by Anne Marie O’Connor
Though Pilates was developed by a man, for men, getting male clients in the door has long been a challenge for studio owners and teachers. “Though men have always been part of the Pilates scene, the surge in popularity in recent years has been powered by a wave of women participants and instructors,” explains Brandon Gamble, senior faculty for BASI Pilates. “This has contributed to the impression that the Pilates method is more for women, but this notion is quickly dissipating as more men take advantage of Pilates’ many benefits.”
But getting more men into the studio or into your classes requires some strategic marketing and instruction. “No matter what anyone says, men think differently than women,” says Valentin, owner of Pilates Body by Valentin in Pleasanton, CA.
WHY MEN COME TO PILATES
“Men come to me for all kinds of nagging and chronic injuries or muscular imbalances,” says Jared Kaplan, owner of Studio 26 in New York City. Often these problems are a direct result of their fitness regimens, including traditional gym workouts, CrossFit and SoulCycle—“anything where they’ve been doing the same thing for too long, so there are some dysfunctional patterns,” Kaplan says. “I think guys also tend to overdo upper-body stuff, so you’ll see back pain, shoulder issues and neck issues.”
Valentin cites postural problems and overall stiffness as issues that bring men to her studio.
WHY MEN RESIST THE METHOD
Despite its proven benefits, “men are resistant to Pilates for many reasons,” says Gamble, who’s also the owner of Pilates Bodies in Motion in University Place, WA. “They believe it’s too easy, that it’s more of a yoga-type workout. In addition, the media usually portrays flexible, agile women in Pilates programs.”
“Pilates is something that is not familiar to many men and they may be a bit intimidated,” says Kevin Bowen, the Santa Fe, NM-based owner of Core Dynamics Core Dynamics Pilates, a teacher training program based on the work of Eve Gentry. “They’ve heard about it, but usually from female friends. Men also tend to be a bit more skeptical about things: They like proof, and they want to feel comfortable in what to them is a foreign setting.”
IF IT’S GOOD ENOUGH FOR LEBRON JAMES…
But as dozens of male professional basketball, baseball, football, hockey and a multitude of Olympic athletes have discovered, Pilates can be beneficial for even the toughest competitor, not to mention weekend warriors and couch potatoes. “The hallmarks of Pilates training are core strength, flexibility, balance, uniform development and efficient movement patterns—all of which are highly relevant to men’s fitness,” says Gamble.
Once they start Pilates, “men definitely get an increased range of motion and a greater ability to do things,” says Valentin. “They no longer have trouble reaching for things in a closet, no problem tying their shoes. I asked one guy why he took Pilates. He said, I know if I have to go and pull an ice plant (a type of ground cover), I’m not going to throw out my back.”
HOW TO GET THE GUYS
Many men are under the impression that Pilates is an easy workout. “Instead, I tell them that Pilates is hard and makes you sweat, or that Pilates will help your posture, alleviate common lower-back pains and improve your golf game—all of which is true!” says Gamble. “I’m thinking of trying a new approach and saying, ‘Guys! Do you want enhanced athletic performance and to have better sex with your significant other? Then do Pilates!’”
“To some men, golf is even more important than sex,” adds Bowen. “Market your studio at a local golf club—offer a pre-tee-off warm-up class once a month as a sampler,” he suggests.
But make sure to keep an open mind when first meeting a potential male client. “For me, the intention is always to see the person and their physiologic structure before looking at it as a guy-related thing,” says Kaplan.
THE RULES OF ATTRACTION
When devising a marketing plan, “be really specific about what populations work for your studio and think about the mind-set of that demographic,” advises Kaplan. “Obviously New York is a different demographic than elsewhere. For my studio, say I’m looking to build up a 2 p.m. slot, (I will market) to a freelancer, someone who can get away from work in the middle of the day. I will appeal to them differently than an after-work group class for athletes. If you want to attract older men because that’s where your specialty lies or you think you may be able to get more older clients, then your marketing has to (explain) how Pilates can help balance someone’s body out.”
Also think about who might be turned off by your marketing language, says Kaplan. “There was a whole thing last year about how Pilates is for ‘real men.’ If you use that type of language, you’re also going to turn away people who don’t identify with that. There’s no judgment, it’s just being aware that language will create who’s coming in and who feels comfortable in that space—and who may not.”