Tony Armstrong knows guys who are into heavy-duty weight training and who think that anything less simple isn't
He's not convinced.
Plagued by persistent back, neck and shoulder pain, he decided to follow the lead of his girlfriend (now wife) and
take a Pilates class, a stretch and strengthen workout that targets the abdominals as well as the muscles that
surround the spine.
IT WORKS: Tony Armstrong says Pilates has helped ease his back, leg and knee pain.
Two years have passed and Armstrong, 38, producer of and cameraman for Cottage Life Television, is a devotee.
He takes and hour-long session two mornings a week.
"I feel a lot better," he says. "I have less pain, better posture and, over all, more
He seriously injured his knee last summer and had to have surgery. And yet he is still able to do his workout,
with some minor changes.
Armstrong is no couch potato. He's an avid water and snow skier. He's also into snowboarding and loves to play
tennis. He doesn't consider Pilates an exercise for wimps.
Pilates (pronounced puh-LAH-tees) is a no-impact stretch and strength workout that requires significant
concentration. Some of the exercise, particularly the gentle, stretch and curl movements, can look almost
Many of the exercises are based on familiar (though modified) movements such as leg lifts, sit-ups and
push-ups. Repetitions are limited to no more than 10 so participants can focus on the quality of
Done regularly, it can result in well-toned muscles without the bulk, including a firm stomach a
goal of both men and women. It is not a cardiovascular workout, but will nicely complement that type
Moira Merrithew, 38, an ex-ballet dancer who opened Stott Pilates Studio in Toronto in 1987, has developed
a contemporary approach to the conditioning regimen pioneered by Joseph Pilates more than seven
At an hour a session, participants definitely break a sweat
Because the concept is often described as having elements of yoga, it can be a tough sell for some, particularly
men who associate a "real" workout with high-impact pursuits.
Terming it kinder and gentler can be misleading, she says. At an hour a session, participants definitely
break a sweat.
Pilates is based on the premise that building strong core muscles can bring the spine and the rest of the
body into balance. It is a concept that has been popular among dancers for nearly 80 years.
A routine can be done on the floor with just a comfortable mat, or done with a variety of equipment.
Pat Saunderson, 67, has been doing Pilates off and on for the last nine years.
"I find the stretching useful in keeping the body limber," says Saunderson, who took up golf last
year, four years after having hip replacement surgery.
"I'm generally healthy, from a heart point of view, but I am not very flexible. I find I stretch better,
and I basically feel better."
"I feel looser and I can do things a lot more easily, even just bending down to pick up a golf ball. I
find you tend to slowly stiffen up as you age and this sort of offsets the process."
People who walk, bicycle and are generally active often overlook the importance of maintaining flexibility.
Saunderson suspects Pilates is more popular among women because "women exchange information about their
bodies a lot more freely than men do."
If men want to remain vital as they age that's going to have to change, he says.
Participating in an activity still dominated by females doesn't faze Armstrong.
"I certainly have no hang-ups about it," he says.
Rather than treating his ailments with a once-a-week massage as he used to, Armstrong aims to prevent problems
through regular conditioning.
"All I know is that I am less prone to wear and tear on my body because of this, he says.
Don Starr had what he considers a rather common "male problem." He did a lot of heart-pounding
exercise, but didn't pay nearly enough attention to limbering and stretching.
The film financier who mountain bikes, skis, snowshoes and swims took up Pilates six years ago after his wife
introduced him to the method.
Today, he does some type of Pilates workout five days a week twice a week with an instructor. Starr,
49 recently opened an office in England and is so smitten with the method he has found an instructor there.
"I do it to stay in condition and to relieve stress." he says. While in Toronto,l he find it more
convenient to do his regimen at his home gym than in a studio. He uses machines for added resistance.
"I was skeptical initially," he concedes. "There is a common misconception that it's a
woman's exercise and it's just not true. But it can take some time to get enough of the moments to keep the pace
up. If you spend a lot of time waiting in between movements then an hour can go by pretty quickly.
"The theory behind this is that you're only as young as your spine. It's made a huge difference to me.
It's really made me strong and allowed me to use different muscles in my cardio pursuits and to experience less
Starr says he doesn't see it a s time-consuming.
"I get up in the morning and do it and start my day an hour later. I find that later in the day you leave
things, the more excuses you can build up."
Merrithew says about 20 percent of her studio's clients are male.
"How quite a few of them have started, their wives have started and they've gotten hooked,' she says.
"The common thread is that these men are mostly between 35 and 55, and they really want to improve their
flexibility, balance and coordination."
PILATES TUNES MIND AND BODY
The method appeals to men who want to build strong, flexible muscles without the bulk. It helps them in other
pursuits, such as skiing, skating and golf.
"Injuries do come with age," Merrithew notes. "There are a lot of ex-athletes out there who
really want to work out and want to get strong again, but don't know how. If you are really strong through the
center of your body, almost immediately the rest of the body becomes stronger because you're not
KEEPING FIT: Don Starr, a film financier and fitness enthusiast, works out on Pilates
Pilates is an exercise discipline that works specific muscles by contracting, holding and then
Each move starts at the abdomen, with a focus on controlling stomach muscles. Routines carefully alternate
stretching and strengthening.
The method was developed in the 1920s by the German gymnast turned nurse, Joseph Pilates. He used it
to help rehabilitate hospital patients.
Pilates can be done with or without equipment. It is touted as a way to tone and develop muscles; improve
poster; strengthen the back; flatten the stomach; improve flexibility and stamina; reduce stress and bring the mind
in tune with the body.
For more information contact the STOTT PILATES Studio in Toronto at 416-482-4050. You can also contact fitness
centers and other exercise facilities in your area to learn more about class offerings and costs.