When the first Pilates studio opened its doors in New York, in the 1920s, it was an instant hit with female Broadway dancers, who found the revolutionary new discipline beneficial for recovering from injuries, and as the popularity of Pilates has continued throughout the years, it has often been wrongly dismissed by the male of the species as a female only activity. Not so, the process was in fact originated by Joseph Pilates, a German-born fitness enthusiast who was also a keen bodybuilder.

Of course, these days, men everywhere are finally catching on to the value of Pilates and, in particular, Reformer Pilates as a way to improve strength, flexibility, and longevity. A-list athletes such as Cristiano Ronaldo are big advocates. So why have men had such a stand-offish relationship with Pilates?

Perhaps one of the barriers to taking up this positive pastime is the mystery surrounding it. Sessions are often held in private studios, making it difficult to observe what’s involved without stepping through the door. What exactly is Reformer Pilates then? And what does it have to offer? Muscle & Fitness talked to Chris Rimmer, studio owner and director of the ReformME facility in Formby, Liverpool, England to find out.

A love-love Pilates relationship

Rimmer was a personal trainer before he gained his qualifications in Dynamic Reformer at London’s Ten Academy. He had a background in athletics, specifically running, and played soccer at a professional level as a young man. Rimmer was introduced to Reformer Pilates by his wife and daughter and, just like many men, his initial reaction was that this was a girls-only activity. His skepticism was based on a preconceived notion that it wouldn’t challenge him, but that proved to be a mistake. Rimmer fell in love with the exercise from his very first class and began training to become an instructor, traveling backward and forwards to London, attending sessions to hone his knowledge of the process.

What is Reformer Pilates?

The Reformer Bed is the apparatus used during sessions. Under the direction of an instructor, the individual uses a bed-like frame, rolling backwards and forwards on a rolling platform. At one end of the Reformer Bed is an adjustable bar, often utilized for supporting the hands and feet depending on the required movement. The bed also contains straps with handles, again for use by the hands or feet. The adjustable bars and straps act to modify the different workouts meaning that they can be used in a variety of ways, for students of all levels.

What results can men (and women) expect to gain from Reformer Pilates?

“There are a multitude of benefits,” says Rimmer. “Building strength in the core and lean muscles, enhancing flexibility, improving alignment, balance, mobility, and posture, as well as improved mind-muscle connection and injury prevention and rehab are all key focus areas.

“Many men suffer from poor mobility in the hips and tight hamstrings, and Reformer exercises greatly improve these specific issues. We have a number of guests who struggle with lower back pain, fibromyalgia, plantar fasciitis, low mood, pains in the shoulders and knees and other such conditions. By strengthening key muscle groups, focusing on improved alignment and posture, and stretching under the supervision of an experienced instructor with the support of the ingenious Reformer Carriage, they really do notice improvements in these conditions. The recent lockdowns reminded many clients just how beneficial their sessions are.”

Do you need a high level of fitness before embarking on Reformer Pilates?

“Absolutely not,” says Rimmer. “At ReformME, we teach clients from 14 years old all the way up to our oldest client who is 89 years young. Reformer Pilates work is low-impact and adaptable to all fitness levels, so it has become hugely popular with everyone from athletes to absolute beginners, including those who are gym and exercise-phobic. It benefits everyone from teenagers, to seniors and elite athletes, to people with a more sedentary lifestyle.”

How can older people benefit from Reformer Pilates?

“The Pilates reformer work focuses on spinal alignment, core strength and proper muscle engagement,” says Rimmer. “Which in turn improves athletic performance, but also reduces back pain, helps injury recovery, improves balance and bone density, and posture to name a few benefits. It is a movement system designed to better our everyday life at every age.”

How have you tried to encourage more men to take part in your studio?

“Our studio offers classes specifically for men,” says Rimmer. “We also run private group sessions for friends and family, one-to-one sessions and unisex classes. Some of our classes have 50% male attendance, but our most popular session for men is when a group of friends attend a pre-organized private session together.”

Have you seen an increase in the numbers of men catching on to Reformer Pilates?

“This is certainly increasing,” says Rimmer. “Guys definitely love the more dynamic Reformer sessions and it is refreshing to see groups of male friends adding Reformer into their weekly fitness routines.  Whether they are initially dragged to the studio with their partner or family, in the same way that I was, or they join a male friend in a group session, our guests instantly feel challenged. They feel the benefits and quickly see an improvement in performance in the sports that they do, and also the benefits as relates to injury prevention. 

“We host classes for Young Football Academy players and a number of sports professionals including Premier League footballers and boxers. Reformer Pilates has become a solid addition to our guests’s fitness agendas.”

What does Reformer Pilates add to the conditioning of an elite athlete?

“Professional athletes are already well educated in the need to strengthen their core and isolate specific body parts to prevent injury, improve muscle power, balance and flexibility,” says Rimmer.  “Dynamic Reformer sessions are tailor-made to fit the individual needs of a specific athlete, and encourage clients to become more in tune with their bodies, to enhance their overall performance.

How to get started

If you are ready to add Reformer Pilates to your weekly routine, search for a reputable, qualified instructor, and make sure to check out their online reviews. There are various types of sessions available depending on your starting fitness level and goals. Some workouts focus on the mind and body connection, whilst others are designed to increase strength, or have you work up a sweat. Your Reformer Pilates instructor will be able to advise on a class that best suits you.

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