Have you ever thought that Pilates could help improve your sporting performance? No? Maybe it’s time to take another look at its benefits.
Benefits of Pilates for Sport
There’s no doubt about it, Pilates has become an integral part of top athletes’ training regime, but why is it so popular? Well in a nutshell it does wonders for your mind and body. It is a beautifully designed system that conditions the body for optimal performance.
Pilates works to improve functional movement, to speed up post match recovery and prevent injuries by exposing biomechanical faults. It does this by stretching muscles, strengthening muscles and improving proprioception.
There are also other benefits, which include:
Sport tests the limit of your body’s movement and range of motion. During a game you will be required to twist, bend, flex, extend and squat. Even a simple movement like reaching back overhead to catch a ball puts major demand on your body.
Tight muscles restrict your body’s capacity to move. Pilates stretches your muscles in every plane to increase your flexibility; allowing your body to reach its full movement potential and full muscle function. This is also critical to prevent injuries that occur when the limits of your range of motion are surpassed.
Stretching is especially important after playing matches, when your muscles will be tight and sore. A simple stretching session can reduce this tightness and speed up post match recovery.
Our bodies tend to favour one side of the body for movement. This is particularly true when playing sports such a golf or tennis which are by in large unilateral sports. A combination of muscle stretching and strengthening is critical to avoid over use, injuries and discomfort.
To perform at peak level your muscles need to be strong. Muscle imbalances are a major problem for bodies which are often exposed during sport. Weak core and gluts are the biggest offenders. With weak muscles comes over strain on other muscle groups to compensate, leading to muscle fatigue and injury. Pilates is designed to work through the full chain of the body to correct these imbalances.
Proprioception is known as a sixth sense and it’s the body’s ability to sense its own position and movement. It is an essential but under rated aspect of sporting performance.
Pilates improves proprioception by challenging balance, muscle reflexes, coordination and dynamic stability. This gives players the edge during games to know how to react when there body is in a certain position. Think of how a rugby player must almost instinctively move when dodging tackles and twisting and turning.
Learning to breathe
If you are reading this, I’ll take it as a given you are breathing. Pretty much a necessity of life. But did you know you can increase the capacity of your breath? The diaphragm just like any other muscle can be trained. By learning to improve your breath patterns you can increase your intake of oxygen into the body. This has a calming affect as it relieves tension. It has been shown to improve the force generated during muscle contraction.
For many of us our minds are in overdrive. We’re stressed, tired and often feeling a little out of control. Pilates is a wonderful form of mindfulness. No stress, no worries, just time to focus on you. An hour on the mat is an hour of headspace. This time to unwind and self reflect will benefit you for hours afterwards. Notice how much happier, relaxed and at ease you feel after a class.
In physical terms, working on your balance will not only benefit you now for sport but has far reaching consequences. As we age, loss of balance and resulting falls are the biggest risk factor in bone breaks and loss on independence. Taking action now through some simple exercises can potentially change your quality of life in later years.
Annie Kirwan is a Pilates, yoga and mediatation teacher. She co-owns the wellness company Project Revive, is a Lululemon ambassador and works with some of Ireland’s top sports stars such as members of Leinster rugby team and both the Dublin football and hurling team. Her mission is to bring health and happiness to as many people as possible. For more information visit projectrevive.ie