I was about 18 when I first tried pilates. In a gym with 50 other people, lying on my back and being told to "access my core!" a lot. I promptly fell asleep after 15 minutes. After that, I thought it best to leave "pilates" to women who didn't like playing proper sports. I just assumed that pilates would go away once people realised that it was an expensive hour of lying down and gossip.
Twelve years later and it's still here. My opinion of it has not changed, even though I have married a pilates enthusiast. If anything, my scoffing of the exercise had strengthened through my stubborn refusal to listen to my wife's insistence that I should give it go. I am man. I play team sports that involve balls, high fives, and beer. And even though I spend most of the games lying on the sideline with a back/hamstring/calf/body injury, I've never seen anyone high five in a pilates studio, ever.
Much to my dismay, my wife presented me with a 6 week pilates package, that involved three mates who were also given no choice by their wives. "You can't mock it till you try it," I was told. Fair enough. We men would try pilates, in a real studio, with a teacher dedicated to us, and we would see how "hard" all that lying about really was.
Pilates studio. S&M studio, more like. The apparatus scattered around the place resemble an 18th century torture chamber. All that's missing is a dominatrix with the high heels and whip. Instead, we are introduced to a sweet lady called Leanne. She gets us to work straight away, lying on our backs… how predictable. There are a few sniggers all round when she tells us that accessing our cores is akin to holding back wee when you need to go to the toilet. But that's it. An hour later and I haven't broken a sweat. I'm not tired. Leanne has explained to us what pilates is and how we're exercising the 'hidden' muscles that hold everything together… blah blah blah. We leave feeling utterly satisfied that our suspicions were correct. Pilates is silly and an utter waste of time.
We're back to play on the pilates rides, which to be fair, are extremely cool. S&M devices they are not. They are actually extremely well designed furniture pieces which look like they might actually work. But they don't. I do what I'm told, and try access my core, but it doesn't exist. Its like being told to flex your appendix. Impossible, especially for me, since I don't have one. Leanne is very patient with my condescending questions on how each exercise is "supposed" to make me feel and always comes back with an educated response, which in theory, makes sense. After much flexing, leg raises, arm raises, balancing on balls …etc our hour is up, and I'm still as dry as I was an hour later. No sweat, no pain, no nothing. I leave frustrated.
During the week, I suffer both a calf strain and a pulled hamstring. I'm 30 now and it dawns on me that my body is not as durable as it used to be. It's also not as thin/toned as it was 12 years ago… or 5 years ago even. Come into pilates determined to understand what the fuss is about. It has to work. If it were a scam, why is everyone who walks out of this studio attractive? Everyone has amazing posture, and they all look good. I've been scoffing at these women, when most of them are all thinner than me, and probably aren't as injury prone as podgy little me.
Leanne somehow deals with my irritated questions and lets me know that it'll come with practice. And by god, it does. 20 minutes in and I suddenly understand what this "core" is. Like a maths equation that only makes sense if you stare at it for hours, I finally see the code. It's impossible to explain but 45 minutes into our Pilates session, I can barely walk. Working on the machines, flexing, pointing, bending – all while accessing my core. I lay on the floor, and it feels like someone has stuck an electrical probe up my bum and zapped the muscles underneath my stomach. It feels like my kidneys are tired. I'm not sweating, I haven't lifted anything heavy, but I feel like I've done 1000 miniature sit-ups. I get it. I finally get it.
We're back. I'm guessing my pilates mates have gone through the same revelation because we're all wearing new pants. Always a sign that a guy is taking something seriously, when the apparel is appropriate and branded. We tackle the pilates equipment with new vigour and enthusiasm. Leanne matches our enthusiasm and starts giving us more challenging exercises. I perform the "Pike" and it makes me feel like a gymnastic ninja. I don't ever want to see what I look like, but I feel awesome doing it.
This is me. No. It's not. But one day, I'd like to be as cool as this girl
I'm ten minutes early and already warming up my hamstrings while Leanne finishes up with another client. It's best to lie down and close your eyes when there are girls doing pilates near you. It's a very intimate form of exercise and no matter where you look, people will be legs wide or on their hands and knees with bum in the air. As a guy it's best to close your eyes and look at the ceiling. It's bad enough with three guys in a class, I've had to lie down, legs open while he's doing an exercise where he's facing me and can't move his neck. We're cool. We're all friends. But take note, wear loose-fitting clothing. Especially round the crotch, there's been times when Leanne has been trying to help me with a move, and all I can think about is how awkward it is for her. Also, belly tends to be exposed at times. pilates is awesome in the right clothes.
Once again. I leave feeling like my inner body is on fire. It feels awesome.
You get the message now. We are converted. It's just pilates. It's not a big deal anymore. We get in, work hard, high five at our "piking" skills, and leave. We are officially pilates men, and proud of it.
We're now in week 14 or 15 and are just about to renew our classes. I haven't experienced a back or neck related injury since I started. I may not be six packed and hot but I stand at least a foot taller than I used to. Yay for pilates. It's for men and women and it works. I realise that the older I get, the more important the little muscles get. Give it a go, it's worth it.