Participation in Pilates has grown exponentially
around the world – and athletes are reaping
the benefits. Experts have identified seven
physical performance factors of great significance
to athletes' overall conditioning practices and
rehabilitation of sport-related injuries including:
posture, balance, mobility/flexibility, stability,
coordination, functional strength and
endurance – all of which are addressed
with this form of exercise.
"Pilates works your body inside and out for optimal
body conditioning and is ideal for anyone wanting
to expand their exercise regimens to include overall
toning and strengthening moves that also work
the inner mechanism of the body," explains
Moira Merrithew, Executive Director of Education
for Merrithew Health & Fitness™. "Pilates is very
functional and gentle on the joints – a perfect
complement to anyone's sport conditioning or
strength training routine. Unlike other strength
training regimens traditionally designed for athletes,
Pilates focuses on toning your muscles, thereby
improving your balance and alignment."
Most Pilates workouts begin in a supine (lying on
the back) position, and then progress to sitting,
or standing when stability increases and can then
carry over into the sporting realm. This allows the
athlete to train or retrain muscles then transfer
movement patterns to outside the practice
environment and into the sport-specific skill.
Pilates helps build strong, healthy muscles,
improves blood flow and engages all the muscles
at the right time."Pilates works on developing
kinesthetic awareness of the body, or where it is in
relationship to itself and the world around it. 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," Moira continues. "Specific
strengthening exercises will also help to balance
the muscles around a joint and balance pairs of
muscles from one side of the body to the other."
Active Recovery for Athletes
Laureen Dubeau, Master Instructor Trainer for
Merrithew's premier brand STOTT PILATES®, affirms
that one concept in particular is being embraced
by sports trainers: "This type of training progresses
from general to specific and from simple to the
more complex. The lighter resistance and multiangular
training makes Pilates perfect for athletic
development as well as anatomical adaptation,
which focuses on developing muscle memory and
patterning. This usually occurs in the preparatory or
pre-competition phase of training for an athlete."
There are also other areas of sport training in which
Pilates can be particularly useful. Regeneration is
the period of active recovery from a strenuous
workout or game and Pilates can help in fulfilling
this role and returning muscles and joints to their
ideal anatomical length. Also, during rehabilitation,
Pilates can provide an interim step between
non-weightbearing to open-chain, through to
explosive movements. "The focus on mobility,
flexibility and strength through a full range of
motion can help restore the injured tissues to a
healthy state before sport-specific training begins,"
adds Laureen. "In rehab, Pilates can be used at
all stages from the most acute phase to advanced
Pilates can be a very effective supplement to an
injury rehabilitation program as it provides athletes
with a challenging workout without impact or
excessive weightbearing. Traditional athletic training
methods help develop the muscles required in a
specific sport, but may not address the stabilizing
muscles around the joints or the torso. Often,
one muscle is identified and exercises are designed
to isolate that muscle, usually in a single plane
of motion. However, Pilates exercises can be more
complex than traditional moves and therefore recruits
a larger number of muscle groups or strengthen
the same muscles from many angles and in a
variety of different ranges of motion.
Targeting the Core
Core strengthening is an integral component of
any injury prevention, rehabilitation or sports
performance program. A strong core provides a
dynamic link between the upper and lower body,
alleviating excess stress on the peripheral joints.
In athletes, core strength contributes to enhanced
athletic performance by providing a solid
foundation from which the upper and lower
extremities can generate force for running,
throwing, rowing or jumping.
STOTT PILATES® exercise improves core strength and
balances the muscles around the joints, improving
the way a body functions, looks and feels. The Five
Basic Principles, upon which this method is based,
focus on breathing, pelvic placement, rib cage
placement, scapular stabilization and mobilization
and head/cervical spine placement.
Unlike other hardcore strength training regimens
that are often geared toward creating muscle mass,
Pilates focuses on re-balancing the muscles
around the joints, improving overall alignment
and flexibility. The focus on core conditioning is
paramount for optimal results and performance.
Moira maintains that Pilates is used to increase
joint stability and strengthen the deep core
muscles which helps prevent injuries and leads
to improved athletic performance.
"It [Pilates] also assists in rehabilitation after injury
and creates balance throughout the entire body.
As a result, athletes can withstand rigorous training
regimes and ultimately improve their strength and
endurance for skiing or hockey and prevent or
recover from injury while maintaining an optimal
weight for their activity of choice."
Enhancing Basic Training
Pilates exercises can be easily incorporated into
regular sport-conditioning regimens. For instance,
on a light weight day, a recovery workout day, or
prior to skill acquisition days, a Pilates workout is a
great way to work on neuromuscular coordination
and proper muscle-firing patterns. Another option is
to add some Pilates exercises to the warm-up ritual.
"Although core training may be a bit of a catch
phrase in the fitness industry, the true definition
of the term is widely acknowledged in medical
and rehabilitation communities as the basis
for reconditioning the support musculature of
the body," explains Mr. Lindsay G. Merrithew,
President and CEO, Merrithew Health & Fitness™.
"The attention to the core, proper alignment
and good posture that Pilates offers through its
numerous variations of movement, with or without
specialized equipment, is a natural carryover
for the athlete into regular living."
Matwork is the foundation of the exercise system.
All the basic exercises are designed to target very
specific muscle groups in very specific ways and
there are numerous exercises that can be performed
and/or modified on mats found around the gym
that can be helpful in addition to an already
established workout program. Some popular Pilates
exercises can put strain on the low back in clients
with typical postural imbalances if not performed
correctly, so it's important that instructors are
properly trained to teach more complex exercises.
Light equipment such as 1lb, 2lb or 3lb Toning Balls™
help close the kinetic chain, add proprioceptive
awareness and add challenge to exercises by
increasing the load or de-stabilizing the base
of support. Other light equipment such as
Stability Cushions™, Fitness Circles® and Flex-Bands®
can also add variety to mat-based programming.
"Pilates focuses on active eccentric lengthening
of muscles rather than prolonged static stretching.
This results in maintaining the integrity and
strength of the joint while allowing it to move
more freely in a greater range," adds Laureen.
"Because Pilates works on a controlled eccentric
strengthening of the muscles, it can be beneficial
in assisting with overall flexibility and stamina.
The emphasis on breath helps athletes focus better
during the game and control precise movements
required for their sport. The deep core stabilizers
are challenged through all planes of motion –
a strong and flexible core is extremely important
for all sporting activities."
Pilates is effective because it trains all three
functional muscle systems. Trainers can encourage
athletes to stabilize the joints effectively at
low loads and then progress to strengthening
eccentrically which will control deceleration
movements by using the global stabilizers and
finally progressing to the larger global mobilizers,
with the inherent joint stability already in place.
When all muscular systems work in a timely and
coordinated fashion, athletes can achieve large
gains in strength, skill, coordination and biomechanical
efficiency. Pilates focuses on improving stabilization
of the lumbo-pelvic region, and therefore improved
core stability will carry over to the sporting realm,
reducing the risk of injury and improving performance.