Hockey players, football playersa and golfers are sold
From the NHL to the NFL and pro golf circuit, elite athletes are turning to Pilates to improve their games. Canadian women's hockey icon Cassie
Campbell referred to its benefi ts in her
CBC blog noting that many professional
hockey players are "taking the Pilates
plunge" to help prevent injuries specifi c
to their sport.
STOTT PILATES® Master Instructor
Trainer Sally Belanger has worked with
athletes of all levels for more than a decade.
She has seen the demand for quality
professionals in the fi eld increase
dramatically, and over the last few
years she reports that general awareness
of mind-body fi tness has made
its way into the realm of sport-specifi c
From obscurity to popularity
"When I fi rst started teaching
Pilates, I was continually explaining
to people what it was," says Belanger,
who is based in Toronto and works
with personal trainers, athletic trainers
and physiotherapists whose clientele
include NHL players, up-and-coming
tennis pros and professional golfers.
"Luckily, awareness of the method has
grown to the point where that is no longer
"Over the last five to 10 years, athletes
of all levels have started to reap
the benefits of alternative methods
of exercise to increase power, align
the body and work the core," explains
Belanger. "As a result strength
trainers are seeking the means to
learn the basics of Pilates for their
own training programs or they are
calling upon certified instructors
who work one-on-one with their athletes.
Athletes are still training daily,
but the focus on conventional weight
training is being complemented with
work on balance, flexibility, core stability
and mental focus. That's where
we come in."
and strength improve
"Regardless of the sport, over time
athletes will overuse certain muscles
and find 'cheating patterns' or compensatory
patterns to perform their
particular specific skills and movements,"
says Belanger. "Pilates and core
training focus on the stabilizing muscles.
If a joint is stabilized properly and
moves properly then the sport skill or
movement pattern becomes more biomechanically
efficient as the larger
power-generating muscles can do what
they are supposed to do."
When it comes to golf-specific training,
Pilates helps increase hip stability,
strengthen the deep abdominal muscles
and upper midback – all essential
to improving on the green.
"The increase in range of movement
results in the potential for longer
drives," says Belanger. "The benefits of
Pilates training to the modern-day golf
swing are so well documented that
many national golf schools and coaches
are implementing Pilates classes
into their programs."
Body awareness a big benefit
Pilates focuses on the deeper muscle
groups which are key to controlling
joint movement and sustaining the
stability of the joints that can often be
damaged through repetitive and highdemand
training. As well, a strong
Pilates program creates physical awareness
which can aid in movement control
enabling athletes to increase their
level of performance.
"Pilates works on developing a kinesthetic
awareness of the body, or
where it is in relationship to itself and
the world around it," says Belanger. "It
also focuses on good postural alignment
which will help an individual
perform a movement efficiently, thus
reducing the amount of unnecessary
strain on the muscles and joints.
Specific strengthening exercises will
also help to balance the muscles
around a joint and balance pairs of
muscles that support the joints."
Pilates also focuses on finding as
much symmetry as possible in the athletic
body, adds Belanger.
Balancing out the body
"Most sports focus on one side or
movement in a specific plane of motion.
Throwing and shooting sports
will often have a dominant side while
sports like running or triathlon focus mostly on movement in the sagital plane. Core
training and Pilates help to strengthen and
find stability in all planes of motion as well as
create an equal balance on both sides of the
Matt Nichol, a Toronto-based performance
coach known for his innovative approach to
training, nutrition and lifestyle and the former
head strength and conditioning coach for the
Toronto Maple Leafs, agrees that Pilates training
is an excellent form of training for his professional
"Any athlete can benefit in some degree
from supplementary Pilates training," says
Nichol. "The majority of my clients are NHL
hockey players, and this sport places huge demands
on the spine and pelvis. Hockey players
need to make sure they have superior levels
of pelvis stability and endurance of the
muscles that stabilize the core in order to ensure
healthy performance. Pilates training is
an excellent way to re-enforce this."