The Olympic Advantage


These Olympic hopefuls make Pilates a key part of their training.
by Anne Marie O’Connor

When the XXII Winter Olympic Games open in Sochi, Russia, on February 7, a number of the competitors are Pilates fans who are relying on the method to help them get to the medal podium. Pilates Style talked to three Olympians and one Paralympian about how Pilates is helping them go for the gold.

Shani Davis
Sport:  Speed skating
Background:  A three-time Olympian, Davis won gold and silver medals in 2006 and 2010. He is the world-record holder in the 1,000 and 1,500 meters.


How It Helps Him Compete:  “As a speed skater, I have really strong muscles in my legs, but Pilates trains all those tiny muscles I might forget about when I’m skating. On the mat, you’re working on your core, your flexibility, your range of motion and your lower abdominals—all these things you might not work in a speed-skating drill, but that you definitely need.”

His Current Regimen:  “Since I travel all around the world, I’m not always able to find a Reformer, but I do the mat work—leg lifts, planks, lower abdominals, Hundreds—wherever I am.”

His Favorite Move:  “Whenever there is a machine, I like getting on it and working on my range of motion, really opening up the hips and my hip flexors.”

Amy Purdy
Sport:  Para-snowboarding
Background:  Purdy was an aspiring competitive snowboarder when she contracted meningitis 15 years ago, at age 19. Given just a two percent chance of surviving, she beat the odds, but ended up losing both her legs below the knee. Determined to live a full life, she learned to walk—and then snowboard—on her prosthetic legs.

Why She Loves Pilates:  “When I left the hospital three months after getting sick, I
had no legs, I was down to 83 pounds and I had tubes sticking out of me everywhere. Pilates was the only rehab I did—I worked on the apparatus four to five days a week for three-and-a-half years. It helped me learn to walk on my prosthetic legs, which are like walking on stilts. I didn’t want to ever look at [my prosthetics] as a burden. I wanted to be able to visualize them as being as much a part of me as my legs always were.”

How It Helps Her Compete:  “Pilates strengthened all my muscles, especially my core, which is what I rely on so much for snowboarding. It helped me with body awareness and learning how to use my body. I also liked that Pilates helped me with the whole mind/body connection. The different deep stretching you do is really important for using my body in different ways.”

Favorite Moves:  “I love Hundreds on the Reformer, which really helped me both with core strength and with my breathing.” Photo credits: NBC Olympics/USOC

Are Men Afraid of Pilates


by: Ariel Hernandez

Most men love sports, which requires strength, flexibility, stability and balance—so why aren’t more men flocking to Pilates studios? It’s been 17 years since I begin teaching Pilates and 10 years since I opened my own studio, and during that time only one thing’s been missing: men. I’ve taught Pilates to men, including a few professional athletes, however, I think many studio owners will agree that women vastly outnumber men as clients.

Until recently, Pilates was a well-kept secret among professional athletes. I recently taught two high school kids who were enthusiastic about taking Pilates because they learned that many NFL players are required to use it (using the Reformer, which I believe makes the workout safer and more effective) as part of their workout routine.

So if macho men who are paid millions to play football can do Pilates, I wonder…Why aren’t more men taking advantage of this exercise? Do they acquaint Pilates with ballet or do they consider it too “feminine?” Do they hear that it strengthens their core and increases flexibility and think, I’ve got a six pack and who wants to be flexible? Has our industry done a poor job of communicating the significant benefits of the exercises created by Joseph Pilates?

I was once a skeptic as well. When I was in my early 20s, I lived in Miami where I taught kickboxing, weight training and gymnastics. Needless to say, I thought I was in great shape. A friend of mine who was a ballet dancer was taking Pilates classes. I watched a class and thought, that’s for girls—it’s a little stretching thing. My friend convinced me to take a class and you know the rest of the story: that class kicked my butt! I fell in love with the Pilates exercises that provided strength and flexibility, along with balance, joint stability and body awareness.

I began taking classes while still nursing a nagging back injury and little by little, the injury went away. I began studying for certifications and along the way got into the best shape of my life. Pilates has changed my body physically, and has changed my life mentally and spiritually, and I want to share that with everyone…from children to adults, to men and women, to professional athletes or office desk jockeys.

So how can a regular Pilates class benefit any man? Well, to begin with, it’s one of the best ways I know to improve your physique or your game, whether it’s hockey, basketball, baseball, running, golf or cycling. Among my former clients are an Olympic skier, two tennis playing sisters of international fame, and probably the world’s best-known golfer. He knew Pilates would increase his flexibility and range of motion and help prevent injuries during a long pro tour—and the results have made sports history time and again.

Like all Pilates instructors know, this golfer realized that most pain and injuries are the result of muscle imbalance and a lack of flexibility. For example, too often men train their upper bodies, and that creates muscle imbalance and misalignment, which can lead to injury. Pilates is one of the best methods I know of for preventing balancing muscles, aligning the body and preventing injury. For that reason alone, men should be running to their nearest Pilates studio. I’ve trained NBA players because they knew that stabilizing their hip and knee joints is critical to their performance on the court, not to mention the increased range of motion they experienced.

In our studio, we can train clients for a specific sport, however, by following the Pilates principles of moving with stability to engage the appropriate muscles, enhance body awareness, strengthen the core and increase balance and agility, we engage the entire body from the head to the tips of the toes.

The men I work with say Pilates is without exception the best exercise they’ve ever done. When they first experience it, they are surprised it is so challenging, and how good they feel after the workout. For example, one of my clients, a former baseball player, was so stiff he could not put on his shoes and socks without difficulty and discomfort. After just five sessions, he was able to bend over with no discomfort and slept without pain for the first time in 10 years.

In fact, many of the men I work with come to me as a last resort before surgery, but if they were coming in during their athletic years, they might be able to prevent the injuries that lead to pain and surgery. I’m glad to see that Pilates is finally being recognized in the rehabilitation field. For so long, most doctors trying to help people recover from their injuries didn’t have much body awareness themselves.

If you are a man who is looking for a full-body workout that’s going to build more muscle fiber and strength while increasing your flexibility, mobility, joint stability and the ability to move with ease in every range of motion, I encourage you to be open-minded and give Pilates a try. Try different studios and different styles until you find the right fit.

Go into it with no expectations and you might be pleasantly surprised. When you look for a Pilates instructor, check out their background and ask questions. Make sure they hold a national certification for Pilates, and find out how long they have been teaching. Once you give Pilates a try, I believe that like most of my clients, you might just find yourself hooked on this not-for-women-only exercise philosophy.

How Pilates Benefits Men


Over the past seven years, I have watched the stigma of Pilates being a “girl exercise” change. Nowadays it is more respected by the general population for what it is: a hard workout for everyone, of all ages. That being said, I do still find myself being asked if men do Pilates.

Yes, men do Pilates. Men LOVE Pilates because it is a great workout with many man-specific benefits when taught according to their personal needs and goals. Once men try it, just like women, they are hooked. However, it seems there is still an underlying fear of the unknown and disregard by those who haven’t tried it.

Well, here are some answers for you. Read on for some of the biggest benefits of Pilates for the manliest of men.

Pilates works all the little, intricate muscles that are either ignored at they gym, or just not possible to safely and effectively strengthen there, especially for those who aren’t sure how to use all the equipment safely and efficiently. When Pilates is included into the weekly workout regimen, it makes every exercise at the gym more effective. When the abdominals are trained and strengthened to activate at the level Pilates brings them to, they make your body work in proper alignment. This alignment will increase how hard the rest of your body is working and make those gym sessions more worth your time, with better results.

The intense and fine-tuned attention Pilates pays to the abdominal corset muscles helps the pelvis fall into its natural alignment. The spine is then able to lift up out of the pelvis and align into its natural curves. This can make people grow taller, as it alleviates compression within the spinal discs. It most definitely makes for better posture, which gives the appearance of being taller.

• Why is good posture important? Well, besides the obvious benefits of it reducing pain in the back, neck and shoulders and preventing future health issues, having good posture plays a key role in first impressions. Standing tall gives off an air of confidence. Confidence is SO downplayed in its key role in everyday life. Appearing confident, even if you don’t feel it, will make people perceive you as stronger, in control, and aware of what you want and how you will get it. This will reflect in a positive way in your workplace, on a date, you name it.

It can increase your game in sports like golf, tennis, swimming and running. The physical contribution Pilates plays in increasing the body’s form in these sports has brought many a manly man back to my Reformer.

Many Pilates exercises work and strengthen the abdominals by deepening them for maximum strength while twisting with control. The twisting action of these exercises is key in building a killer golf swing. Over the years, I have had a steady stream of men coming in to the studio because one of their friends was taking Pilates and suddenly his golf swing got better than theirs. Next thing you know, in they walk. Once they realize what it can do for their bodies, they are just as hooked as the girls. Pilates is not a girly form of exercise. It is a major butt-kicker. It is also a form of physical therapy and rehab. The combination of this increases the strength of every sport you play and makes it safer and you look better while playing. It’s a triple win!

Pilates is not an exercise that women do because they like to stretch. (This is seriously a comment I have heard many times). It is a very intelligent form of working out. It prevents injury. It alleviates pain. It is widely regarded as a top form of physical therapy around the world. It increases physical strength and stamina. As an added bonus, it makes you look fantastic. Pilates in no way, shape or form, is a workout for only women. Don’t be scared of the unknown, men! You will be very happy you tried it.

by Andrea Speir