How Pilates Helps Raise Your Game
From baseball players to basketball stars, pro athletes are turning to Pilates for strength, focus and injury prevention. Discover the benefits of this cross-training tool.
If you’ve ever wondered how professional athletes supplement their on-court and on-field training, the answer might surprise you. Pilates, that thing your mom likes to do at her boutique gym, is making waves in the world of pro sports thanks to its unrivaled ability to build a strong core while improving an athlete’s range of motion and flexibility.
Once a niche technique adopted by dancers to build strength, the method has gone mainstream now that so many elite athletes have become disciples. “Pilates can boost athletic performance in almost any sport,” says Sean Vigue, the instructor behind the Sean Vigue Fitness YouTube workouts and author of Pilates for Athletes. “The technique focuses on your core, pelvic floor , glutes, hips and spine—all areas that need to be strong in order to maximize movements in any sport.”
Given its benefits, Pilates is well worth your time in its own right. But as a supplement to your running, soccer or any other sport you love, it’s genius. Here are three ways Pilates can make you a better, more complete athlete.Many sports involve repetitive movements (swing, swing, swing; right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot), which cause some muscles to overdevelop while tightening others. “When one muscle becomes dominant, it creates imbalances in your body that can lead to injuries,” says Vigue.
Pilates is a way to counteract some of these repetitive movements. “For example, I work with a lot of runners, and they tend to have overdeveloped quads and tight hamstrings,” says Vigue. “Also, the thumping from running can compress your spine, which draws your shoulders forward into a hunch. Pilates stretches the quads and hamstrings and helps correct posture, opening the chest so your breath can flow.”
Pilates also focuses on posture, balance and alignment with an emphasis on the core, says Lara Shapiro, a Colorado-based Pilates instructor. The use of your abs translates to more powerful, balanced movements. “When you practice Pilates regularly, you become aware of your core and consequently your body posture,” said Vigue. “It affects how you run on the basketball court and whether you’re in alignment when you lift weights. It’s the difference in sitting balanced on your bike instead of slouching over the handlebars.”
2. It Builds Focus
Pilates has been called nourishing, energizing and tension relieving , and because the method emphasizes breathing and inner-awareness, it can help athletes develop a laser-like focus that they can tap into during a race or competition.
A major benefit of the activity is that the exercises are designed to energize, rather than exhaust, your muscles, meaning they complement your regular sport or workout. “The best thing about Pilates is that it’s a mind-body-spirit method, so you’ll not only be strengthening your body, but also boosting your energy levels and avoiding burnout. That benefits athletes, but it’s also really important for everyone,” says Shapiro.
3. It’s the Perfect Warm-Up and Cool-Down
Pilates can be a workout in itself, but you can also use some of the movements to prepare for your game or race. The Hundred, a classic Pilates move, involves sitting on the floor and tightening your core as you lift your legs and tilt back to hold your body in a V-shape. Extending your arms forward and low to the floor with your palms down, you pump them up and down for 100 counts. This engages your core and warms up the lungs.
Other Pilates exercises can be used to cool the body and slow your heart rate. Exercises like The Roll-Up, a controlled sit-up with arms overhead, followed by folding forward into a hamstring stretch, help alleviate tightness and improve spine flexibility, reducing your odds of post-workout soreness . At the same time, it works your core, which is especially helpful after a workout like a spin class, says Vigue, because your abs can often become disengaged after a long session in the saddle.
To give Pilates a try, look for classes taught at your local gym or fitness boutique: It’s easier with an instructor until you get the hang of each move. Loose-fitting clothes can be a pain with some of the movements, so opt for a slim-fitting top and comfortable tights or longer shorts instead.