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Pilates for the Athlete 0 Comments

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Developing an athlete’s core – the deep abdominal muscles along with the muscles closest to the spine – provides athletes more agility, helps prevent injury and increases sports performance. From weekend warriors to elite professionals, athletes looking for a competitive edge are discovering how Pilates helps with the following:

  • Hitting the ball farther
  • Running faster
  • Jumping higher
  • Correcting muscle imbalances
  • Preventing injury

Pilates builds a strong core, increases strength and flexibility simultaneously, and improves posture, stability, agility and alignment. It also emphasizes complete concentration on smooth, flowing movement and proper breathing. You become acutely aware of how your body feels, where it is in space, and how best to control its movement.

Pilates Training for Athletes

What professional dancers discovered years ago, the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB and more are discovering now – Pilates is one of the best forms of conditioning a top-tier athlete can participate in.

Pilates’ integration of the trunk, pelvis and shoulder girdle and emphasis on proper breathing, correct spinal and pelvic alignment. Smooth flowing movement allows athletes to access each part of the body individually, and become familiar with the functional mechanics.

With Pilates training, athletes can hit the ball farther, run faster, jump higher – and they do it without pain or injury to themselves.

But don’t take our word for it. Check out these professional sports organizations. All of them use various types of Pilates equipment as a crucial adjunct to their strength and conditioning regimen:

  • NBA
  • NFL
  • NHL
  • MLB

Pilates for Olympic Athletes

Football players are not the only elite athletes including Pilates in their training. Over the course of the past year we heard of all types of professional athletes using Pilates. All these super athletes, including football players, report they love the combination of core strength and flexibility that Pilates gives them.

Olympic Beach Volleyball gold medal winners, Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor, added Pilates to their pre- Olympic training programs. There are many Olympic athletes using Pilates to support their training.  

womans golfPilates for Golf: Hit the ball farther, straighter and more accurately with less chance of injury

Whether turning the body on a drive, squatting down to measure a putt or leaning over to pick up a ball, golfers are constantly twisting their bodies. Golf also requires repeating the same essential movements. As a result some muscles become overused and others weaken, causing an imbalance. For a golfer, muscle imbalances can affect the legs, hips, arms, shoulders, and the lower back. It can also affect your game, particularly for those over the age of 50. Your drives may be shorter and less accurate, your stamina may decrease, and the potential for debilitating strains, pulls and tears becomes much higher.

Many golfers – from Saturday scramblers to the game’s elite players, such as Tiger Woods and Annika Sorenstam, have utilized Pilates as an essential training tool to keep their bodies in balance and improve their performances.

Why Pilates?

Pilates is based on movement from the center of the body, as are most shots in golf. It strengthens the center of the body, also known as the core (the trunk, shoulder girdles and pelvis). Core strength can improve hip rotation, range of motion in the shoulders and back, and stability leading to more powerful and accurate golf shots. It is also a full body exercise that works all muscles and is easy on the joints. The end result is a flexible, symmetrically muscled body that is strengthened from the inside out.

Pilates helps golfers:

  • Build up the back muscles evenly
  • Elongate and align the spine for better stability
  • Strengthen the abdominals
  • Increase overall flexibility, strength, and balance
  • Increase range of motion in hips and shoulders
  • Enhance concentration through focused breathing

Performance Benefits

A stronger and more stable core helps golfers:

  • Attain an optimal backswing and follow-through with increased range of motion in shoulders
  • Get more distance and power because of added hip and torso flexibility
  • Have a stronger and bigger hip turn for greater power through rotation
  • Create a smoother and more powerful swing due to evenly conditioned back muscles
  • Maximize balance and alignment while rotating
  • Decrease fatigue because of less strain on the body
  • Hold a body position long enough to play through a shot
  • Play without pain!

Portrait of a young man in sportswear jogging on embankmentPilates for Runners: Run faster and farther with less chance of injury.

Whether you’re a competitive runner or weekend jogger trying to shed a few pounds, there’s no doubt that running is an easy way to keep in great cardiovascular shape. But your body can take a beating – this is especially true if you develop poor body mechanics, causing certain muscles to become overused (a common trait in runners), while others become underused. This can result in a variety of ailments from lower back pain to hip bursitis to knee problems. It can also lead to a wide variety of tears, strains and pulls.

Why Pilates?

For a runner, posture is one of the key ingredients to success, and posture is very dependent on a strong core. Pilates develops a strong core by supporting and strengthening the muscles of the torso, hips shoulders and pelvis. These can eventually lead to a huge difference in your posture, technique, balance and stability. It enables you to focus on where your head and neck are in relation to the spine and pelvis, on down through the legs and toes. This all adds up to more efficient movement and less chance of injury.

Pilates allows runners to:

  • Build up the back muscles evenly
  • Elongate and align the spine for better stability
  • Expand the diaphragm
  • Increase overall flexibility, strength, and balance
  • Increase range of motion in hips and shoulders
  • Enhance concentration through focused breathing
  • Provide more upright running
  • Help bodies recover faster from injuries

Performance Benefits

A stronger and more stable core helps a runner:

  • Run more efficiently uphill with a stabilized core
  • Run more efficiently downhill with a stronger and more balanced sciatic area
  • Experience less tightening of the neck, head and shoulders
  • Increase oxygenation and stamina with a diaphragm that is able to fully expand
  • Focus on proper movement with better body awareness
  • Decrease fatigue because of less strain on the body
  • Shave seconds off your time because you move more efficiently
  • Run without pain!

Pilates for the Equestrian: Create a deeper seat and an ideal riding partnership with your horse

  • Frustrated that your horse won’t respond properly to your commands?
  • Having trouble keeping a stable seat?
  • Feeling unusually sore and tired after a ride?

Imbalances develop over time, based on physiology, posture and lifestyle. How you move when not riding – other types of exercise, the amount (and quality) of sitting you do at work, etc. – directly affects how you function on a horse. Resulting poor body mechanics greatly affect movement and alignment, creating impediments like:

  • Rounded shoulders
  • Tightness and curving in the lower back
  • Tight hamstrings

Why Pilates?

Pilates exercises increase your body awareness, and improve flexibility, balance, and strength in order to facilitate an optimal riding experience.

Pilates helps equestrians:

  • Lengthen the spine and strengthen the core, which stabilizes the body in movement
  • Sculpt a stronger body with increased flexibility, strength, and balance
  • Create a deeper seat and enhance the suppleness of the lower back
  • Strengthen the abdominals
  • Increase hip independence
  • Increase leg and body length

Performance Benefits

With a strong core and increased flexibility, riders can:

  • Freely and gently move arms and legs around a stable base
  • Help hold jumping form
  • Avoid collapsing and bouncing in the saddle
  • Better absorb a horse’s movement
  • Improve posture to help riders deepen their seat
  • Increase comfort during and after riding
  • Maintain neutral pelvis and easily follow a horse’s movements
  • Develop a trusting riding relationship, horse responds to commands and is confident in a rider’s ability

Swimming - male swimmerPilates for Swimmers: Swim with better control and faster times – without straining your body

For swimmers, proper body alignment is critical. Swimmers need to work with the water and the slightest misalignment can cause them to work against it. Much of a swimmer’s training, however, focuses on working the global muscles – or the outside musculature system. It does not work the inside ‘stabilizing’ system. This bilateral imbalance leaves a swimmer open to misalignments which make certain parts of the body work harder than they should. This can add seconds to a competitive time or – even worse – add to a variety of tears, pulls or strains.

Why Pilates?

Pilates can teach swimmers how to activate their inner support system to attain maximum balance and alignment as well as correct muscle “firing” patterns. This means the muscles activate when they should, within the dynamic of a particular movement. Swimmers will also see stronger stomach muscles, which are the base of all their movements. For a swimmer a strong core will keep scapula, shoulders, pelvis and spine balanced and aligned so that they can lift their arms up and out of the water without the usual straining of the neck muscles, leading to less overall wear and tear on the body and a faster swim. In addition, Pilates exercises are performed at a deliberate pace, with proper mind-body control. This approach translates well to the pool, where many swimmers need to concentrate less on how far they have gone and more on breathing, body orientation and balance for a steadier race.

Performance Benefits:

  • Muscles fire correctly which leads to more fluid movement
  • Body is aligned, leading to less strain on the neck
  • Proper mind body control leads to a steadier, faster pace

All of the above equal faster times without the wear and tear

In conclusion, Pilates is not just for women or the elderly.  Whether you are a beginner or an elite athlete I invite you to try Pilates.  Pilates enthusiasts gain a stronger sense of their bodies in space, increase agility, strengthen their core, tone and define their bodies, improve their posture and relieve stress via the mind-body connection.  At Five Starr Pilates  & Fitness we welcome athletes of all ages, backgrounds and levels.  If you are thinking about trying Pilates for the first time please check out our Getting Started section or give us a call, we would be glad to guide in the best direction based on your fitness goals.

All types of athletes will find the benefits of Pilates. Exercises increase strength, create a stronger core, advance flexibility and improve alignment, stability and posture – it makes sense for all athletes to include Pilates in their exercise regimen. Five Starr Pilates & Fitness welcomes athletes of all ages, fitness levels, backgrounds and ability to come and try Pilates with us.

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Starr Bunch

About Starr Bunch

Starr is the founder and owner of Five Starr Pilates and Fitness. She attended Southern Utah University and is educated in the Stott Pilates Reformer, Advanced Reformer and ISP courses, plus Keiser cycling. She has been teaching since 2012. Her personality and down to earth approach helps clients feel at ease and welcome no matter what their fitness level.

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