Why Don’t More Men do Pilates?

Usually, I’m the one who is writing the blog posts on here about my experiences and knowledge but Bryan and I have been talking about him doing a post for a little on his personal experience with Pilates and how it has affected him. So now that he has been doing Pilates for over a year here is his opinion on Pilates and the benifits he has seen.

Until about a year ago, I never fathomed the possibility of ever taking a group fitness class. I was your typical former high-school athlete, way less limber and flexible than I was a decade ago in my glory days. My typical workout routine consisted of stationary weight lifting, with a few bouts of cardio throughout the week, occasionally mixing in a run or hike. This type of working out was a way for me to ‘maintain’ my muscle, stay fairly trim and still feel like I was putting in the time and work to my physical fitness.

Who knew that some of the best and most elite male athletes utilize Pilates as a way to master their craft? Steelers All-Pro receive Antonio Brown and Phillies pitcher Jake Arietta are two star-studded athletes just to name a few. Both of these athletes employ Pilates as a way to maintain both physical and mental well-being. Perhaps this can help remove the ‘stigmas’ that surround Pilates and its efficacy.

Fast forward to today… I am 10 years post back surgery. In 2009, I had a minimally invasive back surgery consisting of a lumbar discectomy, which in layman’s terms essentially meant I had two herniated disks in my lower back (L4, L5, S1) that were pressing on my sciatic nerve. I used to make excuses about not being able to run, my inflexibility and lack or core strength to support my back. Enter Pilates. I had never taken Pilates before, let alone even really understand the basic principles and concepts. Add in the fact that my workouts, like most, got stale over time. My body was used to the same movements, even if I switched up exercises, and I knew it was time for something new. I also had no need to keep the bulky upper body muscle that I once used in sports. What started out as a simple date idea with my current girlfriend, turned into a lifestyle alteration.

Over this past year, what I once thought was a workout meant for ‘woman’, has turned out to have more benefits than I could have imagined. Sure, the majority of my mat and reformer classes have been female-dominated, but I now have a new appreciation for the art of functional movements, flexibility, and core strength. I have developed a real affinity for the different types of Pilates I have been able to experience recently. Maybe Men just do not like being told what to do…

In my opinion, Mat Pilates is probably the most underrated form of Pilates. It requires balance, body awareness and the ability to utilize your own body weight. Most folks think you need a ‘machine’ in order to work out, but truth be told, I personally think Mat can be more of a balance challenge. The core principal relay on core strength (no pun intended), where basically every move requires some type of abdominal engagement. This engagement has been particularly useful to someone like myself, who would rather find different ways to work my core (to support my back) in ways other than your standard sit-up, which can cause back pain. The movements of Pilates are very mindful and the flows are meant to limit compromising positions and allow for modifications if need be. It isn’t just about having abs and a six-pack, but rather a strong core to support my upper body strength and back needs.

Mixing in one or two Pilates classes a week has really helped out in many aspects of my life, both mentally and physically. There are the obvious benefits, such as increased hamstring flexibility, a stronger core, as well as more toned legs. The intangible benefits for me have been less daily back pain, and the ability to run and sprint at places such as Barry’s Bootcamp (11.5! what what). Though, I still try and steer clear of intense jumping movements, I’m able to jump squat, do jumping jacks and jack squats no issue! I have been able to perform more HIIT-focused workouts, helping build more lean muscle and provide valuable fat loss.

The other major benefit for me has come in the form of snowboarding. Snowboarding has long been my favorite athletic activity. I began skiing when I was 3 years old and have been skiing/snowboarding consistently ever since, including living in Colorado for 5 years where I racked up over 100 days. The 2009 winter was the first and only winter I had missed due to injury. This was a major blow to me, as my surgery recovery spanned about 7 months from Sept- April of that year. Post-surgery. I was limited to only being able to go one day and not feeling up to going a second day in a row due to back pain. However, Pilates has changed that and allowed me to shred back to back days, without the effects I used to feel after a hard day.

Having a strong grasp of these basic Pilates principals allows me to practice flows anywhere I have a mat and some time, even without professional instruction or a studio. Hopefully, I have inspired some of the men out there or at least informed their significant others that there are amazing benefits for your male counterpart. Remember, it’s not just about the physical result, there is a strong mental component to Pilates. Whether working on your breathing, letting go of real-world stresses or just needing to ‘sweat it out’, exercising in general is a great release and way to keep you strong mentally. Pilates is a great form of exercise, something I will continue to do as I get older, plus it is a great way to get a couples workout in. You know what they say, “Couples who work out together, stay together”. My regular workouts now consist of gym workouts (3-4 times), with Pilates and HIIT workouts weaved in once a week, keeping things fun and interesting for myself.

My goal is to help break down stigmas and educate my male counterparts on this unique type of fitness platform. Young, old, short, or tall, there is some type of mindful movement for everyone.

My “BACK” Story

Everyone has their own unique story about how they started their journey towards living a healthy lifestyle. Asking someone about their fitness journey is honestly is one of my favorite conversation starters because it really shows how different everyone is. Plus the different paths we can all take to end up at the same place, working towards feeling good and being our best self.

My story started when I was 16 years old, I danced competitively throughout middle school and into high school. Around my sophomore year, I started having persistent pain in my hips and lower back. After many doctor visits with my parents, we kept getting the same reasons, “It’s just growing pains” (now if you’ve never met me, I’m 5’2 so clearly this wasn’t the issue) Some actually mentioned that my muscles are just tight from dancing for several hours each day, but I was freakishly flexible so once again I knew that wasn’t it. This kept going on until one day at school I the pain was so unbearable I just sad down walking to class and started crying. I will never forget sitting down and not even being able to explain the amount of pain I was in, I knew something just wasn’t right. 

I started getting X-rays, and MRI’s done to see where the pain was coming from. After several visits I saw a spine specialist and was diagnosed with Spondylolisthesis. Basically, my spine was separating from itself in my lower back (for my anatomy lovers L5-S1). 

After speaking with a few orthopedic surgeons, it was determined that as long as I could handle the pain we could put off the surgery for a little while longer, so I can finish up school and not have any issues. The vertebrae slipping would continue to move at a slow rate, so I would have warning signs before it got to the point of paralyzing me. So I decided to put off surgery until after I graduated high school. Regrettably, I spent two years causing more damage to my spine and taking large amounts of pain medication just to help ease the pain so I could continue dancing. (We did win two national titles during that time so I guess it wasn’t all bad.)

I went in for surgery 5 days after I graduated and 4 days after turning 18 years old. The surgery took 6 hours, the doctors started with a 5-inch incision on my stomach and push my vertebra back into place the screwed in a metal plate to stabilize my spine. After they flip me over to finish the surgery with screw more incisions and 4 screws to hold the vertebras in place. I now have 6 two-inch titanium screws, a metal plate, and a replacement disk, but I can still go through a metal detector with no issues. 😉

After the surgery, I was in the hospital for a week. I was on so much medication I don’t really remember the first few days at all! It almost felt like one of those movie scenes, where the person tries to open their eyes but they don’t open all the way and they can just see their eyelids and a little light and make out people in the room. After a few days, they had me doing “exercises” which was just me trying to sit up, stand and using a walker to take a few steps. I had to actually learn how to walk up the stairs again, which at age 18 felt crazy!

Once I was cleared to start physical activity again I started doing some private Pilates sessions at Pilates Collective in Sebastopol, CA. Quickly I began to notice the benefits of Pilates beyond just for rehabilitation and I fell in love with the method. I knew I wanted to be an instructor and share this new found passion with others. I started my certification training back in 2010, I now am able to teach Pilates and Barre. It’s because of Pilates that I can now walk pain-free without any medication!