Pilates and the Athlete
For over 12 years, I’ve had the pleasure of teaching Pilates to all types of fitness enthusiasts. From prenatal/postpartum women to injury or surgery rehab patients all the way to professional competitive athletes and several types in between. Every individual has their own goals for what they hope to acquire from a Pilates regimen and as an instructor I aim to not only help them meet those specific goals, but also to teach on a comprehensive level striving to go beyond those specific goals and see them benefit from the countless and positive results Pilates can bring.
While I truly enjoy all of my clients, I’ve always specifically enjoyed working with athletes. I find that the more intense the athlete is about their regular conditioning program, the more skeptical they are initially about the effectiveness of Pilates and how it will actually improve their physique or athletic performance. Will it be too simple, or too slow? Will I actually feel or see results? These are some of the questions I’ll get. Being an athlete myself and knowing how beneficial Pilates can be for improving overall athletic performance, I almost salivate at the opportunity to prove how effective it really can be!
“Pilates helps athletes develop core strength, increase flexibility, assist in rehabilitation after injury and create muscular balance throughout the entire body,” says Moira Merrithew, Executive Director of Education for Stott Pilates.
Of course each type of athletic performance will benefit a little differently from Pilates depending on the specific movement and strength required for that sport but there are are a few general advantages all athletes will benefit from. In my experience, the most important thing anyone can gain from Pilates is a stronger core. When the core is fit, the poster improves and movement becomes more aligned and more effortless. Often times when a muscle is used repeatedly and stressed as it is in many sports, the body in general, not just those muscles, will get fatigued and that’s when injuries occur. A volleyball or tennis player may suffer from lower back pain from an upper body movement when the core is not strong enough. Even though the spike or the forehand swing is coming from the shoulder, the root of the power should come from the abdominals and when they are weak, the back muscles can be used improperly and strained.
The next most important acquisition an athlete can gain from Pilates in my opinion, is increased flexibility. When muscles, ligaments and tendons are tight and they are used in an impactful movement, strains, sprains and tears can occur. When a golfer lines up and swings his or her club, a lot of torque and rotation is involved in the core and upper body. No matter how strong the golfer is, without flexibility, each swing can be a disaster. The back, hips, shoulder, neck, you name it, are sitting ducks! Extreme and repeated rotation in the body requires the ability to be mobile and without flexibility, mobility is limited.
Finally, another huge benefit obtained from Pilates that can assist in athletic performance is balance. Balance is needed in everything from simply walking down the street to running a marathon. When you transfer weight from one side of the body to the other, the pelvis and gait should have stability. Otherwise, over time one side of the body will be overused causing long term problems. Tightness and strain in the piriformis and psoas muscles, which bridge your lower and upper body and connect your legs to your spine, can lead to instability and pain in the hips and back. A stable pelvic girdle comes from a strong pelvic floor which is one of the focuses of every Pilates regimen.
The many benefits that athletes get from integrating Pilates into their regular conditioning program are incredibly beneficial and more and more athletic trainers and making it a regular part of their athlete’s mandatory work outs. It’s no wonder so many professional athletes are swearing by it and seeing that Pilates, when done regularly, really does work!