In recent years, Pilates has come into the main stream and more recently an increasing number of professional, amateur, and recreational athletes are discovering Pilates’ benefits. More and more athletes are incorporating Pilates as an integral part of their conditioning program.
Whether you are a weekend worrier or competitive athlete, Pilates can help you gain a competitive edge and prevent injuries. Pilates is a total body workout with each exercise containing a stretch and strength component. This is what sets Pilates apart from other types of training. By focusing on strengthening the center of the body – or “Powerhouse” (the core abdominal and lower back muscles and buttocks) – and the muscles around the joints, Pilates strengthens, stretches, and helps you control your body. In addition, Pilates promotes functional movement patterns that help prevent injuries.
Practiced consistently, Pilates can increase your power, speed and endurance. Your flexibility will improve, leading to greater quickness, agility, and speed. As a bonus, you will become more in tune with your body and mentally sharper. Joseph Pilates believed that the mind controls the body which takes concentration and awareness. Through Pilates you’ll develop proper breathing techniques, which bring oxygen-rich blood to the muscles and allow you to move more efficiently and with greater endurance.
Here is a sampling of several sports and how a comprehensively trained and certified Romana’s Pilates® instructor from Touchstone Pilates can tailor a workout to fit your body and improve your performance:
Baseball: Whether throwing a 90 mile an hour fastball or trying to hit one is your dream, it takes core strength and spinal stability and mobility to come close to accomplishing the goal. Mimic the movement of throwing or hitting a fast ball and you will realize that it takes all the muscles in your body to accomplish this. By working the entire body through each exercise the practice of Pilates can lead to improved throwing accuracy and velocity as well as greater hitting distance through the batter’s swing.
As with sports that work one side of the body more than the other, muscle imbalances occur. Pilates’ emphasis on total body conditioning, strengthening the Powerhouse/core, and stretching and strengthening the muscles around the joints reduces the chance of back injury, improves muscle imbalances, and increases power and endurance. According to the “Pilates Blog,” world champion and six-time All-Star pitcher Curt Schilling believes that “Pilates really does work…I started to understand the idea of working from your center. By the third month I was more powerful and flexible than ever before.”
Basketball: If you know the difference between an alley-oop and a hula hoop, then you know how important core strength and flexibility are to the game of basketball. In basketball, developing core strength and flexibility enables the player to move more efficiently, jump higher and dunk harder and with more control. Proper breathing improves endurance and movement. The mind/body connection also increases the focus and concentration necessary to make the shot. As with other sports, Pilates reduces the chance of injury by strengthening and stabilizing the postural muscles around the spine. Dwayne Wade, shooting guard for the Miami Heat, All-Star Jason Kidd, former NBA point guard and coach of the Brooklyn Nets, says that “there is no better workout for building deep internal core strength, developing long lean muscles that are resilient under stress, preventing injury, and for fine tuning mental focus” than Pilates. Wade, was turned on to Pilates by LeBron James who practices Pilates to stay ahead of the curve.
Cycling: Everyone would like to push the pedal to the metal like Lance, but don’t be a ‘dope’! Bring that oxygen- rich blood to the muscles and build strength and endurance with Pilates. Cycling is an endurance sport requiring flexibility in the hips, legs, and ankles. Cyclists tend to have overdeveloped legs and don’t tend to do much upper- body conditioning. This muscular imbalance can lead to injuries as well as impede performance and speed. As with many sports, repetitive stress on specific muscles and joints leads to muscular imbalances and injury. Developing strong core and postural muscles can help bring more power to the pedals by strengthening postural and back muscles and balancing weaker abdominal and upper-body and arm muscles. Improved strength, flexibility and proper breathing techniques learned through consistent Pilates conditioning leads to improved posture and endurance on the bike over long periods of time, smoother and more powerful pedaling strokes and improved time. Olympic cyclist Victoria Pendelton – Individual Pursuit (Silver) & Keirin (Gold) – practices Pilates as part of her conditioning program.
Dressage: Not happy with your performance? Don’t blame the horse! Success in dressage is dependent on the rider’s ability to communicate. The ability to communicate with the horse depends on the rider’s body awareness, flexibility in the torso, and strength and stability in the seat. Consistent practice with a Romana’s Pilates® trained and certified instructor from Touchstone Pilates will set you apart by lengthening the spine and strengthening core postural muscles. Gain increased strength and stability in the seat to hold jumping form, sit taller, control and talk to your horse. Once muscle imbalances and function of the seat improve, the rider will communicate more clearly with and improve responsiveness of the horse.
Figure Skating and Skiing: Don’t be fooled by the figure skater’s exceptional lines. Behind that long, lean body is stretch, strength, and control. These three words epitomize what Pilates is all about. You won’t see big bulky muscles in a figure skater but long, lean lines that carry the strength needed to maneuver on edges and balance/transfer weight with total control. The skater can’t build this kind of strength by simply ice skating. The kind of stretch, strength and control to keep you from collapsing out of jumps is dependent on a strong core and lower body strength and flexibility. When skaters gain strength in these areas, the precision of their movements is considerably enhanced.
The skier and snowboarder need this kind of strength, endurance and control to hold an edge while bombing down the mountain at speeds upward of 60 miles an hour. Lose an edge and the consequences can be severe. On the half pipe, total control and precision are key to safely performing tricks and maneuvers. Whether you are performing an Ollie or a Nollie or going for the Flying Tomato’s Frontside Double-Cork 1440, flexibility, strength and control will bring you down without injury. By strengthening the postural muscles around the spine, hips and legs as well as stretching the upper torso, hamstrings and back, Pilates can give you the edge before you step foot on the ice or snow.
2014 U.S. Olympian Julia Mancuso told The Wall Street Journal she shows up to Pilates class in ski boots. “It helps my brain remember correct body position for when I’m on the slopes,” says the 29-year-old considered by many in the sport to be the U.S.’s main medal hope in speed events at the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. You shouldn’t go to that extreme. But, like Sochi hopeful Julia, you can get a boost from Pilates.
Football: Flying through the air with the greatest of ease normally refers to a circus performer. However, to be successful in football, today’s receivers and defensive backs need to be more like acrobats than power lifters. To stay healthy and injury-free during a demanding season, the football player needs a total body workout – not just curls, bench presses and squats. Adding Pilates to the football player’s conditioning program works the entire body uniformly, helps the player run faster, jump higher and withstand hits by improving core strength, muscle imbalances and flexibility. By stretching and strengthening the muscles around the joints, Pilates helps avoid muscle, groin and joint injuries. Not only can Pilates improve focus by requiring concentration and body awareness but proper breathing techniques and exercise sequencing – principles of Pilates – can improve endurance by bringing oxygen-rich blood to the muscles. Football players practicing Pilates include former Seattle Seahawks fullback Matt Strong and Chicago Bears offensive lineman Ruben Brown.
Golf: The game of golf is about consistency, muscle memory and total body control. Every guy at the golf outing wants to win the longest drive, closest to the pin or longest putt contests. Pilates, by working the entire body and strengthening the core or Powerhouse, can replicate, balance and strengthen the golfer’s swing. By strengthening these muscles, the golfer can hit the ball farther while avoiding back pain and injury. As range of motion in the shoulders, torso and hips improves, the golfer’s swing becomes smoother and shots more accurate. The prizes you win at the golf outing will more than cover the cost of your Pilates sessions. Professional golfers practicing Pilates include Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Greensburg native Rocco Mediate.
Hockey: Hockey is arguably one of the most physically demanding sports there is. It requires a combination of flexibility, speed and total body control. Just imagine how difficult it is to accurately shoot a 3-inch puck into a 4-by-6 foot net traveling at speeds upward of 27 miles an hour! Easy if you are Mario Lemieux, but even Mario had back problems.
Much like golfers, hockey players suffer from muscle imbalances, back and hip problems. However, hockey players take brutal hits and checks. By strengthening the Powerhouse (muscles that support the spine), hockey players can better withstand those hard checks, shoot the puck with more power and accuracy, and skate with more speed and endurance. This improved strength and balance, coupled with the increase in flexibility, enables the hockey player to move more freely by improving trunk and hip rotation. The result: avoiding back, hip and groin injuries. Skate faster, hit the puck harder and with more accuracy, and avoid injury by incorporating Pilates into your conditioning program. Carolina Hurricane’s goal tender Cam Ward used Pilates to come back from a back injury without needing surgery.
Running/Track and Field: Faster than a speeding bullet! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! It’s….well, you know the rest. You don’t have to be Superman to gain speed, distance and endurance. Try Pilates! Whether you are a recreational runner or competitive track and field athlete, deep down you strive to be better. Pilates can help you run faster, farther, and with more power and efficiency. You have to bring your own cape.
Overuse and underuse of certain muscles can cause lower back, hip and knee problems. Pilates improves these imbalances by strengthening and stretching the muscles of the torso, hips, legs and pelvis. This leads to improved posture, balance and stability – lessening the chance of injury. Pilates’ focus on proper breathing improves concentration and efficiency by bringing oxygen-rich blood to the muscles. As a result, the runner moves faster, has more power off the block and moves more efficiently with increased endurance. The hurdler jumps higher with more speed and endurance. Track and field athletes who practice Pilates include Olympic hurdler and bobsledder Lolo Jones and Olympic track star Sanya Richards-Ross.
Soccer: If you want to ‘Bend It Like Beckham,’ get the tools you need from Pilates. A growing number of Soccer players are turning to Pilates as a way of improving the strength, endurance, agility and speed needed to compete at a high level. The flexibility and core strength gained through the practice of Pilates help prevent groin and hamstring pulls as well as back injuries. Pilates helps restore natural posture and alignment by correcting muscle imbalances. Proper breathing techniques taught through the practice of Pilates improve stamina, endurance and movement efficiency. Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs credits the extension of his career to the practice of Pilates. According to Bange Pilates, David Beckham dropped his total body fat to 8.5% from 13% after adding Pilates to his conditioning program.
Swimming and Diving: Whether swimming with the ‘sharks’ or ‘ripping’ an entry off a spring board or 10-meter platform, you need strength, total body control, flexibility and breath control. I should know. I did just that for the PSU Lady Lion Diving team. How I wish I had known about Pilates back then! For the diver, explosive power off the board fast and efficient spinning and twisting come from flexibility as well as strong abdominal, back and gluteal muscles (the Powerhouse). Pilates develops the body uniformly for balance and control and strengthens the muscles around the joints so the body can withstand impacts of up to 50 miles an hour off the 10-meter platform. Since every exercise includes a stretching and strengthening component, the body becomes strong and supple.
Swimming is a total body sport requiring strength, power, efficient breathing and endurance. Practiced consistently, Pilates also increases flexibility in the shoulders and hips for improved range of motion and fluid stroke. It’s no wonder Olympic athletes Natalie Coughlin, Nick McCrory, Ariana Kukors and David Boudia have made Pilates an integral part of their cross-training.
Tennis: Pilates gave Andy Murray the edge – and it made him a nicer person, according to MailOnline. Once described by his former coach as extremely negative, Murray has used Pilates to channel his energy as well as condition and heal his body. The power of the mind to guide the body may just have been a key to Murray’s stunning victory in the 2012 U.S. Open – a nearly five-hour match of grueling tennis. With the triumph, Murray landed his first major title and became the first British man in 76 years to win a grand slam championship. Why Pilates and tennis? Pilates is all about balance – no muscle group is under- or overtrained. For Murray it has proved to be an essential element of his training – one that helps him stay focused on the game. ‘When my mind is clear, I can go on the court, not worry about anything else. I can play much better and think a lot better on the court,’ he has said.
Volleyball: If you’re looking to improve your ‘kill’ rate or your efficiency at digging, you either want to become a mafia kingpin or a better volleyball player. Pilates, when practiced consistently, can give you power, precision and control to dig for, hit and spike the ball. Olympic gold medalists Kerri Walsh-Jennings and Misty May-Treanor incorporated Pilates into their conditioning programs to gain deep core strength, postural muscle stability and flexibility. Strengthening the deep core muscles helps prevent injury and improves balance and endurance. Pilates also boosts focus by requiring concentration for improved mind/body control and coordination.
Research studies reported in the Journal of Sports Sciences showed a 12 to 21 percent improvement in muscular ability level of the legs, posterior strength and jump components after athletes adopted consistent Pilates training as part of their conditioning program. Walsh-Jennings and May-Treanor, who took home their third consecutive Olympic gold at the 2012 London games, say Pilates contributed to their success on the beach. Walsh-Jennings told the Wall Street Journal that Pilates improved her flexibility and strengthened her core. ‘It’s really given me an extra 20 percent in my performance on the sand,’ she said.