Here’s the truth about Pilates: The über-popular but very technical form of exercise, which demands a highly trained instructor and a piece of gear (called a reformer) that’s about the size of a Harley-Davidson, is not focused on stretching and meditation. Rather, it’s another type of resistance training. “There’s this misconception that Pilates is similar to yoga,” says Lori Sottosanti, a master Pilates instructor in Los Angeles. “A lot of people think it’s just stretching, but it’s a tough workout. Your heart rate rises quickly.”
Word has gotten out about Sottosanti’s “New York–style Pilates,” which is a pure form of Pilates, she says, and not a hybrid of the art. She recently began training a UFC champion who recommended her services to other fighters. Curious but skeptical, they came to Sottosanti with low expectations. “I’ll hand the fighters a towel and say, ‘I’m not saying you’re going to sweat, but I’m going to leave this here just in case.’ Three minutes into the workout, they’re like, ‘Can I have that towel?’” she says, laughing. “They call me bad names sometimes.”
The magic in Pilates comes from the way it puts the body in unorthodox positions and demands that you hold it in place. This activates smaller intrinsic muscles, many in your core, that don’t get targeted by traditional resistance training. According to Sottosanti, Pilates actually has extra benefits for guys who lift heavy every week. “Pilates is a tremendous help to guys in the gym,” she says. “Adding Pilates to a weight-lifting regimen actually helps you lift more weight. Everything you do in the gym you’re able to do properly after Pilates because you’re holding the body in the right positions.”
Sottosanti claims that many of her clients have experienced amazing physical transformations that have little to do with building muscle or burning fat. Rather, the way Pilates develops the muscles in the stomach and back helps create more space between vertebrae. “After Pilates, you stand up so much taller. A lot of guys have rounded shoulders from their workouts. Pilates opens up the chest and gives you this confident presence because you’re holding your body differently,” Sottosanti says.
Go for the Real Thing: Many gyms and videos offer mat Pilates, a group exercise class that uses Pilates-based moves without the reformer. According to Sottosanti, it’s not the same thing. “Mat Pilates is pretty watered down,” she says. “It’s not as challenging. Guys will get a good stretch out of it, but in general, men get more out of the machine.”
Get Prepped: To get acquainted with the unique physical stress that occurs in a Pilates workout, Sottosanti recommends performing push-up and dip variations in slow motion. To make sure you aren’t the one applying undue stress in your class, be sure to wear some compression shorts under your workout gear — you will most likely be in positions that will make your shorts ride up.
Flexibility Without the Stretching:
Pilates is great for guys who lift weights because they often have very tight hips from their workouts and their lifestyle (sitting at a desk, etc.). Pilates stretches out the muscles but not in a painful or boring way. Still, if you tend to have very tight muscles, Pilates will be more challenging for you than someone with greater flexibility. “Inflexible guys love it, though, because they’re stretching out their body without it being a stretching class,” Sottosanti says. “It sneaks in the stretching.”