With over 25 years of experience in the Pilates and fitness industry, I’ve worked with a number of athletic abilities, including many athletes. I’ve helped gymnasts create more stability in their joints, reducing their risk of injuries. I’ve helped golfers improve their swing and runners fix their knee and hip issues. What I’ve found is that Pilates is a great way to boost performance and competitive edge.
One of the downsides with sports is that repetitive motion may cause overuse injuries.
That’s why Pilates is the perfect solution to balancing athletic training. It moves the body in all planes of motion, strengthening any underused muscles. Pilates also utilizes exercises that work unilaterally, meaning each side of the body can be trained separately. This ensures muscles are strengthened evenly and is a helpful practice in creating equilibrium and balance in the body as a whole.
Three Reasons Pilates Improves Athletic Performance
Pilates can give athletes of all skill levels an edge mentally and physically by improving range of motion, speeding up recovery time and increasing breath competency. The focus on breathing and the concentration required to move with such precision also builds a stronger mind-body connection.
Balanced muscle development
Balanced muscle development is one of the Eight Movement Principles in Pilates. Muscle balance is the harmonious action where muscles work together to keep the bones and joints aligned. This encourages proper joint mechanics and enhances postural alignment. Both over and under use of muscles is minimized. The body then works all the muscle needed for a given movement more efficiently, reducing the risk of injury and pain.
When training my gymnast client, I worked with this principle. To succeed in gymnastics a great deal of joint mobility is needed. However, over time the excessive range of motion in her joints created a lack of stability. She suffered from continual joint pain and overuse injuries.
Using balanced muscle development we focused on strengthening her core and activating the stabilizing muscles in her hips, spine and shoulders. As she got stronger she moved with more efficiency and accuracy. Her body became more aligned. She was then able to balance the effort between the powerful muscles that moved her joints with the ones that stabilized them. She experienced less joint stress and pain, reduced her injuries and improved her performance.
Powerful, efficient movement
Pilates also teaches the body to move in optimal ways and improves the areas of the body that athletes most often struggle with. Core strength, muscular endurance, and functionality of movement.
This was definitely the case with my client who played golf 4 times a week and suffered from chronic neck and shoulder pain. Hitting a golf ball requires a player’s head to turn in the opposite direction of their arms and mid-spine. This continual movement puts stress on the cervical spine (neck) and mid-spine because they are repeatedly rotating in opposite directions. Because her core was weak she lacked hip and trunk strength and stability. Consequently, she was straining in her neck and shoulders to create the power she needed in her swing.
Throughout our sessions we focused on breathing to activate and strengthen the muscles of her core and improve her focus. I taught her how to move from her center (creating core power) and transfer that power into her limbs as she practiced her swing. She learned better mechanics in twisting and rotating her trunk and in stabilizing her shoulders. This gave her more efficiency. And the precision and attention required in Pilates also made her a more focused athlete.
Targeted training with Pilates equipment
Pilates equipment is very versatile in comparison to standard gym equipment. There are detachable springs on the Cadillac or Tower, various pulleys such as on the Pilates reformer and adjustable pedals on the Pilates chair. Another important advantage is that the equipment can be set up to simulate certain movement actions, customizing a program for an athlete or any individual. Not only will this provide useful feedback, but can be very helpful when trying to fix an athlete’s or any person’s, faulty or weak movement.
I’ve customized programs using my Pilates equipment for many clients, in particular a client who was a runner. When he came to see me, running had been his main form of exercise for several years. Although his cardiovascular system was strong he was limited in his range of movement. He often experienced nagging overuse injuries. Running forces the body to move in one direction. He was strong in this movement plane (straight ahead) but weak in other planes such as bending, twisting and side stepping. And in terms of runners, a slight imbalance can potentially create big problems.
Using the reformer, we worked on correcting his hip, knee and ankle alignment. The reformer footbar offers many ankle strengthening exercises. I developed both closed and open chain exercises with the reformer’s pulley system. This aligned his hips and knees and improved his core strength. A powerful core helps with energy transference (the transfer of force from the trunk through the limbs). As his alignment improved his leg strength could absorb more of that core power. This increased his muscular endurance and precision.
I also taught him several reformer planking exercises to strengthen the muscles that rotate and stabilize his trunk. This helped him balance the repetitive motion and impact of running throughout his entire body, reducing the wear and tear to his joints.
Pilates is beneficial for all athletic abilities
Whether you’re a professional or ammateur athlete, or looking for a way to get stronger and healthier, Pilates will be an asset to your training regimen. With regular practice, Pilates enhances balance and strengthens the entire body. It increases core strength and creates positive change in alignment and posture. Pilates’ focus on optimal biomechanics is a benefit to all athletes and exercise enthusiasts. It helps create more symmetry of movement and improves muscle balance.
With Pilates you’ll also strengthen your brain’s connection to all the micro muscles that might get overlooked in a typical workout. These micro muscles are part of the complex of muscles that strengthen and stabilize the spine and hips, minimizing injury. Using several muscle groups at once also improves coordination, proprioception (where your body is in space) and the brain-body connection.
The focus on breathing during Pilates will help you breathe better and improve your quality of life. And learning to breathe well while performing complex athletic movements improves overall performance as well as concentration and memory.
Get started with Pilates now
If you want to improve your athletic abilities with Pilates equipment, book a private session with me at my Austin-based studio. If you’d like to enjoy Pilates Mat from the comfort of your home, check out my online Pilates classes here. You can learn more here about my teaching method and philosophy.