The History of Pilates is Surprisingly Hard Core

Originally devised for cops and soldiers
by Barbara Purcell

Spring is here, my friend, and the gloves have finally come off (hats and coats and heavy sweaters, too). It was a long winter and we both know your Sunday afternoons mostly consisted of countless draft beer specials and chicken wings. So what is your gut telling you? It’s begging to be morphed into a tighter, toned version of its beery self. Why not trade in your six pack for a…six pack?

Pilates is one of the most effective ways to sculpt the core, keep your back solidly strong, and improve posture so much, people might just notice a difference the next time you walk into the proverbial room. This awesome modality isn’t just for chicks either: It was created 100 years ago by a dude who wanted to develop a system that would keep him strong and centered (poor guy had been plagued with various sicknesses early in his life). Joseph Pilates trained soldiers and police in Europe with his exercise regimen before bringing it to NYC in the 1920s, where a bunch of famous dancers got ahold of it. (Let’s be honest, who wants to work out with Scotland Yard when highly trainable hot ballerinas are readily available on the other side of the Atlantic?)

The Pilates method blends various ancient yoga principles with contemporary fitness techniques to create a total system workout for your “power house” (his term; essentially the belly, back, and butt). These exercises range from simple and effective to hard as hell and even more effective. Don’t believe me? Just ask Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, and Tiger Woods—they’ve all benefited from it. (Warning: the Pilates method does not purport to cause messy divorces, tabloid sex scandals, and/or infidelity).

Teaser. The other white meat.

Teaser, not getting any easier. (Photo: Man Cave Daily)

While you will still need to do strength training and cardio for your upper body and legs, Pilates has your core covered. And don’t let those scary S&M machines like the Reformer or Cadillac deter you either—the classic mat sequence can be just as challenging, especially in the beginning. Doing Pilates regularly, especially with varied workout routines to target each muscle group, will create positive and lasting changes (you can still have a few wings, but ease up on those beers, buddy).

Here are three exercises you can do in the comfort of your own man cave (like this guy): 

The Roll Up: No small feet.

The Roll Up: No small feet (Photo: Man Cave Daily)

  • Forearm Plank: Though not officially in the classic Pilates mat sequence, this exercise is sure to fire up your core while stabilizing your muscles for a total body strengthener. Make sure your forearms and elbows aren’t wider than your shoulder span, press through your heels, and avoid dipping those hips too close to the mat. Can you hold this puppy for 60 seconds? Alternating leg lifts?  Keep looking past your clasped knuckles and pray to your favorite beer deity!
  • The Roll Up: Begin by lying on your back with your feet hip-width apart and heels anchored (yoga block optional). Inhale your fingers toward the ceiling and exhale to fully roll your spine up off the mat. Inhale to reach past your toes in a forward fold (think “sit and reach” in 7th grade gym class), and then slowly roll your spine back down onto the mat one vertebra at a time. They say one Roll Up is equal to six crunches…you’ve done the math, now do the exercise!
  • The Teaser: Not just that chick you met at a bar on Second Avenue last weekend, the Teaser will flatten your stomach in no time. But be warned! It takes mucho control, balance, precision, and flexibility—oh yeah, and strength—to conquer this beast. To modify, simply place a yoga block between your upper legs and bend your knees over your hips (shins parallel to the floor). Inhale the fingers up to the ceiling and exhale your spine off the floor (just like the Roll Up) while keeping your legs lifted and engaged. Stay broad in your collarbones (i.e., try to avoid slouching your shoulders and spine) as you reach your arms on a 45-degree angle and inhale. Now delicately balance on your tailbone. Exhale to roll back down with control, keeping the legs lifted in the same position the whole freakin’ time. Five of those every day for the next couple months, and Second Ave Bar Chick might not be such a teaser herself the next time you see her.

We pitted the nicest guy we know against this pint-sized sadist to prove yoga is not for the weak.

We pitted the nicest guy we know against this pint-sized sadist to prove yoga is not for the weak.

Barbara Purcell is a NYC-based yoga instructor with anger issues. In addition to breathing, she specializes in Pilates, awesome stretches, and insane arm balances. She has been featured on Tyra Banks, Playboy Radio, and Cosmo Radio, empowering others to put the “ho” in holistic. Check out her website here.


Case closed.

Barbara put 30 Rock’s Dot Com through the wringer in Is Yoga Manly? Kevin “Dot Com” Brown Tests It for Us, and then answered that question with Manly Yoga with Kevin “Dot Com” Brown pt. 2: FINDINGS.

More from Barbara Purcell

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