Pilates and yoga benefit men, too

“I probably look like a meathead, but I’m really not,” said Jim Hirt of Woodstock.

At 6 feet 8 and about 270 pounds, Hirt spends four to five days a week lifting weights at his local Life Time Fitness. Four months ago, to the surprise of his weight-lifting buddies, he added Pilates to his exercise routine.

“Usually guys think that Pilates is for girls,” Hirt said. “I had that same stigma. [I thought] it was really easy. It’s anything but easy.”

A jet engine mechanic for Delta Air Lines, Hirt injured his back at work and had to undergo two surgeries in two years.

Holly Loeb, a personal trainer for Life Time, suggested that he try Pilates to help reduce his back pain. He now does Pilates with Loeb once a week, often on the reformer -- a large wooden apparatus with pulleys and springs. Sometimes they do moves on the mat as well.

“I started feeling the effects about five or six weeks afterward,” Hirt said. “My midsection almost feels reborn. Unless I have to really bend over, I don’t even feel like I’ve ever been operated on.”

Jessica Loncar, a physical therapist, Pilates instructor and co-owner of Stability Pilates and Physical Therapy in Sandy Springs, said she sees a lot of men with shoulder, disc and ankle injuries -- all of which could potentially be prevented with Pilates.

“I find that most men don’t stretch correctly,” Loncar said. “Pilates allows them to get in the most tension-free position for their bodies and allows them to really increase their flexibility.”

Ken Marshall, 39, of Tucker takes Pilates at Stability to improve his golf game. After four months of Pilates, he said his core is stronger and so is his golf swing.

“In golf, it is crucial to let the body twist while staying in balance,” Marshall said. “I have definitely felt more control over my golf swing and have seen the ball go farther than before.”

Marshall’s not alone; Tiger Woods reportedly turned to Pilates to give him an edge. But even the pro golfer’s unofficial endorsement doesn’t seem to be doing much to shake up the stereotype.

Loncar said most men don’t know about the reformer. “They think it’s just a mat exercise," she said. "They’d rather lift weights in the gym.”

Yoga has also been labeled a female format. At the Yoga Source in Snellville only about 5 percent of the students are male. One of them is Jim Haddad, an oral surgeon. He started taking yoga 10 years ago to help with back pain. Haddad, 63, said not only is his back pain more manageable but he’s more flexible.

“I never did anything except run. That was my form of exercise," he said. "This added something to it.”

Now, Haddad still runs at least once a week around Stone Mountain, but he really depends on yoga every Tuesday and Thursday to help him relax after a long day.

“At the end of class you end up in a meditative state where you’re just sitting and relaxing," he said, "and by the end of the evening, man, you are really relaxed.”

Marcia Scredon, Haddad’s instructor and owner of the Yoga Source, said she is always excited to get male students.

“I think it adds a lot to the richness of the class to have the balance of men and women,” she said. “The men who stick with it are the best yogis.”

While the practice may now seem to be dominated by women, Scredon said that the first yogis were men.

“When a guy really embraces yoga, they’re not buying into the commercialism of it," she said. "They’re seeing yoga for what it really is.”

Hirt, the weight-lifter and Pilates devotee, said he also added weekly yoga and core classes to his regimen. He encourages all men to try these “girlie” formats.

“I used to work my core like everyone else did,” said Hirt, who often did crunches and decline bench sit-ups. “This is by far and away leagues better. It will rip your abs to shreds.”