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Pilates Benefits for Athletes

Photo via Pilates.Answers.Com

A client of mine recently shared with me how surprised she was to win her weekend tennis tournament. A mother of three grown children and past what many may consider the prime age for athletics, my client chalked up her win to two things; her new tennis racket and….PILATES! It is always so incredibly rewarding to hear about my clients’ progress and how Pilates has helped them feel stronger and healthier throughout their entire life. My client’s tennis success inspired me to share the many ways Pilates can help athletes of all ages and skill levels improve their performance.

Core Strength: This is the easy one. We all know Pilates increases core strength which is so important in the body’s ability to move well and stay injury-free. Having a stronger core can also directly impact the power behind movements during your athletic performance. When you have strong core muscles to help you through your movements, you can hit harder and move faster. A stronger core also helps with:

Ease of Movement: Strengthening the body’s core muscles and teaching them to activate in all movements gives our major mover muscles the freedom to do what they were meant to do! This helps our muscles be more efficient and make movements feel easier. Pilates also helps to train the right muscles to do their job so we don’t unnecessarily use energy recruiting other ones. Plus the fluid motions of a Pilates workout encourage more fluid, easy movements when you get off the mat!

Better Balance: It’s not rocket science: if you are falling all over the place, you won’t be able to hit a ball very well. A strong core will help the athlete stay centered and quick on his/her feet. Better balance equals increased stability while performing the strong, full movements required in tennis and other sports. Pilates also helps improve balance by providing a combination of strength and flexibility. Additionally, a well executed Pilates workout will help correct muscular inequities that can through off your balance. Balanced muscles + Balanced strength and flexibility = Better overall balance!

Beyond the core strength and resulting performance enhancements, Pilates can also help athletes:

Improve Use of Breath: The use of breath is an extremely important component of the Pilates workout. Focusing on breath will increase the strength and efficiency of the diaphragm (your main breathing muscles) and can even increase lung capacity and stamina. Also, training your mind and body to use your breath to aid your muscles will help with efficiency and increase power and stamina. When your body is practiced in exhaling as you exert energy can really improve performance with little to no extra effort at all.

Increase Focus and Control: There are plenty of distractions in our lives these days. Taking 30 to 60 minutes on a regular basis to really hone in and focus on a task (like your Pilates exercises) can make a big difference in your ability to focus on your game. Pilates is an exercise method that really encourages complete focus and control, ensuring your mind and body work together to maximize results. Having an increased mind/body awareness will really improve your control during athletic performance.

What do you think? Are you an athlete who has seen benefits from doing Pilates? Comment below, we’d love to hear from you!

 

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Home Equipment Favorites: The Resistance Band

Working out at home is a beautiful thing. Especially if you live somewhere like Buffalo where, as we have recently learned, snow and wind can keep us cooped up inside and all of our gyms and Pilates studios closed! Being an in-home Pilates instructor, I have found a number of really awesome pieces of equipment that greatly increase the number of exercises my clients can do in the comfort of their own homes while keeping their muscles guessing and their brains excited.

The resistance band (or Thera-band) is one of my absolute favorite pieces of home studio equipment. Not much more than a long piece of latex (they come in non-latex too), the resistance band can be tied around your legs, held in one hand, held in two hands, folded in half, stretched long from foot to head, wrapped behind your back…the possibilities are infinite. My top reasons for loving the resistance band are:

1.  Varied Resistance: Need more tension? Grab further towards the middle of the band. Too much? Just move your hands back to the ends. Manipulate the resistance band in any number of ways to change your tension: fold it in half, tie it tighter, or just move your hands along the band to change the resistance.  This allows you to progress through your workout, making exercises more challenging as you grow stronger.

2.  Durable: Resistance bands can take a lot of pulling, twisting, tying, and getting stomped on before they come anywhere close to ripping or breaking. Resistance bands are inexpensive and can last for years. The only major threat to the bands are cats. Even the best resistance bands will break more easily once they have cats scratching holes in them (yes, I know from experience). Cat scratching aside, this piece of equipment will take all the pulling you can give it!

 3.  Adds an Extra Challenge: There are resistance band specific exercises, and then there are the millions of exercises you can simply add a resistance band to in order to make it harder. I love adding resistance bands to the Pilates side-lying leg series or tying it around my clients’ legs during Hundreds to challenge the outer thigh more. There are tons of ways to make an old exercise seem new again with the extra challenge a resistance band adds.

 4.  Therapeutic Benefits: The bands are great for adding an extra challenge to a workout, but they can also be used to help rehabilitate injuries, work on muscles imbalances, or help stretch and strengthen in a gentle way. For example, the bands assist in a 3-way stretch that is typically done on the Pilates Reformer to stretch the hamstrings in 3 different directions without stressing the upper body or forcing the body in to an incorrect posture. I also use resistance bands for exercises that rehab ankle injuries, knee injuries, and shoulder injuries in a safe and effective way.

5.  E-C-C-E-N-T-R-I-C Muscle Contraction: Resistance bands are awesome because they encourage you to strengthen muscles in an elongated position through eccentric contraction. The nature of the bands forces you to control the movement as you return to the starting position of each exercise, giving you an added benefit that you can’t quite get when lifting weights. That little extra work may be all you need to find the muscle tone you’ve always coveted!

Click the links below to try some of my favorite resistance band exercises.

For the Legs and Hips

For the Shoulders (Careful not to let those shoulders inch up to your ears)

Stretch it Out

Buy your resistance bands HERE!  

*I recommend starting with a heavy resistance, you can always adjust where you hold the band to give yourself more or less tension. I like buying the 6 yard spools because the precut bands are never as long as you want them to be! Cut yours easily with scissors to a length that is about the same as your height.

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Pilates is Perfect for Pregnancy!

Pilates is a safe and effective form of exercise for everyone. Literally, every body can benefit from Pilates. No matter what your age, stage of life, body type, injury, or condition you may have, Pilates can be used to help you achieve your goals, ease your pain, and keep your body healthy.  This is even true for pregnant women, in fact Pilates can actually help women have an easier time during child birth. How’s that for incentive to exercise—EASIER CHILD BIRTH! Read on for a few reasons Pilates is amazing during pregnancy.

Pilates is SAFE: A well-educated Pilates instructor can help make sure you do not work until your flush, lie on your back, stay in one position too long, or do any of the other things that are not recommended for exercising during pregnancy. A prenatal certified Pilates instructor will help you feel good, stretch, and strengthen the correct muscles in a way that will keep you and baby safe and sound.

Pilates Provides Pelvic Floor Power: Your pelvic floor is very important for support and organ function,especially during pregnancy and labor. Pilates offers a very effective way to strengthen and stretch your pelvic floor so it performs properly. A strong and supple pelvic floor will not only help you support your growing baby and aid in bladder control, it will also help make labor a smoother process. Pelvic floor strength, as well as mobility (just as important), can be achieved through a prenatal Pilates workout.

Pilates Helps You Breathe Properly: Breathing is so, so important for the vitality of mamas and their growing babies. Pilates will help you focus on proper breathing techniques, potentially increasing diaphragm strength, increasing lung capacity, and aiding in more effective breathing. Plus, focusing on your breathing now will help you utilize breath better during labor. Get this: better breathing can even help make more room for your baby so you’re more comfortable!

Pilates builds the PROPER Core Strength:  You may not want to hear this but, doing crunches to strength your superficial abs (the six pack muscles) can actually make labor and recovery MORE difficult for you. The good news? Strengthening your deep core muscles can actually help support your baby and make your labor easier. Pilates can help you strengthen those deep core muscles, and a prenatal specific workout will avoid overworking your more superficial abdominal muscle, the rectus abdominis. This core strength will also help you walk, stand, and move better during pregnancy and help ward off back pain and other aches.

Pilates Can Make You Feel GOOD: Pregnancy is a beautiful miracle, but sometimes it makes you feel like crap, yea? Doing exercise regularly will help you build confidence and just feel good about yourself. Plus the core strength, breathing, and stretching that Pilates focuses on help to alleviate aches and pains, improve posture, and…well…make you feel better!

 

Note: Hayley Sunshine of Buffalo In-Home Pilates is a prenatal certified instructor.  Contact hayley@betterbodybuffalo.com to set up a free prenatal Pilates consultation.

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Pilates Aids Professional Dancer

Pilates does a dancer good; look at those gorgeous, open shoulders!

Dance and Pilates have had a strong relationship since Joseph Pilates began teaching his technique in New York City in the 1920s. Pilates training can help dancers avoid injuries and improve their technique with its focus on strong but flexible muscles, breath, and core strength.  Although dance in and of itself is a great form of exercise, classes do not always perfectly prepare the body for the demands of performance and can often leave some muscle groups over worked, and others neglected and weak.  Pilates training can make a huge difference in a dancer’s performance ability and even help her/him stay in shape during the off season.

Professional dancer, Erica Day, knows first hand the benefits of Pilates for dance as it has helped her through injuries, improve her dance technique, and train as an aerial dancer! In this interview, Erica lets us know first hand just how much Pilates has helped her in her blossoming career!

Q: How long have you been dancing?

A: I have been dancing since the age of 3! At 4 it was about 2 hours a week and of course, as I got older the training became more and more serious. By the time I reached high school age I was taking over 20 hours of dance per week.

Q: Tell us about your experience as a professional dancer

A: I worked for Celebrity Cruise lines as a dancer for a 6 months, travelling in Europe and then the Caribbean. After that I moved to NYC for the International Student Visa Program (ISVP) at Broadway Dance Center. It was a great year to meet people and study new things. While in NYC I was given the opportunity to perform as a back up dancer for recording artists Sir Ari Gold and Lily Halpern, opening for the tour Waitin4U featuring teenage heartthrobs Cody Simpson and Greyson Chance. For the past year I have been employed with Norwegian Cruise line as Dancer, Dance Captain and Aerialist. Those contracts have taken me to Alaska, Panama Canal, Egypt, Israel, Turkey , all over the Mediterranean and all over the Caribbean. It has been an amazing time and I’m so excited about what the future brings!

Q: When did you start doing Pilates?

A: When I entered the International Student Visa Program at Broadway Dance Center, they offered Mat Pilates, which I started to take about twice a week.

Q: Did you start Pilates to rehab an injury?

A: When I was about 18-22 I would have these “episodes” where my knees would give out and my pelvis would shift out of alignment and I’d be on my stomach on the floor unable to stand up. At one point, I had an X-Ray done and my pelvis was way out of alignment, tilted forward 40 degrees! Obviously not a great thing for a dancer who needs to be able to dance, shift weight, and balance all day. I saw many doctors and no one really knew why it was happening but chalked it up to me not having a strong enough core or knowing how to use it properly. It was then that I realized, I can really focus in on what it means to work from my core or I can continue on the way I am and probably not be able to dance in a few years. I chose to focus with Pilates.

Q: What do you enjoy about Pilates

A: I enjoy knowing that my body is getting realigned as the class goes on in a safe manner, I love the low impact but difficulty of the moves, I love feeling the burn and having the parts I’m working on shake and I love how it shapes my body. It’s also a great way to get me connected to my breath!

Q: Absolutely, breath is so important in maintaining stamina in dance, and life! Have you felt a difference in your dancing since starting Pilates?

A: Practicing Pilates has definitely made me stronger and more aware of my body at all times. It has given me a better sense of alignment and awareness which makes some of the more challenging aspects of my performance happen with more ease.

Q: Do you think Pilates has helped you avoid injuries?

A: MOST DEFINITELY! I started the reformer last year and took a handful of privates and classes right before I was called from Norwegian Cruiseline to fly immediately to Toronto to train in aerial dancing, including Spanish Web and Bungee. You need to have the strongest core to really execute the tricks safely and in a 7 month period I stayed completely injury free! As a person who suffered from lower back injuries consistently in my late teens to early 20s, that was a huuuuge feat. Without the Pilates background who knows what could have happened.

Q: In your opinion, why is Pilates a great compliment to dancing

A: From an esthetic point of view, Pilates shaped and toned my body like no other exercise program has, including lifting weights, running, and Yoga. My lines became leaner and longer. My ankles actually became stronger!

Q: Has Pilates helped you become a more proficient dancer?

A: Unfortunately as a young girl no one really talked to me about how important my core is. So here I was whipping out all of these difficult tricks without an understanding of safety and where movement comes from. Now when I dance, I know to engage my lower core and “zip everything up” creating a really strong safe casing around my abdomen and lower back area. It’s starting to become second nature and I find when my balance is unsteady, I just think about laying down on the reformer or floor and “zipping” everything up. When I focus on that I can hold things for days. Pilates has really helped my control and added a calmness to my dancing. There is no need to be frantic because I know my core is there for me. 

Thank you to Erica for sharing her experience with Pilates and dance! If you are interested in learning more about how Pilates can help you avoid injuries and improve your performance, contact hayley@betterbodybuffalo.com!

 

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Pilates Exercise: Knee Folds

Photo via nocpilates.com

Knee folds are a component of the Pilates Fundamentals, which means they are a great tool for teaching beginners important concepts that will help them advance through their Pilates practice. Knee folds also help you find and work your deep core muscles while allowing you to feel how your legs can move while keeping your pelvis and torso completely stable. Additionally, knee folds teach moving without tension and maintaining length through the spine. In order to stabilize your pelvis and minimize tension during knee folds and other Pilates exercises, you must engage all of your powerhouse muscles from the abdominals and glutes to your inner thighs, pelvic floor and hip rotators. This exercise really allows you to engage all of those muscles to do just the right amount of work, teaching efficiency and movement without tension.

How they’re done
Knee folds are a very simple exercise:
• Lay on your back with your legs bent, feet on the mat, feet lined up with the middle of your hip.
• Find a neutral spine position, maintaining the natural curves of your spine.
• Keep the spine stable as you exhale, pull the belly button in to the back, and float one leg into a tabletop position (90 degree angle at the knee).
• Return the leg to starting position and repeat with the other leg.
• Continue alternating legs, exhaling on the lift, inhaling to return.

Why I love ‘em
What I really love about knee folds is that they are great for ALL clients, from first timer to expert. With the right variations, knee folds can be a huge challenge, and for everyone they engage the transversus abdominus muscle, instantly narrowing the waist and increasing your core strength and stability. Creating a deep fold in the hip socket while keeping the pelvis stable is a great core stability challenge and lesson in efficient movement.

Helpful hints:
• Engage your abdominals to bring your leg up.
• Think of your leg floating into tabletop position to keep the work out of the leg.
• Do not let your pelvis tuck as the leg comes up, maintain space between your lower back and the mat.
• BREATHE! Exhale to engage the abdominals and lift, inhale as you lower

Kick it up a notch:
• Try the knee folds while lying on a roller for an extra core stability challenge.
• Add a cervical curl (like a crunch) as you lift your leg.
• Once you find your core and build up strength try lifting two legs at once for a double knee fold.
• Try it while sitting on a physioball!

Be well!