OVERLAND PARK, KS -- Golfers Phil Mickelson and Camilo Villegas say it helped improve their swing. Several NFL players use it to improve their flexibility and help them recover from injury more quickly. And soccer star David Beckham says it gives him the core strength he needs to, well, bend it like Beckham.
But pop your head into any Pilates class at your club and chances are that the majority of those you see practicing their teasers and hundreds are women. Stefania Della Pia, program director at Stott Pilates, Toronto, thinks this is due to misconceptions about Pilates.
“Pilates does tend to attract more women, and I think that a lot of it is due to the assumption that it’s not hard enough or that it doesn’t build enough strength,” Della Pia says. “Sometimes, people aren’t even aware that there is resistance equipment in Pilates.”
There’s also a historical reason for the imbalance, according to Ken Endelman, founder and CEO of Balanced Body, Sacramento, CA.
“For many decades, it was the popular method that female dancers employed for exercise and rehabilitation, so most men thought of it as a women’s exercise,” says Endelman. “In reality, Pilates was originally designed by a man, for men.” Joseph Pilates, Endelman points out, developed the regimen during a career that included stints as a boxing coach, martial artist and athletic trainer.
Endelman says the value of Pilates is starting to reach a wider market, thanks in part to reports of professional athletes using Pilates to improve their performance and recovery times.
“We work with many teams in the NFL, NBA and [Major League Baseball], as well as Olympic athletes,” Endelman says. “I think that many believe core strength and flexibility have become as, if not more, important than muscle mass. And the reason is simple—they are seeing improved performance and fewer injuries to the athletes who practice Pilates regularly. And the general public is picking up on that as well.”
Capitalizing on the method’s benefits in sports performance has proved effective in piquing the interest of men in many clubs. To allow instructors to become specialists in a certain area, Stott Pilates has recently introduced a series of five training tracks for mat- and equipment-based instruction, and at least two of those—athletic conditioning and golf conditioning—will probably appeal more to men. But although the specialty tracks should help get men through the door, it’s not just a gimmick.
“With the golf program, for instance, we’ve programmed the workouts and exercises to focus on strength, balance, flexibility and power,” Della Pia says. “It gives the client the great benefits that Pilates allows—conditioning the entire body and focusing on the core—but it has exercises that they can also relate to from practicing golf. So instead of a lot of the traditional Pilates exercises where you lie on your back or stomach, there’s more standing and kneeling.”
In addition to having instructors trained to work with special populations, Della Pia suggests that offering a men-only class or something as simple as renaming a class Pilates for Strength or Power Pilates can help widen its audience.
However, both Endelman and Della Pia stress that simply offering these classes isn’t enough if your club isn’t marketing them.
“By far the biggest reason a Pilates program doesn’t meet a club’s expectation is failure by the club to market the program properly, both externally and internally,” Endelman says. “The most important thing I can tell you is that your club needs to have a Pilates champion, someone who serves as the linchpin in making sure that both staff and members know what’s going on with the program at all times.”
Holding regular orientations, in which members can find out about Pilates and test out the equipment for free, is one of the ways that Stott Pilates spreads interest in its Toronto studio, and Della Pia says it’s an effective way for club owners to market the method, too. She also says that advertising a specialty Pilates program that lasts a set amount of time, say one to two months, has proven successful at many facilities.“It’s a great way to attract a greater audience,” she says, “and you’re also getting a shorter time commitment, so people don’t feel that they’re locked in for a long time.”