I started going to the gym 15 years ago, when I was an overweight university student. At the time, I applied for a summer student job at the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), who required me to undergo a physical before offering me a position. In his report, the TTC’s doctor wrote, “Healthy but clinically obese.” That same summer, my family doctor advised me to have a cholesterol test, as heart disease runs on both sides of my family; it was borderline high. Since then, through a combination of a relatively healthy diet (I do occasionally eat badly) and regular exercise, I have maintained a healthy weight and lifestyle. It includes biking (almost) everywhere, doing a lot of outdoor activities during the warm months, and, of course, going to the gym, where I go 4 to 5 times a week. At the gym I do a combination of strength training and cardio, but one day a week, I take a low-impact class. I’ll rotate between either yoga, Pilates, or barre; quite often, I’m in room full of women. At first I felt out of place, being the only guy in the room. But as I did more classes, I stopped caring and decided to embrace the benefits of the classes.
I’m not sure why more men don’t do these low-impact exercises, but studies have shown that men who work out are far more likelier to focus on building larger upper-body muscles and strength, while women likelier to focus more on losing weight and sculpting their lower bodies, especially their behinds. I’m certainly not going to try to tell women what they should do at the gym, but I do think more men should do a low-impact class at least once a week. Below are three reasons men should incorporate classes like yoga, barre and Pilates.
They Exercise Your Core
Studies have show that men will focus on their upper body, especially their arms and chests while ignoring their core and lower bodies. Don’t get me wrong: building muscle mass is an important part of being healthy, but it shouldn’t be at the neglect at other types of exercise, including cardio-vascular exercise (like running) or core exercises, which target your abdominal muscles, back muscles, and pelvic muscles. Yoga, barre, and Pilates target your core. In fact, each of these classes have overlapping exercises, including the bridge, quadruped, and plank, which strengthen your core and target muscles that you may not be targeting when you’re lifting heavy weights at the gym.
Plus, you have the added benefit of having an instructor who can correct your movement and offer suggestions to improve your performance. This is an benefit, since most gym memberships include fitness classes — instructor included — with the regular membership rate but charge more if you were to have a fitness instructor help you in the weight room.
They Improve Your Posture and Coordination
Because yoga, Pilates, and barre emphasize breathing, alignment, and strengthening your core, you develop a better posture and coordination. Yoga, for example, challenges you by forcing you to develop strength by holding poses while breathing regularly; and barre, which is very similar to Pilates but with the added element of a ballet barre and some ballet movements, encourages you to develop a better balance by exercising one side of the body at the time. Additionally, you’ll quite regularly hold one- or two-pound weights while exercising, encouraging you to build strength on a different level than in the weight room.
Get in Touch with Your Feminine Side
There is more to exercise than building muscle and having a macho physique. Remember that exercising is also about feeling good. And health is more than physical — it’s also mental. And most men can improve their mental health by getting in touch with their inner woman. I’m not saying that classes like yoga, Pilates, and barre are designed exclusively for female participation, but for whatever reason, these classes attract a largely female audience. I had been doing Pilates for over a year on a Saturday at the YMCA. The class right after was barre, and I would watch the class sometimes. I noticed that the class participants were solely women and that many movements involved dance. And the instructor used dance music.
I wanted to do the class because it offered the challenge of doing something new and different, and a healthy part of exercise is adding variety to your routine. But I avoided it for months. But once I made the decision to plunge in, I was accepted by the instructor, who introduced herself to me after the class (she seemed excited to have me add spice to what was until then an exclusively woman’s class); and the women in the class either ignored my presence or smiled at me. (No, I don’t think they were smiling to pick me up. I suspect they thought it was neat that I was there. It’s never even crossed my mind to use an exercise class as a place to attempt to pick up women.) But I do think that in our culture, which is still learning to embrace a more female-minded perspective, men do need to embrace their inner woman. Just sayin’.