Pilates in Sports Training

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Pilates is quickly gaining popularity in the sport-training community because of endorsements made by professional athletes such as Tiger Woods, Jason Kidd of the New Jersey Nets, the Diamondbacks’ pitcher Curt Schilling and the Bills’ offensive linesman Reuben Brown.

Most athletes who practice pilates claim that it helps in developing core strength, increasing flexibility, rehabilitation after injury and creating a balance of strength throughout the entire body.

What does pilates do for athletes?
Pilates focuses on improving pelvic stabilization, or the ability to maintain the pelvis in a neutral position while in a supine position. The theory is that improved core stability gained through pilates training methods will carry over into the sporting realm, reducing the risk of injury and improving performance.

There is irrefutable evidence that a strong core is important since it provides the foundation for the movements generated by working limbs. In sports, the demand on the core is elevated since the movements are generally explosive in nature. This is where the assumed carryover of benefits from pilates training seems a little shady. How can exercises that are performed while lying down on a machine or on a mat using pulleys and your body weight improve your ability in multidirectional, explosive and high-impact loading activities? Depending on the “expert” you speak to, there are arguments to support both sides.

Is it effective?
Pilates training, like any other training method, can be used effectively during different parts of the training schedule; the key is understanding what the movements entail and the role they can play in the pursuit of athletic excellence. But if you’re looking to improve speed or power, pick up some weights! Improvements in speed and power require neural adaptations that can only be achieved by calling up the large fast-twitch muscle fibers through heavy resistance training; pilates training uses resistance cords and bodyweight exercises, typically performed under slow and controlled conditions.

If you’re an athlete or strength coach looking for ways to improve performance, take a step back and look for the limiting factor in your particular sport. Is it speed, power, agility or endurance? Think of what these factors have in common—STRENGTH. The periodization of strength is probably the best tool to have when it comes to training athletes. This knowledge will enable you to filter out all unnecessary training methods and stick to the useful ones. Understanding the human body and the physical demands of your sport will allow for better planning and a higher standard of athletic performance.

Pilates is useful for sports training, however, only under specific conditions:

Regeneration: Throughout training, the body periodically needs to perform some form of active recovery, also known as regeneration. This is usually done after an exhausting game or training session. The typical regeneration session includes light aerobic activity followed by a stretching routine and a hot/cold bath. The goal is to rid the body of metabolic waste products that usually pool in the joints. A pilates workout would be a perfect substitution since it focuses on stretching the muscles and joints back to their anatomical length.

Rehabilitation: Recovering from an injury can be very stressful. To make the transition quicker and more efficient, traditional methods incorporate closed-chain exercises with a progression to open-chain exercises. A creative pilates instructor can offer these training environments since the machine is versatile enough to offer a step-approach from non-weight-bearing, closed-chain movements to open-chain, explosive bodyweight exercises. As resistance plays an important role in the rehabilitation process, Pilates offers a great alternative as it focuses on mobility, flexibility and strength through varying ranges of motion.

Anatomical Adaptation Phase: This phase of training is typically associated with the preparatory phase or pre-competition phase of training. In this phase, variability of training is important. Muscles need to be flexible and strong at many different angles and ranges of motion. Pilates offers the perfect platform for lighter-resistance and multi-angular training.

As sports training professionals, it is important for us to maintain a certain level of credibility and standard of practice. Therefore, understanding the benefits of certain training theories and methodologies is important. We have to be able to distinguish between what is a fad and what is reality. For the truth about sport training, visit the Truestar Sport-Specific Training section.

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