Every athlete wants to keep a competitive edge in their sport. There’s always an ongoing search to find the latest and greatest workout routine. Yet there’s one exercise regimen that more and more athletes are turning to, even burly NFL players, that helps to increase athletic performance: Pilates.
A Brief Primer on Pilates—the Man and the System
Pilates is named after Joseph Pilates who created the exercise system nearly a century ago, bringing his unique approach from Germany to his studio in New York City. Its primary focus is to strengthen core muscles—the trunk and abdominal muscles—through a myriad of precise, small, repetitive movements. Pilates’ first clients were ballet dancers who wanted to increase the control of their movements and improve their postures.
Pilates focuses on using one’s body weight with the Pilates reformer, a machine that involves a system of pulleys, straps, springs, bars, and a sliding carriage. Users can kneel, sit, stand, or lie down to create what Pilates called the “powerhouse” of a strong core and a balanced body.
There’s also the jumpboard, which is an accessory to the Pilates reformer machine. Users can jump off this firm, padded board as a low-impact way to increase speed, power, and balance.
This training method may look easy, but the beauty of Pilates is that it targets muscles that even the fittest and toughest athletes don’t often use. And, unlike most exercise regimens, core muscles are fully engaged while Pilates exercises are performed.
Stanford University’s Nanci Conniff, who works with pros like [NFL defensive back Johnson] Bademosi, Andrew Luck, and Jeremy Lin, says 'With Pilates, you’re strengthening the muscles that are closer to the bone. You’re always working in extension, to lengthen instead of shorten muscles,' which can counteract the tightening and stress of sport-specific, high-impact training.” ( Men’s Journal)
Pilates may be awkward to do at first, so it’s essential that users get proper training on how to do it. Taking a class with a certified teacher will ensure users get the best results as well as reduce the risk of injury.
What Pilates Isn’t Good For, Plus an Added Benefit
If someone is looking for an exercise routine that helps you shed pounds or inches, or to have a heart-pounding, sweat-dripping exercise experience, then Pilates probably is not the right routine. It doesn’t mean it can’t happen for users, but the aerobic benefits of Pilates need further research. The lack of conclusive scientific research on the weight loss benefits of Pilates also doesn’t mean the Pilates isn’t good for one’s well-being.
There’s a reason why Pilates and yoga are usually paired together. Usually, yoga is seen as an exercise regimen that increases flexibility, balance, and strength. But there’s also an internal or mental fitness that occurs.
Just like yoga, Pilates focuses on breath control and mindfulness. One study has shown how Pilates increases mindfulness and sensory awareness, both of which can increase overall well-being.
The Benefits of Pilates for Athletes
There are plenty of fitness benefits that Pilates can offer athletes who are looking to improve their performance. Current research shows that Pilates can possibly help with an increase in flexibility. In elderly participants, Pilates helped with fall prevention. For athletes, that research finding can translate into injury prevention.
Scientists have also specifically looked at athletes and how Pilates can affect athletic performance. Researchers at the University of Kentucky studied college baseball pitchers who need trunk strength to increase their performance. The results were that Pilates may contribute to the increased performance in “double leg lowering, star excursion balance tests, and throwing speed in college baseball pitchers.”
Korean researchers looked at how Pilates could help with the athletic performance of high school archers. Specifically, researchers discovered that core stability exercises could improve shooting posture and balance.
Lower back pain is a chronic condition that many people suffer from, and one study looked into how Pilates could possibly alleviate it. Researchers found that Pilates “offers greater improvements in pain and functional ability compared to usual care and physical activity in the short term. Pilates exercise offers equivalent improvements to massage therapy and other forms of exercise.”
The TRX Suspension System and Pilates
There’s more than one way to perform Pilates. Instead of using a Pilates reformer machine, you can use TRX Suspension Bands. TRXTraining.com shows three Pilates exercises--Stroking the Globes, Hundreds, and Swan Series--that can be done using the TRX Suspension System. And if users have already been using TRX, Pilates exercises should feel similar.
Tiny Movements, Major Results
Pilates can engage muscles that aren't used to being used, which can in turn help improve athletic performance, flexibility, and endurance.
If you feel like you’ve been missing something from your workout routine, Pilates may be that extra "oomph" that can take your athletic experience to the next level.