Mind-Body Exercise for Men

by Shirley Archer, JD, MA on Sep 25, 2014

John Manrique, cofounder of Revolutions Cycling Studio in Jupiter, Florida, is an indoor cycling instructor and sports enthusiast. “I knew I needed to add flexibility training to my routine and was interested in yoga, but . . . I never seemed to have time for [a class],” he says.

Manrique’s first yoga experience was in a combination indoor cycling and yoga class. “[After taking the fusion class,] I felt the immediate benefit that yoga provided my cycling. It was the push I needed to make yoga part of my fitness routine.” Manrique now attends a yin yoga class weekly, making it an integral part of his training.

Like many men, Manrique was interested in either yoga or Pilates but had a difficult time taking that first step. Once he experienced specific benefits, however, he became a dedicated regular. Yoga, Pilates and other mind-body classes have so much to offer men—what’s keeping them away, and how can we bring them into our sessions?

Barriers to Practice

Experts have identified the following image and marketing obstacles for men:

For women only. Most marketing and media coverage showcases women, and historically, more women have been attracted to these disciplines. While Joseph Pilates was a man—and he trained boxers—his method became popular among dance professionals, a community that has attracted more women than men.

Gentle exercise. “Mindful movement gets pigeonholed into something that it’s not,” says Kevin Bowen, creator of The Prime Male in Denver. “The perception of either [yoga or Pilates] still is that it is not ‘macho’ enough or really designed for men.”

Studios all owned and operated by women. “Studios that are fully owned and operated by women [and] have all women working on staff . . . put out that girly vibe even when it’s unintended,” says David Moreno, RYT-500, of San Francisco, author of a soon-to-be-published book, Men & Yoga: From Shiva to Swenson. “Studios that have a male owner or director tend to attract more men.”

No awareness of benefits. “Pilates is well-reputed for its ability to lean, lengthen and tone the body,” says Lindsay G. Merrithew, president and CEO of Merrithew Health & Fitness™ in Toronto. “However, to encourage more men, there needs to be a heavier emphasis on [the method’s] ability to develop strength, enhance athletic performance and assist with injury recovery.”

Men: A Special Population?

Experts think that teaching style itself is a significant barrier for many men. The consensus is that men and women generally require different instruction techniques. Fitness pros are trained to adapt communication styles and exercise programs for specific populations, such as kids, teens, older adults, recreational athletes, or people with chronic conditions. Since a man’s mind and body are different from a woman’s, it makes sense to modify teaching methods and moves for men as well.

A Man’s Mind

As learners, men are typically more kinesthetic and visual. “Boys and men learn better with movement and pictures, rather than with just words,” says Michael Gurian, counselor and founder of The Gurian Institute in Spokane, Washington, and author of What Could He Be Thinking? How a Man’s Mind Really Works (St. Martin’s 2003).

The following teaching tips are based on an understanding of the male mind:

Show, don’t tell. “Demonstrating an exercise is better than lengthy verbal cues. To reinforce what you’ve just taught, let each person in the group demonstrate the position back to you, so that your teaching is experiential and kinesthetic,” says Gurian. “If you just use words, you’re only stimulating the left side of their brains.”

Play video clips. “Showing males pictures and graphics is a smart way to teach because it activates the right side of their brains,” Gurian adds.

Use few words, and make them concrete. “Verbal cues for male clients should be short and precise,” says Gurian. “This is absolutely crucial if you want to expand your male client base.”

A Man’s Body

Given that a man’s body is different from a woman’s, specific modifications are required. While much depends on an individual’s age and ability level, men in general have less flexibility, a higher center of gravity, a thicker back and, depending on muscular development, bulkier muscles than women do. “Men tend to be tighter, especially in their hips, spine, hamstrings, pectorals and upper traps, with a tendency for a forward head,” says Tom McCook, co-owner and director of Center of Balance, a yoga and Pilates studio in Mountain View, California. “This is indicative of current lifestyles and sitting time.”

For more information, please see “The Mind-Body Man” in the online IDEA Library or in the July–August 2014 print issue of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7.

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About the Author

Shirley Archer, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA IDEA Author/Presenter

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is the 2008 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year and is IDEA's mind-body-spirit spokesperson. She is a certified yoga and Pilates teacher and an award-winning author based in Los Angeles, California, and Zurich, Switzerland. Two of her books, The Walking Deck and The Strength and Toning Deck, are now featured as iPhone apps. Contact her at www.shirleyarcher.com.