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Pilates and the Elite Athlete by Ofie Dates

May 1, 2017

The Pilates Method is a conditioning program developed and practiced to balance and strengthen the body with flexibility, allowing the structure of the body to move with optimum functionality. This not only applies to the individual client, but also to the elite athlete. The professional athlete is always striving to improve his/hers personal best. The question is, can Pilates improve athletic performance? The answer is most definitely, yes!

It is no secret that many celebrities are turning to Pilates in their training regimes. Professional athletes such as Roger Federer, Dara Torres, Labron James, Tiger Woods, Steve Ballesteros, Jason Kidd, Curt Schilling, Nathalie Coughlin among others use Pilates to enhance their athletic performance and support the rehabilitation and prevention of sports injuries.

Pilates meets several physical performance factors important to the athlete and coach/athletic trainer. Here are ten critical principles that an athlete requires: posture, balance, stabilization, mobility, flexibility, coordination, agility, functional strength, symmetry, and endurance. All of which we can address in a Pilates program designed specifically for the individual athlete.

Pilates offers body awareness in every plane of motion while focusing on ideal postural alignment. As stated in BASI theory, “good alignment translates to less stress on the spine and more economical muscular activity”. For the elite athlete, this postural alignment transfers to optimal physical performance in their individual sport. Increased strength and power, and the minimization of the risk of injury, can be achieved with proper body alignment, body mechanics, and muscle recruitment.

An athlete will do whatever it takes to win the game. Whether it is football, track, basketball, tennis or soccer, all require the ability to make quick, explosive movements in all directions. In an instant, the hamstrings may need to stretch to reach for a ball and then immediately contract to regain balance to hit again. Every sport or athletic endeavor creates asymmetries in strength and flexibility. Athletes may push hard for strong performance numbers, but without adequate recovery and balance in their training regimen they risk overtaxing some muscle groups and weakening others, and creating disproportionate strength and mobility around joints and tissue.

Pilates helps the athlete simultaneously increase core strength and flexibility while improving posture, alignment, and joint stability. It also emphasizes complete concentration on smooth, flowing movements and proper breathing. The athlete will then become acutely aware of how the body feels, where it is in space, and how to efficiently control movements in every plane.

Like the structure of the spine, every joint has its own network of deep muscles that are designed to stabilize and protect it against force and torque. In Pilates, athletes learn to use these deep muscles for core stabilization to establish control on the inside before adding speed, torque, power and agility from the outside. Attention to alignment and core stability teaches athletes to control the positioning of their joints and spine, and to use the correct muscle recruitment and amount of effort necessary for stability and mobility.

A strong outer body built on a weak inner core can lead to injuries and a weakened body over time. Pilates helps restore and maintain symmetry and postural alignment, building deep stabilizing muscles of the core that will lead to balance and a stronger base for all athletic activity. In Pilates we use concentric, eccentric and isometric contractions in every plane and range of motion to strengthen and balance the body uniformly. With a Pilates based program, athletes can withstand rigorous training regimes and ultimately improve their athletic performance.

Pilates also has an aesthetic component that is important to the athlete. Precision, grace, control and fluidity are all components that we utilize in the BASI approach to Pilates. These aesthetic components are very important and should be addressed in every session. Each exercise has a fluid and precise component. Rael refers to it as the “Ying and the Yang of BASI”. This approach allows the athlete to perform at an optimal level with “effortless effort” — aligning the body uniformly, restoring and increasing vitality, and stimulating the mind and body for optimum performance!

Ofie Dates is a member of BASI Pilates Faculty, a Certified Exercise Physiologist, and an Accredited Athletic Trainer

Ofie is teaching a BASI Comprehensive Program this fall. Read More

BASI offers an Enhancing Athletic Performance Workshop for teachers. See dates and locations here.

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