Pilates in Strength&Conditioning

ABSTRACT

With its intelligent approach to workout, the Pilates method of training should be represented in every strength conditioning training regardless of the type of sports activity. The contents of the Pilates method such as: mobility, stability, flexibility and conscious movement are being used now more than ever in S&C, but only highly educated Pilates trainers should be in charge of those workouts in order to achieve desired positive changes of an athlete. Indeed, Pilates is a perfect method of exercise, which fully develops all athletes’ potentials. Every coach and athlete should be familiar with it.

Modern and complete strength conditioning should be aimed at:

  • improving athletic performance
  • development of all motor skills and functional abilities
  • minimizing sports injuries
  • promoting health and longevity of athletes.

Such high and complex goals require an integrative approach to athletic conditioning as well as systematic continuous education of S&C coaches.

The integrative approach assumes the integration of different complementary work modes, connected with the same strength conditioning paradigm. It is the S&C program that pays a lot of attention to injury prevention, regeneration and adequate preparation of athletes for the SAQ training, and as such should integrate the Pilates method in its content.

Recently, it has all been about the terms of mobility and stability. There is a growing number of scientists and coaches who acknowledge the importance of the application of mobility and stability contents in S&C in order to optimize sports performance. Indeed, mobility and stability are referred to as basic skills that precede the development of other motor skills. Among other things, the need of deeper influence of Pilates in S&C lies in the above mentioned fact.

The Pilates method is synonymous for mobility&stability concepts. The Pilates method, originally called Contrology, is a hundred years old method and still represents an intelligent system of exercises that is now a part of many recreational and rehabilitation programs worldwide. It was designed by the German Joseph H. Pilates, after whom the method was called after his death. Although it integrates elements of yoga, Zen meditation, martial arts and gymnastics, Pilates is a unique concept of training. Based on the paradigm of mind over muscle, Pilates pays great attention to breathing technique as well as technique of movement performance, adequate activation of the entire musculoskeletal system and self-awareness of one’s own movement.

Pilates belongs to functional fitness methods, where the basic principle is the engagement of the complete locomotor system with the aim of optimal functioning of the body and efficient movement, i.e. movement without pain, with minimal energy consumption. Starting from the integrative approach to the body, Pilates activates all the layers of muscles in a way that primarily activates the deep stabilizing and then mobilizing groups. As a complete musculoskeletal program, it strengthens the totality of muscles correcting muscle imbalances and posture and also contributes to more adequate dynamic alignment of joints and good relation between stability and mobility within each joint.

Bearing in mind the structure of each joint, Pilates aims to restore its function, restore adequate range of motion in all planes and balance the muscles. Alternating isotonic and isometric muscle contraction, from simple and single joint movements to complex ones including more joints and multiplanar movements, Pilates maintains optimum elasticity of soft tissue, focusing on quality of movement and dynamic joint stability in different conditions.

Each Pilates exercise requires a high level of precision and control, and proper alignment of joints having in mind not only inter-relation of joints but also their relation to the environment. Using this specific approach to movement, Pilates increases strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, balance, coordination, proprioception and kinesthetics and as such is a valuable corrective to the biomechanics of the body.

Although Joseph H. Pilates was 50 years ahead of his time with his method of training, because of the large body of work of scientific research in the field of biomechanics, physiology of muscles, pathologies and diseases of the spine, his legacy has required upgrading and new systematization. Therefore, during the last thirty years the Pilates method has experienced many changes, changing its traditional settings according to new discoveries about the body and movement.

Modernization of the method has influenced its scope and applicability and it has become an integral part of strength conditioning of many athletes, aiming to prevent sports injuries and improve athletic performance. Because of that, Pilates methods have taken a important place in some kinesitherapy and S&C programs. Such methods have become an indispensable part of the training in different leagues, be it the NBA, NFL, NHL or clubs like AC Milan or individual top athletes. The Williams sisters, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Cristiano Ronaldo – they are all familiar with Pilates in their strength conditioning.

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The leading international school of modern Pilates is Stott Pilates, based in Toronto. Stott Pilates is the most recognized representative of modern teaching which has upgraded the traditional principles using specific biomechanical principles aimed at ensuring the preservation of the natural curve of the spine, work in neutral positions of the joints, stabilization of the pelvis and shoulder girdle and accordingly, improvement of static and dynamic posture.

Based on deep understanding of the anatomy and biomechanics of the body, Stott Pilates bases its programming on initial static and dynamic postural and movement diagnostics. Taking into account differences in postures, needs of modern men/women and specific requirements of different population groups, Stott Pilates offers a much larger repertoire of preparatory exercises, modifications, progressions, equipment and devices that increase its applicability and topicality. It is precisely because of its scientific basis that it has become a favorite method used in rehabilitation, fitness and S&C.

Therefore, a big impact of Pilates on physiotherapy has influenced the global spread of many exercises and workout contents. Today we have examples of a large number of trainers who apply Pilates in their protocols of mobility and stability, but because of the lack of further specialized education they have not even been aware of that. This is supported by the fact that the Pilates method is a hundred years old and just as long it has been talking about the right development of mobility, stability, strength and flexibility.

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To sum it up, due to the influence on the stability of torso in different conditions, and thus a more efficient energy distribution and more regular and precise movements, the attention given to the eccentric phases of muscle contraction, because of the contribution to the increase of motion range of all joints in a safe and controlled manner, the share of unilateral, asymmetric and three-dimensional movements, horizontal plyometric exercises and exercises that contribute to the nerve-muscle coordination, contemporary Pilates (like Stott Pilates) is an indispensable contribution to top class sport, as confirmed by research and practice in the United States and Canada.

The Stott Pilates method and related postural diagnostics are an integral part of the Progressive Strenght Conditioning System applied in Body&Mind Studio Zagreb. Progressive S&C System uses all Stott Pilates working modalities in:

  • prevention
  • regeneration
  • rehabilitation
  • basic preparation
  • movement correction of athletes.

Also, within the Progressive S&C System, we have developed a special segment of Pilates that respects Stott Pilates principles, but goes a step further in specific athletic conditioning. Within the Progressive System, Pilates covers different sports specific movements, devoting attention especially to the technique and precision of execution and rhythm, and sequence of muscle activation for each particular sport and game position.

Program designed for each particular sport

The choice of Pilates exercises in strength conditioning is made on the basis sport and the level of muscle imbalance of an athlete. In most cases, the first stage in programming of the training will be correction of muscle imbalance, posture correction, improvement of mobility and stability of all joints in accordance with their structure and function and the strengthening of the core in an intelligent and complex way. The optimal activity and stability of the core and the stability of the lumbo-pelvic region will provide a solid base for fast, powerful and secure action of arms, legs and torso. It is in this first phase, on the basis of the postural and motor diagnostics, that preparation and prevention protocols are created for each athlete individually.

The second phase activates exercises that develop full stability and mobility of the spine, and thus contribute to the development of its rotational potential which is an important element in many sports. This phase also generally covers controlled peripheral mobility and stability and further increase of muscular endurance and strength of the core and other muscles. From the simplest exercises to more complex and dynamic ones the aim is to further induce coordination, balance, dynamic stability and proprioception.

In the end, the attention is shifted to sport-specific Pilates exercises that will provide athletes with the quality of movement, adding speed, too.

Postural  and motoric diagnostics and programming of Pilates workout in S&C, understanding the specifics of each sport and detailed modern Pilates education of trainers/instructors are necessary for the success of this method.

PILATES BENEFITS FOR ATHLETIC CONDITIONING

It is clear that the core-training represents an essential part of speed, agility and explosive training, but also prevention – and the intelligent strengthening of the core – are the essence of Stott Pilates. The presence of Stott Pilates in strength conditioning contributes to the quality of movement of athletes and their proper biomechanics which means that the desired muscles “switch on” properly and at proper time. Pilates programs for athletes can be run with a large number of easily portable props, but the best effectiveness of Pilates programs is achieved with the use of all Pilates pieces of equipment and props.

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Equipment used for Pilates:

  • the Reformer with corresponding platforms
  • Cadillac
  • Chair
  • Spring Wall
  • Ladder Barrel
  • Spine Corrector
  • Arc Barrel.

Pilates props include balls of different sizes, BOSU, rollers, Fitness circle, unstable pillows, rotational discs, rubber bands of different sizes, the slope and a number of other platforms and pieces of equipment.

It is precisely from the Pilates method that a large number of equipment and the associated repertoire stem from, which is now widely used in work with various population groups (big ball, roller, half ball-BOSU, rubber bands). One of the most commonly used piece of equipment, TRX, has also been used implementing a huge number of Pilates Matwork and Cadillac exercises.

The basic piece of Pilates equipment is the Reformer. It is specific because of its mobile gliding base and other accessories, including hard and soft platform for horizontal plyometrics. It is the mobile platform the Reformer which enables doing exercises in all positions of the body, that gives it its uniqueness.

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Cadillac is a specific machine because of its stable, long and elevated base, which is surrounded by horizontal and vertical lines with different springs, bars and trapeze. In addition to exercises in all body positions, the Cadillac enables performance of hanging exercises. A particular combination of the Reformer and the Cadillac is so called V2 Max, which allows the use of unique repertoire of exercises, especially important in sports. Cadillac and V2 Max enable application of different resistance via springs and different impact of forces.

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Chair is a special piece of equipment distinguished by a small and stable support base and two pedals enabling a range of asymmetric and dynamic movements.

Spring Wall is a stable vertical wooden surface with springs, often used with different unstable base, which covers a large number of vertical movements. On these machines resistance is provided by springs and exercises are performed in all positions.

Barrels cover three types, each special by its structure, enabling a number of exercises for mobility and stability of the whole body with special emphasis on the spine.

Each Pilates piece of equipment covers the whole body. Hundreds of Stott Pilates exercises in horizontal, sitting, kneeling and standing position cover the whole body. Basic and simple exercises alternate with complex ones in a unique and intelligent way. The Stott Pilates system alternates stable and unstable bases, two-leg and one-leg exercises, bilateral, unilateral and reciprocal ones.

In one training session all equipment and props can be used, each with its own special advantages. Depending on the initial state of an athlete and the specific sport and season, certain exercises will be selected. The only limitation in the application of these tools can be the lack of trainers’ education.

THE IMPORTANCE OF TRAINER’S EDUCATION AND OPEN-MIND APPROACH

Given the importance of the positioning of each segment of the body in Pilates exercises, their precision and detail and the complexity of training program, a necessary element for the implementation of Pilates in strength conditioning is the education of coaches.

Pilates is a separate, complex system which will not have its purpose if it is performed superficially. It is therefore not surprising that in many sports clubs, with conditioning coaches there are also Pilates trainers who are in charge of that segment of preparation.

Only the deep knowledge of the method and the application of all equipment provide trainers with adequate tools to work with athletes. The knowledge, experience and skills of every Pilates trainer who has completed a comprehensive Pilates education are confirmed by a world recognized certificate.

Many years of specialized education and practice are only the first important part of Pilates contribution to top sport. At the same time, the right understanding of the requirements of each sport gives Pilates use in strength conditioning even greater efficiency, which calls for S&C coaches to further continue informal education or to cooperate with well-trained and certified Pilates trainers.

The equipment that a studio/center offers in terms of machines, devices and other equipment for Pilates is a second necessary condition which will affect the real implementation of coaching knowledge and thus the skills of athletes.

Open-mindedness of sports systems and those responsible in sport to new ways of training that directly affect sport performance, is a prerequisite for application of Pilates in strength conditioning.

As confirmed by the international practice, the application of Pilates in top sport is highly desirable.

Mirela Anic
Strength Conditioning Coach
Stott Pilates Instructor Trainer
Body&Mind Studio
http://www.body8mind.com

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