Pilates isn’t an Olympic sport but was certainly behind the scenes at London 2012. Pilates was used by athletes from a range of sports including track and field, swimming and beach volley ball. With its emphasis on improving flexibility, Pilates is regularly practised by divers and synchronised swimmers but it may surprise people that even some weightlifters practice this form of exercise.
Pilates has been popular for years in the US and many American gold medallists, including double gold track medallist Sanya Richards Ross, credit their success at London 2012 in part to this form of cross training. However it’s not only the women – Pilates exercises have been used by Andy Murray to develop core stability and also helped Alistair Brownlee back to fitness after his Achilles tendon tear.
To be honest the Pilates studio with all its strange looking equipment including harnesses reminded me of Mr Grey’s Red Room!
So what is Pilates and why is it so good for sports people?
As a triathlete I am always looking to make gains so I decided to give it a go at my local Pilates studio.
Pilates, created by Joseph Pilates in the early 20th century, is a body conditioning routine that helps to not only build flexibility, but also strength, endurance, core stability and coordination in the legs, abdominals, arms and back.
I took part in a variety of classes including a mixture of apparatus based and mat classes. The mat classes follow a series of exercises that are done lying, sitting or kneeling whereas apparatus classes use a variety of Pilates exercise machines. To be honest the Pilates studio with all its strange looking equipment including harnesses reminded me of Mr Grey’s Red Room!
But what does it really do?
I can only speak for myself, but I believe that it has helped me with my core stability which is vital for many sports. Sometimes I focused on using Pilates to increase my flexibility and did stretching exercises, using the machines to get a bigger stretch. Other times I used the resistance machines to develop strength. The machines mean that you can target specific muscle groups whilst also learning to connect your mind and body. That is, exercising whilst trying to keep a proper form and using the mind to isolate and use specific muscles whilst relaxing others.
Pilates can also help reduce the risk of injuries and is often part of athlete’s rehabilitation programmes. I used it to strengthen weak glutes, stretch tight hip flexors and have used the equipment to try and get one of my knees to track better.
With all these benefits it is no surprise that Pilates played a part at London 2012.
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