Pilates for Sports Men & Women

There is nothing particularly different about Pilates for men or sports people, and contrary to previous beliefs it is not a recreational pastime for lycra clad yummy mummies.

In actual fact pilates was originally developed by  a German physical trainer called Joseph Pilate. He’d had several illnesses as a child and as he grew he studied various forms of exercise including body building, yoga and even gymnastics to try and overcome his own problems. He then developed a series of exercises to suit himself  which improved his physical and mental well being and he became exceptionally fit; And thus was born PILATES.

It has become internationally popular in many sports for example Tiger Woods (golf) Andy Murray (tennis) and Cristiano Ronaldo (soccer), to name but a few, are big advocators of the technique for injury prevention, flexibility and strength.

For sports people pilates basically uses deep core strength exercises to provide a stable base from which their limbs can function optimally. I frequently aliken a strong core to the point of attachment of a pendulum, if it is steadfast and secure then the pendulum will swing rhythmically and optimally with maximum efficiency – is this not how we want our bodies to perform. If however the attachment of the pendulum is not stable then the pendulum will swing uncontrolled, out of line and will gradually pull further on the attachment causing damage.

When the deep core is weak the trunk will be unstable while the periphery of the body must provide the stability hence the limbs – hamstrings, quads etc. overwork to compensate, they loose flexibility and develop trigger points from overuse. These trigger points can be a huge factor in hamstring and groin pain in field sports men and women. When the deep core is strong, the limb muscles are released to do their own job which is to provide mobility and speed. They are also less likely to become injured and will be more efficient.

And yes the sporting world has cottoned on to this idea, that we all need a strong core, and so core training is popping up in every sport, in every club and at every age group, but who is teaching it and what are they teaching? Planks? Russian Twists? Double straight leg raises and scissors? – all fine in their own right – if the underlying deep core has been strengthened to facilitate the proper undertaking of such advanced exercises.

core muscle groups

Bottom right picture shows transversus abdominus

We see people with great 6 packs, and yet they cant even lift their 2 feet off the floor with their knees bent without arching their back – why? Because the 6 Pack muscle IS NOT YOUR CORE MUSCLE – it is the superficial muscle in a multi layered system.

The real Deep Core muscle – or the transversus abdominus muscle lies many layers below, under the external oblique, internal oblique and rectus abdominus muscles, and is frequently inhibited by the 6 pack muscle.

checking for deep core muscles

checking for deep core muscles

As chartered physiotherapists we are increasingly frustrated by what is going on out there and what is being taught to our young and vulnerable sports people of the future. We teach pilates classes, we identify the core muscle, educate the player on how to recruit them, we palpate the muscles to make sure they work, we check them in every stage of every exercise they do, we look at the quality and quantity of each movement, we correct them in every step of every exercise, and it still takes weeks to get it right. How can the players be expected to get this right in one or two sessions with a coach in a big group setting.

In actual fact we usually spend the first few sessions with any player undoing some of the damage they have done by building up the wrong muscle groups.

The benefits of pilates for sports men and women are huge and have been extensively proven. Pilates:

  1. Improves deep core strength and provides a stable base for the performance of activities such as throwing, striking, kicking
  2. Improves flexibility, muscle length, joint mobility
  3. Improves balance, coordination, alignment and function
  4. Helps prevent injury by reducing overuse of specific muscle groups
  5. Helps recovery from injury and enhances rehabilitation after injury

A good Sports Pilates Class, well instructed by Chartered Physiotherapists is definitely the best option, if you are lucky enough to find one in your area.