Sydney soccer players “humbled” by reformer pilates class

A men’s soccer team has gone viral on Instagram after being “humiliated” by a reformed Pilates class in South Sydney, showing viewers it’s a lot harder than it looks.

Pilates instructor and Reform Me founder Sami McDonald, 25, said the Hurstville Zagreb FC boys love their weekly Pilates classes and are seeing benefits after just one month.

“Footballers are very hard on their ankles and feet with kicking, so I prioritized ankle stability and support, for example, we do a lot of things on the toes where they lift and lower the heels,” she said.

“I think their flexibility and mobility has improved; the biggest benefit for men in general is improved mobility in the hip area, which isn’t as naturally loose as women’s.”

The first-class footballers are spreading the word to the rest of their teammates at FC Zagreb, with Ms McDonald saying she has had to expand her services to pilates on the mats to accommodate the growing interest from other players.

“My Reformer studio is currently limited to six beds, so I’m already making plans to set up a mat class so I can accommodate everyone because they really want to join their teammates,” she said.

Commenters on the now-viral Instagram reel praised the boys for their efforts in the classroom and urged more athletic departments to incorporate Pilates into their athletes’ regular training.

“Personally, I think all footballers should be taking Reformed Pilates,” said one commenter.

“That would certainly prevent a lot of injuries, especially if the focus is on improving their core stability and their contralateral loop patterns.”

With another male commenter saying: “There really needs to be more marketing and messaging for men doing pilates.

“I’d like to try, but all the classes are full of women and there’s a real stigma around it.”

When the Zagreb players arrived for their first hour, Ms. McDonald said most expected an hour full of just stretching.

“They really had no idea Pilates was a real exercise, they didn’t expect Pilates to catch on, they didn’t even know it was a thing,” she said.

Ms McDonald has been teaching Pilates for three years and says that in that time she has seen a significant increase in men taking up Pilates as a form of regular exercise.

“In my general classes, I have at least two men who come regularly every week,” she said.

“Recently I’ve noticed an increase in younger men taking up Pilates, whereas when I started there were more middle-aged men, but of course both can benefit.”

In her professional experience, Ms McDonald said men take care of their bodies differently than women.

“If men get hurt, they just ignore it and that’s not what you’re meant to do,” she said.

“That’s why it’s so important to make men aware of the benefits of Pilates, so they understand that you know it was originally made for physical therapy, that it’s not just this ‘girly’ exercise.”

According to the latest data from the IBISWorld 2019-2024 report, Pilates has grown significantly over the past ten years, evolving from a niche service to a more mainstream form of exercise.

Pilates is still heavily female-dominated in Australia, with a roughly 9-to-1 ratio of women to men taking classes, according to market research firm Roy Morgan.

According to 2018 data, 1.1 million women use Pilates compared to just over 120,000 men.

Pilates instructor and founder of Pilates Insync Helen Stamatakos has been training top athletes for 18 years and says more and more athletes are cross-training with Pilates.

She has coached big names such as diver Melissa Wu to track and field star Rohan Browning, including several beloved Matildas ahead of the 2023 Women’s World Cup, from Alanna Kennedy to Charlotte Grant, and currently coaches the Matildas youth team.

Coaching top athletes is a big part of Ms Stamatakos’ business, which includes NRL players such as the St George Illawarra Dragons.

The Dragons train regularly with Ms Stamatakos traveling to Wollongong from her studio in Menai to teach the team.

“Pilates is popular with elite athletes because it is beneficial in reducing the risk of injury because it is an eccentric movement,” Ms Stamatakos said.

“It increases their range of motion while they’re under load, so it improves mobility, and that’s the biggest thing.”

Traditionally, athletic training is based on progressive loading, where you increase your weight through repetitions, but in Pilates, you lengthen muscles through springs under load, she said.

“So with Pilates they strengthen, but also improve their mobility.”

Pilates is the secret to an athlete’s longevity, performance improvement and injury prevention, she said.

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