“Gentleman, push out those pecks. Ladies, you too.” David Gensheimer walks barefoot on the studio floor of Simply Balanced, the Pilates, yoga, and massage studio he opened in 2006. Though it started in Edgehill, the studio is now located on 8th Avenue and offers yoga, massage therapy, and soon, a full-time nutritionist. Gensheimer is tall and muscular, but poised; a former dancer for the Nashville Ballet who studied kinesiology in college. But his studio isn’t solely filled with spandex-clad women vying for the bodies of their youth–at Simply Balanced, a new crowd of Pilates enthusiasts are being born: men.
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Gensheimer instructs six students at this 6:30 a.m. “pure strength” class, including one particularly ripped male. They’re all holding the plank position on a piece of equipment called a reformer: a sliding padded carriage that uses a spring-resistance system. The reformer makes this plank a particularly painful one to hold, it seems. Genshemier instructs this class for an hour this morning before a day of group instruction, private sessions, and managing his growing business.
Gensheimer first turned to Pilates in 2003, after he suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury that required surgery and a long recovery time. But as a professional dancer, Gensheimer couldn’t afford to wait to regain his strength through traditional (and slow) physical therapy. Instead, he turned to the kinesthetic, body-bending practice he now teaches: Pilates.
“It’s basically physical therapy on crack,” he says with a grin. “When you go to the gym, you’re working big mobilizer muscles that get you from point A to point B. But when you come to Pilates, we work on your stabilizing muscles, muscles you forget to work. They make you more efficient at everything you do.”
The exercise regimen was developed in the early 20th century by Joseph Pilates, a German immigrant to the U.S. whose childhood physical ailments led him on a search for how to strengthen and perfect the human body. Pilates began to teach his methods in 1926, at a studio on 8th Avenue in the heart of Manhattan. Now, over 80 years later, David Gensheimer continues the tradition on 8th Avenue in Nashville.
Though Pilates was started by a man, and has been proliferated by men like Gensheimer, somehow a belief prevails that the practice is solely for women. Not so, says Sam Reed, a 33-year-old Nashville lawyer and a regular male student at Simply Balanced. Like Gensheimer, Reed turned to Pilates after traditional physical therapy failed to relieve pain in his back from a herniated disc. But the benefits of doing Pilates multiple times a week goes far beyond pain management, he says.
“There’s a feeling that Pilates is mainly done by women, or that it’s not a rigorous workout, but that’s not right,” Reed says. “I went there with just one purpose in mind: to make my back more stable. I’ve not only done that, but I’ve gotten in better shape as well. I am stronger in my upper body, and stronger in my core.”
As Gensheimer’s class comes to an end, students to strap their feet into the reformer, using the machine’s tension to stretch. One student enters a full split, while another uses the moving carriage to extend his natural range of motion. Gensheimer circles the studio, asking students about how their bodies feel, or where they are experiencing pain. Gensheimer’s care for his students and knowledge of the human body are evident in each individual conversation. That, Reed says, it what keeps him coming back.
“I’m doing things now that I never could have done six months ago,” he said. “I can’t emphasize enough how David’s knowledge is second to none. Don’t dismiss it, because it’s the real deal.”