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Unlocking Your Athletic Potential: How Pilates Can Boost Your Sport Performance

Over the years we have heard of sports professionals using Pilates to improve their performance and to rehab post injury. Andy Murray, Ryan Giggs, Kobe Bryant, Cristiano Ronaldo and Tiger Woods have all embraced Pilates proving that it isn't just women who use this form of strength and conditioning. The England Football Team even took a Pilates teacher with them to the World Cup!

Joseph Pilates worked with a big list of professional sports people and firmly believed his method could unlock athletic potential. He was a boxer, wrestler and into martial arts and was incredibly physically able right up until his death at 86. The picture of him below was at age 57. I also have a photo in my studio by I.C. Rapoport, a notable US photojournalist, of Joe at 82 still demonstrating his exercises! It's a real talking point and one of my favourite pictures.

“You will develop muscular power with corresponding endurance, ability to perform arduous duties, to play strenuous games, to walk, to run or travel long distances without undue body fatigue or mental strain. And this is by no means the end.” Joseph Pilates

The Pilates method is taught on a range of equipment. You may have heard of or experienced the Pilates method on a mat, but there are larger pieces of apparatus like the Reformer and Cadillac which allow athletes and competitors to move their bodies in far greater ranges of motion. When the method is used as a whole, you are not only strengthening your body, you're improving your coordination, flexibility and precision of movement, which are all vital skills in sport, in life and for preventing injuries. Similarly to sport, Pilates uses the idea of repetition to learn motor patterns, creates better body awareness, teaches fluid movement and breath control.

Pilates helps prevent injuries, but it can also help you return to your sport faster if you get injured. The larger apparatus, like the Reformer, is better suited for this as it has the ability to isolate and support the body which the mat cannot do. The large apparatus also allows you to practice sport specific movement patterns safely post injury. For example, the arm work on the Cadillac not only improves arm strength bilaterally (both arms together at the same time) it is also used unilaterally (just one limb doing the work). Using movement like this also improves counter rotation, abdominal strength, shoulder stability, balance and coordination, all important considerations required for sports professionals.

So what is the research?

Although scarce, Pilates is now being academically researched in regards to sport, and initial studies have proven positive on its effectiveness on sports performance, flexibility, stability and muscular strength in both adults and adolescents. One paper concluded that lean muscle mass developed evenly and they saw improved knee and trunk flexion (Yook, Jang Soo et al. 2022) in an adolescent baseball team. This is a promising study as it also helps to improve the reputation of Pilates and transform it back to being a method once widely used by Americas sports and dance professionals in Joseph Pilates lifetime.

Another paper concluded that Pilates is an appropriate medium to improve the flexibility of the hamstrings in football players compared to static stretching. In cycling a 2010 paper found 'There is improvement in strength in all its manifestations (maximum, explosive, resistance), agility, flexibility and balance after a Pilates training program of 3 days a week for 4 weeks.' (Santana et al, 2010). The core strength of cricketers was the focus of a study in 2020 (Kamatchi et al), they wanted to compare swiss ball exercises and Pilates exercise to see which method would give the best results, Pilates was found to have made the most impact on their core strength.

In fact the majority of studies that I read, all indicated that it was a better method to improve flexibility compared to static stretch exercises, improve core strength over other modalities and proprioception test scores for balance and coordination were enhanced. Which simply means if you are not integrating Pilates into your training programme you are missing a trick! Over the years I have been really fortunate to work with a variety of sports professionals both at grass roots and at international levels. Climbers, Surfers, Tennis and Padel players, Olympic equestrians, Olympic and professional footballers, cricket, rugby, MMA, CrossFit, GB hockey, International dog agility handlers and more. Everyone of them have stated how much Pilates has benefitted them physically in the sport they play, contributed to their achievements and supported their everyday life.

Have you got a similar story? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below.


Something exciting is in the starting block...

Over the next few weeks I will be writing a series of blogs about how Pilates can unlock your athletic potential in a variety of sports and how I work with them personally to achieve great results. This is to celebrate my online programme launching in Summer 2024, Pilates Athlete, putting all of my research in one place for people like you who play sport recreationally or as a competitor. Please download the FREE eBook and you'll be ahead of the game to get access when this fantastic programme is launched!

Unlocking your athletic potential: Pilates Athlete

Here are 3 exercises that will help you in any sport you do, download the FREE eBook below


References for further reading:

Abreu, Manoela & Parolini, Franciele & Nogueira, Ana & Zampieri, Matheus & Bertoncello, Dernival. (2020). 'How the Pilates Method Can Influence Sports Performance in Different Modalities'. Lecturas: Educación Física y Deportes. 25. 10.46642/efd.v25i264.1812.

Chinnavan, E., Gopaladhas, S. and Kaikondan, P. (2015) 'Effectiveness of pilates training in improving hamstring flexibility of football players', Bangladesh Journal of Medical Science, 14(3), pp. 265–269. doi: 10.3329/bjms.v14i3.16322.

Kamatchi , K., Arun , B., Tharani , G., Yuvarani , G., Vaishnavi , G., Srilakshmi, s and Kaviraja , N. (2020) 'Effects of Swiss ball exercise and Pilates exercise on core muscle strengthening in college cricketers', Biomedicine, 40(3), pp. 377–380. doi: 10.51248/.v40i3.31.

Santana, FJ., Fernández de Haro, E., Merino Marbán, R. (2010) 'The effects of the pilates method on the strength, flexibility, agility and balance of professional mountain bike cyclist. Journal of sport and health research, Vol. 2, No. 1, 2010

Yook, Jang Soo et al. “Effectiveness of Pilates Training on Body Composition and Isokinetic Muscular Strength in Adolescent Baseball Players.' International journal of environmental research and public health vol. 19,19 12085. 24 Sep. 2022, doi:10.3390/ijerph191912085

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