PIlates For Men


I love teaching men. OK there… I said it. Here’s why:

1.They benefit so much,

2.They work hard, and…

3.They do what they’re told!

I have always gravitated toward male clients and they seem to respond to me. Now not to alienate the 60% of my clientele that are women but … my workouts with men often include more exercises, move faster with less explanation and a more “athletic” focus. It’s especially gratifying to see a man walk into my studio hunched over with chronic back pain and have him walk out standing tall, without pain — to hear him say “that was a lot harder than I expected” and book several more appointments because he truly sees the value!

More and more men are adding Pilates to their fitness program. While there is still a stigma that Pilates is for women (especially with an older crowd) that’s changing rapidly as the benefits of Pilates start to be seen, especially in our aging society and with high-performance athletes. Men are finding Pilates mainly because IT REALLY WORKS! Who doesn’t want better posture, a more flexible spine, a strong core, and improved performance?

Made for Men by a Man!

Joseph Pilates was a real “man’s man” — He smoked cigars and drank beer. (It’s said some his equipment was inspired by a beer keg.) He was a boxer, skier, wrestler, and inventor (Some have even called him MacGyver!) Ok, so he wore little white gymnastic trunks and often went shirtless ... but he was always in pursuit of the perfect male body.

At the outbreak of World War I, Joseph Pilates was living in England and working as a self-defense instructor at Scotland Yard. He was interned as an “enemy alien” with other German Nationals, and during this time, Joe created his system of exercise for the men of the camp. After his release, when he was asked to train the German Secret Police he decided to emigrate to the US. He met his wife, Clara on the voyage and together they opened a fitness studio in New York.

It was here where his system began to develop a female following as many of New York’s ballerinas and modern dancers found him to rehabilitate injuries. This connection to the dance community may be where his methods developed a reputation for being “for women” but his intentions were always that ALL bodies would benefit from his method.

They Get Deep

It’s no big secret that men have more muscle mass than women, particularly in the upper body. (My clients know how much I hate that men can do pull-ups with more ease than women) But men tend to be weak in the small muscle groups like the deep abdominals, inner thigh/groin, and hip stabilizers.

A huge component of Pilates is about developing muscle — both in the large and small muscle groups -- particularly those that strengthen the core and stabilize the joints. The result is more awareness and better functional mechanics of the pelvis, shoulder, hip, elbow, knee, ankle, wrist, etc.  Having all of these areas function at maximum, makes it easier to build strong pecs, bulging biceps, and beefy legs. I always tell my clients who lift that once I started doing Pilates, I was able to lift heavier and safer!


I’ve been teaching men for over 20 years through Pilates and Personal Training. While I don’t change the session completely for men, I do make small changes to my cueing and exercise choices.

Disclaimer: I don’t wish to generalize, sound sexist, or alienate any of my clientele (male or female) so be advised, I’m just offering my experience with the majority over many years of teaching.  I’ve refined my approach for teaching men in the following ways:

  1. Modify the Session Design:

  2. 1. Go harder and make them sweat!  I know… I know… the point of Pilates is NOT to go harder but you still have to “hook” them with a challenging and effective workout  -- especially if they’ve been dragged to class by their significant other!  Men DO need more weight for some exercises, particularly for the upper body. They won’t come back if they feel like it’s not worth their time.

  1. 2. Sometimes less weight is more. I’ll often will teach Long Stretch and other planks on a half (blue) spring to illustrate this concept. This will usually make the point and they’ll stop asking to “put some more weight on!”

  1. 3. Choose exercises that strengthen small muscle groups (like inner thighs/groin, deep abdominals, multifidae and rotator cuffs) and stretch/release large muscle groups (like lats, back extensors, quads, hamstrings, and glutes.)

  1. 4. Modify for cranky toes. I find many men have trouble bending their toes for positions like plank or kneeling. One solution is to have them stand with their arch or whole foot on the shoulder rest or on a roller, BOSU or brick.

  1. 5. Start with isolated movements and move to integrated compound movements. I know... I know... Pilates uses full-body functional movement but sometimes It’s ok to isolate! In my experience, men are less coordinated. Start with a simple familiar move and build from there. (eg teach bicep curl and then add lunges)

  1. Modify Your Cues:

  2. 6. I cringe when I hear a teacher say the words “Pelvic Floor” in the first session with anyone -- especially a man! I don’t address the pelvic floor until I’ve been working with them for weeks, maybe even months!

  3. 7. Touch less - they are uncomfortable with it (unless you feel comfortable throwing in a little light massage or assisted stretching- then they will love you!)

  1. 8. Give fewer instructions. I find that it takes men longer to “get it” so I let them perform more reps and I focus on only 1 or 2 key points at a time. The will “tune out” with many instructions.

  1. 9. Be sneaky with modifications. Dudes are competitive. They don’t want to feel weak or do less than someone else -- particularly the women in class.  Rarely will a man try the easier version but they will always rise to a challenge.

  1. 10. Learn to read their cues. I find men are more likely to “work through the pain” and not mention that they may be feeling something incorrectly - even if you ask them.

  1. 11. Be more literal. Most of my male clients don’t respond to imagery as well as women. Phrases like “lengthen” or “shine your heart” don’t work as well as “sit up straight” or “lift your chest”

  1. 12. Be careful of feminine cues. I sometimes use Superman instead of Swan and cue the nipples instead of breasts or bra line.  (... though cues involving tiaras and dangly earrings worked great for my drag queens in San Francisco!)

  1. 13. Teach efficiency of movement. Men have what I call the “athlete’s problem” of excessive gripping and “muscling” through movements. Often I slow them down and start with a setup position for each exercise. Get them to breathe and “don’t work so hard” and they will calm down. Once they use only the muscles needed they’ll see the benefits of expending less energy and gaining more focused power and strength.

Got more tips to share?  email Maria at mandresino@yahoo.com


Why Pilates for Men?

That’s the beauty of Pilates. It works on every body — every shape, size, age, and gender!

While I don’t teach a completely different class for men, there are differences between men and women when it comes to exercise and movement. Here’s why men benefit so much from the method:

They Get Loose

More testosterone means more muscle. More muscle means tightness --and tightness can lead to more injury. We all know that most men are less flexible. Just try having a group of men sit up straight with their legs out in front of them , or lie on their backs and try to straighten legs in the air — most will be miserable. Gaining some flexibility in tight hamstrings and tight backs can have immediate results on reducing daily pain. Plus more flexibility means more mobility which can  improve performance in sports and everyday movement.

In addition, men have a tendency to “grip” and “muscle” through exercises. Pilates can teach efficiency of movement. Using only the minimum needed to perform a movement, leaves other muscles free to “do their thing” and gives you power when you need it!

They Get Control

Now how to say this without sounding sexist... its been my experience that most men are less in touch with their bodies -- particularly the pelvis, which is key to a strong core. (Just try teaching Pelvic Clock to your husband, dad, or grandpa!) Men have the same general skeletal and muscular structure as women but for some reason, are less in tune with how this structure works.

I also find men are less in tune with breathing -- another critical connection to a strong core and a key component of the Pilates method.

With Pilates’ attention to control and breath, both men and women develop better balance, coordination, proprioception, and neuromuscular control.  You begin to learn where your body is in space and how to precisely control movements, including how to stabilize and  how to initiate from the core - the body’s source of power.

For example... Do you know what happens to your pelvis and spine when running?  Do you know how your shoulder behaves when you throw?  Which muscles keep your knees in line when you squat? And wouldn’t you agree that more control over the pelvis and core can lead to better sex?

Are You Sold Yet?

While it’s still likely you may be the only man in a class full of women, can you learn to live with it? When your friends start asking “Man, what are you doing?” because you look so good, your game has improved, or your pain is gone — tell them it’s Pilates and invite them to class! Joe PIlates would be proud and maybe he would have shared a beer with you! 

Now if I can only get you guys to put down the toilet seat!


  1. BulletA 1985 study from the “Journal of Applied Physiology” determined that men had an overall average of 72.6 pounds of muscle compared to the 46.2 pounds found in women. The men had 40% more muscle mass in the upper body and 33% more in the lower body.

  2. BulletIn addition, their muscle is slightly stronger than a woman's -- about 5 to 10 percent, largely due to larger muscle fibers in men.

  3. BulletMen have more fast-twitch muscle fibers - the ones that produce power vs. slow-twitch fibers which are better for endurance. This makes female muscle more fatigue-resistant and faster to heal.

  4. BulletOver the age of 40 we begin to lose muscle at a rate of 3-5% a year partly due to diminishing hormones. Interestingly, research shows that men actually lose muscle faster than women (It may not appear this way because women typically have less muscle to lose.)


More about Muscle:

For more facts about men and muscle see Sidebar A below

Click here for more on Joe’s story:

From PMA or Balanced Body

Hear it From a Man...

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Want to get right to Maria’s Tips for Teaching Men?  Scroll down to Sidebar B at the bottom of this blog!