lycra-clad yummy mummies on their way to yet another coffee morning, think again. Fitness experts now believe that if there is one form of exercise that men of all ages should be doing, it’s this one. And with its benefits of increased core strength, improved posture and better balance and flexibility, it should come as no surprise to learn that the number of male participants in Pilates classes is rising.
“There’s still a preconception — incorrectly — that Pilates is a ‘women’s workout’,” says Justin Rogers, the creative director at Ten Health & Fitness, a chain of Pilates studios with branches in London locations including Notting Hill and Mayfair. “That perception is changing. We are seeing more men in classes year on year.” About 17 per cent of participants in classes at Ten are male, rising to 60 per cent for its sessions in the City.
Jo Tuffrey, who teaches at Danesfield House Hotel and Spa in Buckinghamshire, says that she has a “significant number” of male clients. “Men tend to take it up because of a specific issue such as back pain or tight hamstrings,” she says. “They are unsure about it working at first because they are used to activity that makes them sweat, but once they see the effects they are more dedicated to it than the women I teach.” Rather than being an easy option, Pilates has always been about building strength. Joseph Pilates had a background in self-defence and boxing, and opened his “body-conditioning gym” in New York in 1926 to teach people how to achieve strength through better body control. Elite athletes have long loved it — David Beckham, Andy Murray and Tiger Woods are fans. Pilates is also incorporated into the training regimens of professional rugby players — the England, Wales and New Zealand rugby union teams rely on its ability to build strength and offset injury, and members of the London Irish squad are regulars at Ten Fitness Pilates classes. And yet, says the physiotherapist Matt Todman, the director of Six Physio clinics (where Pilates is taught by physiotherapists and men make up a third of their classes), it has taken a while for men to choose to do Pilates at the gym. “A lot of men have thought it is just about stretching gently on a mat, but if you do it correctly and it is taught well, Pilates is nothing like that,” he says. “It’s the kind of activity that doesn’t leave you on your knees and out of breath. But it’s deceptive, as you feel it two days later, when your muscles ache because you have worked so hard.”