Very good question!!!
Most of the time the subject is totally ignored. Maybe the majority of trainers are female or too prude to talk about something so natural that can also be very uncomfortable. But a lot of male trainers either don't talk about it, dismiss the exercises that are uncomfortable or put up with it. In any case, it should not hurt.
While it is a subject that applies to quite a few exercises on the method I am going to stick to the Swan Dive 1 here and the male reproductive system.
If you are prudish or lack a sense of humor stop reading now...
otherwise read along...
I have many males that perform the Swan dive and other exercises that could be painful without problems. You are right: Joseph was from the male side of the species and obviously he was not into hurting himself there. It is, when not painful, a fine exercise for males. It is hard to appreciate it if all you feel is that your 'swimming team' is dying away. You don't pay attention to anything else. Testicle pain is unlike any other pain. Mother natures joke on the males.
Nowadays we have a double problem: everyone gets attached to the Swan Dive in the Barrel, which originally was there as a variation to help teach the one in the Reformer. Because the choreography was changed (it doesn't reflect the Reformer version) it doesn't prepare one for the Reformer, in fact, now they changed the choreography of the Reformer to mirror the barrel ( ex.: 2 shoot outs, rather than only one at the end) So the Barrel does not help with the Reformer: it is just a version and because is more 'comfortable' it gets overused. And the version for the Reformer is lost.
If we look at the client, the size has little to do with it. I have several males who perform the Swan and I can tell you that the size of the reproductive system is not an issue. The biggest complainers are not the biggest. There are other factors that increase the pain:
- The box. For example a Balance Body box is very sharp on the edges and very uncomfortable in some exercises and VERY uncomfortable in the Swan Dive unless you add a few pads.
- Wrong pads. Don't use just an anti slip pad. If you use those then pile on at least 3.
- Wrong pants/underwear combination. I find jockstraps or boxer shorts bad: the first 'present' your parts too much, the second lets it all go everywhere. Slips under shorts are my favourite. The training pants with include slips (sewn in) fall somewhere in between.
- People who tuck under often (Or those who work a lot wrapping the top of their legs)suffer way more since they are more 'exposed'. This point is really predominant through all my years teaching.
- Wrong position: two main positions:
1. On the pubic bone. Then your PlayStation is beyond the edge of the box, on the front/handle side. This can be uncomfortable, even for females, if the skin is on the loose side while you shoot out, especially if you shoot out more than once. Works when well padded on the front edge. We see Joseph teach it this way specially small females.
2. On the top of the thigh to halfway down the thigh. Joseph himself uses this one, and we see him use it with males. Now, in this position, your 'personal entertainment system' is on top of the box. This position is also better for the stiffer clients since it is easier to come up by bending the knees. For the shoot out (the painful part, at least for me, because is when you press your own testis against the box) you are going to need the pads on top (see picture of Joseph below) This position requires the strap (or someone to hold the ankles which works really well too) so this is the next point:
- Strap. Yes, a strap. The strap on the Reformers nowadays is too short. The reduced it to make clients feel safer on the short box and to make it easier to always keep it tight and not make noise
but yes, the strap helps a lot of people do it perfectly. It is the 'A-ha' moment for many.
- Knees go inside and bend easily. They can be very wide in a 'frog' fashion and end up on top of the frame of the reformer but most benefit from bending them inside the frame (like the original) and even those who don't mind doing it so turned out (mostly dancers of the classical persuasion) still jam their backs less when they go inside.
- Feet on the Footbar turned out. Unless you are petite, and then you place your feet on the inside of the frame which my little clients love. The extra tension in the spring makes then the strap not needed (plus it doesn't really work when the feet are inside)
Above all, a lack of sense of movement is really detrimental here. The point of the exercise is to open the chest (by arching the back) and if you can't perform it freely you will fight yourself, the machine and the exercise. Just being 'comfortable and pain free' is not enough: move well and smoothly. Any extra 'anal' points (working from the core, peripheral vision, neutral neck...) don't really help with the movement and detract attention from what you should be doing.
Before trying the movement, mount the machine. Use your chosen position and try right away to be upright, then take away the hands and either go into a back bend or stay upright adjusting the position until you are pain free: this is the place where you should not have pain, so check before you start.
Photo of me on top of the thighs.
Detail of Joseph even lower on his thighs (By kind permission of Romana Kryzanowzka who gave me the picture)
Photo of me on the pubic bone (very advanced arms, please ignore for now)
Kind of the usual series: lie on box, up and back, forwards (not looking down as in the barrel, more like the Swan Dive on the Mat) back bend 2, forwards and lie down to finish.
Often, you can do just one back bend, as in: omit pictures 3 and 4. It is also simpler to teach it that way.
Every time we encounter a problem with an exercise it usually means we are onto something and solving it out most of the time proves to be profitable when the problem is finally sorted out and, it also gives us confidence that we are not only not mad but if it doesn't make sense in the body, there could be something missing, wrong, or we are doing something else entirely. In Pilates, if it is not simple (not necessarily easy) there is something awry. In Pilates, exercises can be extremely hard, but they are NEVER complicated. Modern Pilates can be, though. The lack of complication allows us to start faster improving the exercise, our skills, to work in our limitations almost right away. If things are complicated, uncomfortable or even painful, we have many hurdles to overcome before we even start working on the exercise.
Good form is usually not the culprit: good form, like skills, improves and develop through practice, they are not an approach to exercise (dedication and perseverance are) It may feel very hard, sometimes impossible, but that is different. Nobody can be expected to have good form on one exercise until the exercise has delivered at least some of its benefit to the practitioner. In this case, it is hard to blame skill or precision for the fact that you are squashing your brovaries against a box. You cannot tell a man that he has pain because he is doing it wrong. He may be in the wrong place, wearing the wrong clothes, etc...
But you are perfectly right: it is impossible to do an exercise well if the exercise implies that level of discomfort.
Women can't adjust on a man what they don't feel and most male trainers haven't solved the exercise for themselves either, so it is not squarely a question of most trainers being female. Is just one of many exercises that have been gradually warped and there hasn't been a real interest to 'solve' it. Most men are shy about solving it too, and the few that raise the issue of 'their parts' do it to avoid the exercise. Is ok to talk about breasts and how they get on the way on some exercises (like, funnily enough Swan Dive on the mat) but we can't talk about testicles...
A fun little addition: Swan Dive 2... and we leave 3 for another day...
Have a great new year!!!