Pilates has gained much momentum in the last decade. From a method little known to the general public to an exercise regime affirmed by many, Pilates continues to attract more women than men. According to Pilates Style Magazine in 2005, 89% of Pilates participants were women and only 11% were men (Source: “Sporting Goods Manufacturing Association International Pilates Training Participation Report”). Today, the disparity may have lessened but women still dominate. Why is this the case?
History of Pilates
Joseph Pilates, the creator of Pilates, was a boxer and pioneer. Although he received virtually no formal education, he developed the method through his own study of anatomy. His original studio/gym was at 939 Eighth Ave in New York City, where the then American Ballet and other dance institutions also stood. Dancers went to “Uncle Joe” for rehabilitation and conditioning. Since its humble beginning, Pilates and dance formed a natural alliance. The demand on a dancer’s body requires sustainable training that not only compliments the core but also endures ranges of motion.
Contrology did just that. Not only were dancers drawn to the method for its powerful results, but also its influence on lavish extensions. Never would a muscle group activate in isolation. Always synchronized with their opposing counterparts, Joseph Pilates created a poised alternative for performers in need of skillful vigor.
From 1939 to 1951, Joe and his wife Clara were invited to teach at the well-known summer dance camp, Jacob’s Pillow in the Berkshire Mountains of MA. Between 1926 and 1966, the method flourished in the dance arena. As a result, the exercises were passed down through dancers and performers. Many dance professionals began to use his exercises as warm up. The system (termed “contrology”) was incorporated into dance lessons.
Since the dance world was dominated by women, the method was being delivered mostly by women.
Clara, the wife of Joseph Pilates, is frequently spoken of in Pilates history. She was apparently the more instrumental teacher. Joe was undoubtedly the genius behind the method but it was Clara who instilled it in their students. Clara used her gentle voice and imparting hands to convince the students’ bodies and nurture their spirits. Students of Joe and Clara remembered her meticulous style of teaching that left a lasting impression on both the mind and body. Clara taught well into her sunset years, ten years after Joe’s death and until her own death in 1977. As a result, Pilates was absorbed by later generations as a thoughtful method.
Pilates reshapes the body in both length and strength. Strength does not necessary suggest bulk. In Pilates, the muscles are called to engage in an elongated form. Not only does the “belly” of the muscle contract, but the contraction occurs from its origin to insertion joints. As a result, a muscle is strengthened in its full length and into the support of the joints.
Pilates requires all muscles to work in full range of motion and from the depth of their attachments. Therefore, the body appears leaner and not wider. This type of body image appeals particularly to women. Men in general do not respond to the idea of balancing both strength and length. However, as much as men may be intimidated by flexibility, it can serve them well.
Men and the future of Pilates
More and more men are finding their way to Pilates. Whether by the recommendation of their wives, doctors or physiotherapists, they are realizing the benefits of increased flexibility and range.
Perhaps women find ease in adapting the breath. Perhaps they are more willing to try “the next new thing” in an effort to seek a leaner physique. Or perhaps men are reluctant to abandon their muscle-bound routines. Whatever the cause, women continue to lead the path in Pilates. But Joe intended for the world to be doing his exercises. If the inventor himself believed it, the method must have an inherent value for men. Given that interested men do have to go the extra mile in order to step into studios with names such as “Beautiful Body” or “Precious Physique”, perhaps the entire Pilates community should take charge in welcoming more men. After all, Joe said, “there is no hope for world peace if the members of the United Nations cannot do my first five mat exercises”.[