Written by Arnold Lee, NCPT & Club Pilates Master Trainer
In honor of Movember, we're challenging men to get moving this month... with Pilates!
Bored of your current fitness routine? Pilates is for you.
The benefits of exercise to physical, mental and emotional health are many, significant and well documented. However, many men find themselves bored or unsatisfied with their workout routine because their workouts are just that - routine.
Many exercises have a rather limited and unsophisticated ability to measure progress. These benchmarks consisting mainly of amount of pounds moved or number of reps "cranked out." Make no mistake, the ability to measure progress is important. As goal oriented human beings, we need to know where we stand compared to where we were yesterday.
What's missing from the majority of these routines is the element of measurable skill, where not only strength is valued and measured, but also body awareness and the ability to move yourself through space pain-free and under real-world load and conditions. This is perhaps why full-body, functional exercises like Olympic lifts have become so popular.
With its deep roots in disciplines such as gymnastics, dance and martial arts, Pilates has at its foundation, body-control, skill-based exercises that are easily scalable and customizable. In fact, founder Joseph Pilates originally called his system "Contrology" to denote his emphasis on precision and skill. All of which makes Pilates highly desirable to anyone who wishes to develop finesse, body awareness and proper form in a clearly outlined progression.
Movember Movement Challenge!
Here are five exercises that require increasing degrees of strength, body awareness and skill to execute correctly. The easiest versions of these exercises are approachable by any fitness level, and then ramp up with a clear progression that offers a challenge even for the most athletic individuals. Climbing this ladder of skill will give you an appreciation of the phrase "the better you get at Pilates, the harder it becomes."
A Classic Pilates mainstay. It requires abdominal and hip flexor strength, hamstring flexibility, balance and a knowledge of your body's center of gravity as it shifts through space.
Seated with legs bent, feet on the floor, roll back, hold position.
Progress to: Legs up, bent at the knees then to a Legs-straight version.
Start supine on the floor with Legs bent, feet remaining on the ground as the torso rolls up/down. The classic "sit-up"
Legs start in table-top then extend out into a straight position as you flexion the torso upward into the Teaser position.
"Full" Teaser: Legs start straight on the ground as you lie supine, roll the torso up into the Teaser position as the legs lift up.
Fantastic for building Glute/Hamstring strength, especially when spending so much time seated.
Lie supine. Start with Legs bent, Both feet down on the floor.
Progress to: Raising One leg into the air for a single leg bridge.
Then extend duration of foot in air as you add movement up/down, side to side with the airborne "gesture" leg to challenge hip/torso stability and strength.
Side Leg Work
Absolutely essential for strengthening the Gluteus Medius, which if weak or imbalanced can compromise hip stability significantly. A weak Glute Medius often leads to unstable knees when executing a squat.
Start on side.
Progress to a Kneeling Side Kick.
Quadraped / Swimming
There is a reason the Quadraped, "Bird Dog" and variants are loved by Physical Therapists. The exercise strengthens and stabilizes your postural muscles which can become weakened and lengthened via long stretches of smartphone and computer use.
Start on hands and knees.
Progress to: Extend one hand out front.
Then opposite (contra-lateral) leg behind.
Lie on your stomach (prone) on floor for Swimming which increases postural muscle activation and then add rhythmic speed to increase demands on coordination and shoulder/hip stability.
Every mat workout Joe Pilates taught ended with the Classic Pilates Pushup... A very strict, form-intensive pushup. While planks have become popular recently, over a hundred years ago, Pilates knew the value of this exercise which is essentially a moving plank that integrates your upper and lower platforms via core stability.
Start by planking with your forearms and knees on the floor.
Progress to: Straight arm plank. Add straight legs (revert to forearms at this point if necessary.)
Pushups from knees.
Pushups in full plank. Keep good plank form and go slow before adding reps. Traditionally these were taught at four reps which should give you an idea of how difficult it is at slow speed and with excellent form.
An encouraging reminder about these exercises: Remember what it was like, learning how to ride a bicycle. No amount of brute strength or "guts" would get you to learn to ride a bike any faster. Have patience with yourself and build up these body skills along with your strength.