ENERGY EXPRESS

Is the Pilates workout program meant for men?

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Billy M. e-mails from Tulsa: My girlfriend loves her Pilates class and wants me to go with her, but I don't think it's for guys. She says it is. What do you say?

I say how did it happen that Pilates got to be a girl thing? That's what a lot of guys think. Well, think again.

Pilates, many of you already know, is a popular form of exercise that focuses on stretching and strengthening the core (abdominal and back) muscles of the body. You do the exercises on special machines (e.g., the Reformer) or on a mat, with a trainer or on your own, perhaps with a video instructor coaching you through the moves.

Pilates is extremely useful, when properly done, because not only does it give you a felt sense for the link between body and mind, it also makes you stronger and more flexible. People who do Pilates regularly enjoy a greatly reduced risk of lower-back problems and a greatly improved understanding of the power of their breath.

So is Pilates just for women? Not any more than yoga is just for women, or dancing is just for women, or basketball is just for men. Indeed, the man who started it, Joseph Pilates, was said to be a beer-drinking, cigar-smoking boxer who invented the routine to rehab soldiers and POWs coming back from World War I.

So historically speaking, Pilates started out as a guy thing. Now Bill, be a man and go to Pilates class with your girlfriend. You can cement the relationship as you harden your abs. And stronger core muscles will make you better at any sport you do now.

Why cool down after working out?

When your workout is over, why not just quit? Why gradually reduce your activity? One theory has to do with flushing lactic acid away from muscles and joints because the buildup in the body can contribute to muscle aches and pains the next day.

Here's another reason, offered by sport psychologist Britt Brewer in Shape magazine: "If the last thing you do is pleasant, you're more likely to do it again." That is, if your body is allowed to slow down gradually and experience calm at the end of a workout, it will be more motivated to return you to your workout next time.

Yoga people see it slightly differently. Every good yoga class ends with postures designed to relax and calm you so the integration of mind and body is made whole.

Try it for yourself. Finish your workout with a few cool-down minutes of stretching, breathing, relaxing. Experiment with how it feels, at the close, to give thanks for the healthy body you have.

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