Written by Emma Carter

How Pilates can Optimise Sporting Performance

Building flexibility, co-ordination, core strength and body awareness


The History of Pilates

Pilates is a method of physical training that was developed over the late 1800s and early 1900s by German-born Joseph Pilates. In his youth, Joseph suffered from ailments that were prevalent at the time, and as such he was determined to overcome these by improving his physical wellbeing.  He consequently combined Eastern disciplines such as Yoga, Zen meditation, and Martial Arts with those of Western Origins such as boxing, bodybuilding, and gymnastics.

In 1912 he moved to England where he worked as a circus performer and boxer, however when WW1 broke out, he was placed in forced internment and he taught his exercise regime called ‘Contrology’ to his fellow detainees. It was thought that those who practised Joseph’s methods survived the 1918 influenza epidemic due to enhanced lung function derived from his exercise principles.

From here Joseph was sent to the Isle of Man – it was here he established that his matwork exercises were not appropriate for the wounded soldiers and as such developed new exercises using whatever apparatus was available, including bed springs. He believed the springs would provide progressive resistance and bear weight to enable partial loading on muscles, tendons and ligaments. This formed the basis for what we now know as the Reformer, Cadillac and Magic Circle.

In 1925 Joseph moved to New York and set up ‘The Pilates Studio’ with his wife and for the ensuing 40 years he used his methods to rehabilitate dancers, athletes, acrobats and entertainers.

Why Do Pilates?

Joseph Pilates believed that injuries were caused by imbalances in the body and habitual patterns of movement. He observed that when a person had a weakness or maligned area, that person over-compensated or overdeveloped in another area to achieve a certain functional movement.

Thus, Joe found it critical to correct the mal-alignment and to re-educate the body to prevent recurrence; a belief that is now part of common physiotherapy practice. Pilates teaches you a new way of using your body and increases body awareness, making you mindful of the way in which you move in daily activities.

Pilates aims to address muscle imbalances, pain and dysfunction that years of bad habits and poor posture have caused.  By concentrating on precision of movement, awareness of breath control and a continued flowing movement, the exerciser will be able to alter abnormal patterns of movement and achieve a carry-over effect into daily function. See Fiona on the reformer demonstrating Pilates exercises for athletes:


What Exactly Is Core Stability?

The muscles of the body can be classified into two different types: the “local”, postural or “slow twitch” muscles and the “global”, movement or “fast twitch” muscles. The postural muscles are found deeper in the body and are responsible for stabilising your joints, including those of the spine and provide the support structure for the skeleton. Think of them like the foundations of your house. The global muscles are responsible for overall movement.

When our deep, stabilising muscles are not functioning effectively, the global muscles take over and try to do the work of both. This then leads to the global muscles overworking and becoming fatigued, causing dysfunction and pain. It is therefore of paramount importance that we train both sets of muscles so that each can perform their role effectively thereby leading to more efficient movement with minimal damage.

Pilates facilitates the use of both local and global muscles, allowing smooth coordinated movements to occur, giving a carry-over effect to your everyday life.

How Can Pilates Help With Sport?

While we are still awaiting conclusive medical evidence to show the benefits of Pilates in sport, a growing number of athletes, across a wide variety of sports use Pilates for not only injury rehab but also for injury prevention.

Pilates can help to build flexibility, co-ordination, core strength and body awareness; all important factors in improving athletic performance regardless of the specific sport. Currently Pilates is utilised in many AFL clubs and has been used for decades within the dance industry. It has become particularly popular of late with Jarrad Waite attributing his comeback to Pilates! Read more here…..