How Pilates Helps Athletes
Professional athletes of all kinds have discovered that adding Pilates to their training can improve performance, reduce injury, speed recovery and help their hardworking bodies stay balanced and healthy (Caple 2016; Knowlton 2016; Knowles 2016; Saxon 2016). For recreational athletes or simply athletic clients in general, Pilates can provide the same benefits professional athletes enjoy. A well-rounded program, particularly one offered in a fully equipped Pilates studio, can do wonders for athletic clients of almost any age, ability or sport. Let’s look more closely at the advantages.
Multiple Benefits for Recreational
Pilates is a whole-body exercise system that can develop strength, functional flexibility, coordination and balance in athletes wanting to improve their skills or in clients returning to an activity after an injury or a hiatus. Here’s how.
Builds a Good Foundation
According to Jonathan Hoffman, PT, developer of the CoreAlign® training system that categorizes exercise methods as foundation training, fix techniques or fun activities (Hoffman 2016), Pilates is a type of foundation training.
Foundation training denotes an exercise method that works to consciously improve movement quality in a safe, effective manner. It is distinct from the fix techniques used in rehabilitation and from fun activities performed with minimal conscious thought. As foundation training, Pilates helps clients improve their movement patterns by engaging the mind to change the body. Helping clients to feel their imbalances and teaching them how to improve them is a key element of Pilates and of mind-body training in general.
One good case study of effective foundation training involves a client of mine I’ll call Alice. She was moderately overweight and walked with her hips in external rotation. Alice decided to join Team in Training and work toward running a marathon. She had never been much of a runner or an athlete, and she was 38 years old. Through Pilates, she worked on aligning her legs in a more parallel position, stabilizing her core, and developing strength and endurance in her lower body. Pilates, combined with the coaching she received from her Team in Training mentor, allowed her to run a full marathon 8 months later without significant injuries.
Improves Core Strength and Lumbo-Pelvic Stability
Pilates teachers often use lumbar stabilization exercises and concepts in their sessions, and many Pilates exercises incorporate lumbar or lumbo-pelvic stabilization. In athletic clients, greater stability in the lumbo-pelvic and hip regions can increase flexibility, generate power for throwing or rotational sports, and decrease lower-back pain and injury. A comprehensive Pilates mat or studio-equipment program designed to strengthen the trunk in all planes of motion can improve dynamic stability in the core. The emphasis Pilates places on the core, or “powerhouse,” provides an environment for safely developing a base level of lumbo-pelvic stability (Kloubec 2010; Phrompaet et al. 2011). As athletic clients improve their skills, challenges such as standing exercises, plank-based exercises, free weights and unstable surfaces can be added to provide a higher level of difficulty.
Develops Sport Skills
Coaching in specific sport skills may be limited or nonexistent for recreational athletes. A good Pilates teacher with skills or experience in a client’s activity of choice can act as a coach to help the client develop particular skills and optimize movement patterns. For example, if a client who played baseball or softball in college decides to join a recreational league in his or her late 30s, a Pilates teacher can work on leg alignment, strength and balance for running and core support and can help to develop balance in rotation for throwing. A good teacher who understands the demands of an activity can analyze the strength, range of motion, coordination and movement patterns necessary for success and can use the flexibility of the Pilates environment to tailor exercises to the client’s sport. A Pilates expert can also address any physical limitations that may hamper the client’s chances of success.Balances the Body; Counteracts the Effects of Training
Many recreational or occasional athletes develop muscle imbalances and poor posture from combining a sedentary occupation with their sport. For example, bicycling has become the sport of choice for many middle-aged men and women. Cycling has obvious cardiorespiratory, strength and endurance benefits, but as a repetitive activity it puts strain on the lumbar spine, neck, shoulders, arms and legs. Combining daily work sitting at a desk with hours on a bicycle in deep hip flexion can decrease flexibility in the hip flexors and lower back, leading to stress in these areas. An appropriate Pilates program would emphasize hip, lumbar and thoracic extension to counteract the effects of repetitive stress in a seated position.
The same principle applies to rotational athletes such as tennis players or golfers. The asymmetrical nature of their activities can lead to misalignments and strength imbalances on either side of the body. A specifically designed Pilates program could target the neglected side of the body or work on the opposite movement pattern to cross-train the body and improve symmetry.
For more information (including a segment on injury prevention), plus a full reference list, please see “Pilates for Athletic Clients” www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/pilates-for-athletic-clients in the online IDEA Library or in the April 2017 print edition of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at 800-999-4332, ext. 7.