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Pilates, Yoga Companies Aim to Increase Low Percentage of Male Participation

As originally published on clubindustry.com | July 2013

Despite the steady growth of yoga and Pilates in the Unites States, fewer men are practicing these mind-body exercises. Some companies in the industry are aware of this trend and are trying to attract more men back into the studio.

Yoga and Pilates studios generate $7 billion in revenue each year, according to IBIS World’s Pilates & Yoga Studios report. These studios are growing at an average annual rate of 7.7 percent despite a low participation rate from men.

Of the 22.1 million Americans who practice yoga, only 19 percent are men, according to the "2012 Single Sport Participation Report – Yoga," published by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA, formerly the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association). Yoga Journal reported in 2008 that 15.8 million Americans were practicing yoga. At that time, nearly 30 percent were men.

Other studies show that Pilates has similarly low male participation rates. In 2012, there were 8.5 million Americans participating in Pilates, and men accounted for only 11 percent, according to the SFIA's "2012 Single Sport Participation Report – Pilates."

These low male participation rates may make it difficult to imagine that men will ever be considered a viable source of new revenue for mind-body fitness companies. However, some industry professionals are holding out hope, saying the industry Pilates, Yoga Companies Aim to Increase Low Percentage of Male Participation may be missing out on a potentially profitable market of future mind-body fitness fanatics.

"Marketing to women is often successful because there is a history there,” says Lindsay G. Merrithew, President and CEO of Merrithew Health & Fitness™, the company that owns Stott Pilates, Toronto. "I really feel we are missing an opportunity by not coming up with a better way to market to men."

"If we could get more men doing Pilates, we would double our business,” says Ken Endelman, CEO and founder of Balanced Body, a Sacramento, CA based Pilates equipment and training company. “The men that do Pilates are fanatical about it. It's getting them hooked that are the problem. It's socially different. It's nota team sport."

David Lynch, a yoga instructor for Yoga Works in Los Angeles, CA, says he generally sees 10 to 15 men in his classes of 30 to 40 people, and most of them are not coming on their own accord. Wives, girlfriends and partners are often the catalyst behind a man's decision to attend a yoga class, Lynch says. Even then, it is hard to get men to attend more than a couple of classes.

"I grew up in New Jersey. No male I knew ever did Pilates and yoga," Lynch says. "Yoga is almost antithetical to how guys are raised. The male ego comes in. You don't want to look vulnerable."

Lynch believes that the tricky part of marketing to men is that most of the reasons women come to yoga are not enticing to men.

"How do you phrase it to men?” Lynch says. "In general, if you mention stretching to men, they're already bored. Would I have come to yoga after seeing a ripped man doing a yoga pose? I don’t think so."

One of the ways Balanced Body and Stott Pilates are trying to help change the perception of mind-body exercising for men is by offering Pilates instructor training for sports-specific conditioning. Both companies report that their certified instructors are increasing business and reaching more men with Pilates training aimed strictly at improving performance and managing injuries, particularly for golf and tennis.

"I think a lot of men, in general, if they see a woman doing a move with perfect form, they could care less,” Endelman says. "When they start to see their accuracy improve in their sport, these are the things that really excite men. In a lot of ways, men enjoy working out together. They have camaraderie, competition that you don't see with a class of women."

The USA Yoga Federation, Sherman Oaks, CA, has successfully engaged more men in yoga by organizing regional and national championship events promoting yoga asana as a sport, says Rajashree Choudhury, president and founder of the USA Yoga Federation.

"I am happy to say that in the past few years, the number of male competitors has increased dramatically, and today we have equal numbers of men and women who compete in our championships,"Choudhury says.

A dose of competition and an external motive may be the secret to drawing men into the world of mind-body fitness. Once they are there, Endelman says, they will be hooked.

"I think it's going to grow. It's far from critical mass," he says. "If you look at where Joseph Pilates came from, he trained men, he was a boxer. You can’t get more macho than Pilates."