Pilates And The Student Athlete
With participation in middle and high school athletics at an all time high, (52% of students participating in at least one sport) there has been an increasing demand for cross training programs for these young athletes. While there are many options available to fit this need, not all of them are necessarily a good fit with individuals whose bodies are still developing. While weight training, running etc. are certainly beneficial, Pilates is a critical component that is often overlooked and will dramatically help with every aspect of the athletes training and overall performance on game day.
Pilates is often referred to as mind-body exercise. This is the ability to visualize exactly the desired sequence and movement and effectively communicate this to the desired muscles, thus translating it into motion. What this means for developing athletes is a better mastery of their own bodies and recruitment of every piece involved in any particular facet of their sport. This is especially important for this age group as their bodies are still developing and they generally haven’t yet mastered this ability. Programming the mind to have this level of connection to, as well as control of the body at a young age will have a profound and lasting impact on the whole of their athletic career.
An often misunderstood part of athletic training of any sort is the foundation, what Pilates refers to as the core. The core is all of the deep stabilizer muscles of the trunk and torso: transverse abdominus, diaphragm, multifidus and the pelvic floor. One of the very first things that any Pilates client will learn is how to find and activate these muscles prior to movement of any sort. This puts the body in a more optimal alignment thereby minimizing the risk of injury. Having this foundation well engrained into the mind and body will lead to better bio-mechanics and all around performance.
Improved Joint Mobility And Stability
Once the mind-body connection and proper utilization of the core have been established or strengthened, we begin to improve biomechanics throughout the body, but especially in those areas most prone to activity-related injuries. Ankle, knee and back issues/injuries are the most common. The primary way we help to decrease these risks is to stabilize the pelvis, which translates to better stability through the hip and leg and a more protected lumbopelvic region. Athletes also have a high percentage of injury to shoulders, elbows and wrists. Working on better mechanics of the scapulae minimizes these risks as the scapulae dictate the positioning of these joints. Improving the mobility of the surrounding muscles decreases the risk of strains, sprains and tears. Overuse injuries are minimized by concentrating on proper sequencing and strengthening of all the muscles involved in a specific joint motion, as opposed to just the superficial muscles that traditional strength and conditioning programs are centered around.
Proper Scapular Movement And Stabilization
The scapulae (shoulder blades) are what enable the arm to move in the many directions and planes that they do. It is therefore very important to the young athlete to understand how to properly move, as well as stabilize them, especially since they do not connect directly to the ribs or spine. Improper mechanics here lead to a whole variety of discomfort and injuries. Rotator cuff, neck, elbows and wrists are all directly affected by scapular placement. This is one of the basic principles of Pilates and an integral part of getting young athletes to, and keeping them at their best.
As in all aspects of life, better posture is a crucial component of any athletic endeavor. Most athletic pursuits tend to lead to muscular imbalances and postural issues by their very nature. Unfortunately for the athlete, these discrepancies, gone unchecked, can actually shorten the length of the athletic career. Pilates is at its core all about moving the body back to a more neutral alignment. Regular participation in a Pilates conditioning program will over time correct many, if not all of the issues caused by the passion for their sport and just day to day life.
Bringing It All Together
While all of this sounds like a lot to process and a lot of individual pieces to master, it truly happens simultaneously with regular participation in a Pilates program structured for athletes. While there are many different athletic pursuits and thus different specific areas of concern related to the individuals sport of choice, all of these areas will be addressed in a lesson geared for athletes, and an athlete of any variety will greatly benefit from utilizing the tools and techniques provided in a Pilates program.