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Pilates, not for men

Gloves up for Pilates

‘I’m not gonna do that!’ is the usual response when I ask a guy if he wants to join one of my Pilates classes. Clearly Pilates is seen as a ‘women’s thing’, a bit like ballet or even yoga. For quite a while I wondered where that bias came from because in my experience doing Pilates is much more challenging than a spinning class or a pump-the-iron-in-the-gym routine. So, why the persistent hesitance of men towards Pilates?

Joseph Pilates

To set the record straight, Pilates was founded by German born Joseph Pilates (1883 - 1967). He was a man, not gay, nor a ballet dancer, nor did he develop the exercise system specifically for women. In fact, his first ‘clients’ were men, soldiers who were rehabilitating from WW1. Only when Joseph moved to New York in the 1920s his exercise method was adapted by other teachers for ballet dancers who were, yes, mostly female.

For decades Pilates, as an exercise method, wasn’t known globally as it is now. Only from the mid 1970s onwards when other powerful work-out routines such as aerobics were introduced did it become mainstream. Helped by hollywood celebrities and the media, Pilates was mainly embraced by women because it promised them a lean and toned body. For men though there weren't any ‘male-ish’ role models around. Plus by that time everyone had forgotten about the founder of the method.

Subjective projection

So, I think it all comes down to subjective projection. If men don’t see other men doing it, then it’s not considered a ‘manly’ exercise method resulting in a 'I'm not interested' response. Or, closer to home, if your wife is doing it then the man is certainly not going to do it. Funny thing is that most men would actually benefit from doing Pilates because of their ‘born with it’ tightness in hips, legs and backs.

On a positive note, the younger male generation is much more open to a combination of exercise methods including Pilates. For me, I will keep on showing that Pilates is beneficial for anyone, male, female, young and old. Hopefully I will see a few brave men through the door who are not bothered by imagery and projection and just want to feel better, stronger and more flexible. Fingers crossed.


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Marco Dingemans is a qualified Classical Pilates mat instructor

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