By Tom DiChiara
To say I was skeptical going into my first Pilates class would be like saying the Yankees and Red Sox are kind of rivals -- an epic understatement. I’d walked past Pilates classes at the gym plenty of times before, always noting the distinct scarcity of male participants and yawning at the easy-listening tunes seeping out from behind the closed doors.
I didn’t know much about the discipline, but, as a competitive runner, I was looking to add a little variety to the weight-lifting routine that complements my daily runs. My wife (also known as She Who Can Convince Me To Do Anything), suggested Pilates as a way to enhance my core strength and flexibility, and I agreed to give it a shot.
And so, one night in early 2013, I found myself sitting on a mat, listening to smooth jazz, and subtly scanning the mirrored room for low-profile exits should I decide to bolt in the middle of my first-ever Pilates class. Then a funny thing happened: Class began, and everything I thought I knew about Pilates went straight out the nearest emergency exit. An hour later -- after the best core workout I’d ever had -- I was completely hooked. So, follow my lead and forget the excuses. Your future six-pack will thank you.
But... Pilates is for girls. Fun fact: “Pilates was created by a man -- for men!” shares Susan Smith Burns, a Power Pilates instructor. In fact, the man she’s referring to, Joseph Pilates, had a list of occupations -- diver, wrestler, body builder, self-defense teacher and professional boxer -- that's pretty much the stereotypical definition of manliness. The truth is, Pilates offers a great workout, regardless of your gender. Plenty of pro athletes, including LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Tiger Woods, incorporate Pilates into their fitness regimen.
But... I’d be better off lifting weights and doing crunches. If you want Terminator-esque Schwarzenegger arms, you’ll definitely need to toss around some iron. But Pilates has other benefits. “We work to build long, strong, lean muscles, focusing on the ‘core’ musculature -- abs, back, glutes, inner thighs -- in order to better support the spine in a lengthened position,” says Burns. And that's going to help, regardless if you want to look like the former governor of California (a few decades before office, of course) or you just want to stay in shape.
But... I don’t have time. Could you spare 15 minutes a week? “People will see some positive changes in strength and flexibility at a frequency of once a week,” say Burns. “But to really reap all the rewards Pilates has to offer, a commitment of at least two to three times a week is optimal. Some sort of daily practice is off-the-charts awesome, and completely doable in as few as 15 to 20 minutes.” All told, that adds up to a very reasonable 30 minutes to an hour a week -- if you’re being ambitious. And, as Burns points out, once you’ve learned the exercises, the world is your Pilates studio, so you can unroll your mat on the living room floor and get a workout while you catch up on Game Of Thrones.
But... I’m not coordinated enough. Maybe you won’t be the first couple of times you try Pilates, but, Burns insists, “Flexibility and coordination will improve with practice.” That’s not to say that Pilates ever gets easy. “Pilates is multi-layered, which is what keeps it interesting for people, even after years of practice,” says Burns. “You’ll learn the basics of each movement first, breaking them down as much as needed, then adding things in to deepen the experience or simply add more challenge.”
But... I’m too self-conscious. You’ll be so focused on controlling your breathing, keeping your spine straight, and maintaining balance you won’t have time to worry about how you look. Not convinced? Do what I do, and set up shop in the way back of the class. Added bonus: The music isn’t as loud back there.