Pilates for Athletes: Training the SHAHA Panthers

In the past, we’ve written blog posts on the benefits of Pilates for the spine and to improve circulation in your joints. You may have never considered how these and other benefits can translate to the athlete – that’s what we are going to cover in this post. 

In Western PA, where we live and our studio is located, hockey is a big deal. There are several competitive hockey leagues in the area and thousands of school-aged kids participate each year. In fact, new historical research uncovered last year showed that Pittsburgh is actually the birthplace of professional hockey! 

I’ve had the privilege of working with our local SHAHA Panthers league, including the teenage teams and the 7-9-year-old group (of which my son, Parker, is a player).  Let’s explore why we do Pilates with these young players, what we’re teaching them and how they (and other athletes, young and young at heart) can benefit from a Pilates practice.

Why Pilates for Athletes?

Why train them in Pilates? Simply put, they play best when they are alert and the whole body is working together. Big parts (think global muscles, legs, hips, torso) with little parts ( feet, ankles, spine, shoulders, etc).

At my son’s Mite team sessions, we did some general exercise warm-ups (skipping, jumping jacks, high to low, etc) in order to train for responsiveness. This is one of the basic foundational things that we do to get everyone started and ready to perform. Athletes talk about reaction time, agility drills, the ability to implode (take weight into the body), and explode it. We want to teach the responsiveness and ability to move through all of the parts in an efficient way.

As the kids learn to engage certain muscles from a young age, it looks really general, but the messages are big:

  1.  They need blood/circulation.
  2. They have to move all of their pieces and parts.
  3. They need stability.

Then, we move on to Pilates for the athletes to teach them about stability in the body, spine, hips and shoulders. Stabilizing the torso and trunk and balancing the hip joints (comes up more in the teenage years, or in a one-on-one) is a key component for athletes to learn in order to stay healthy and perform at their highest level. Not understated also but the Method teaches focus. What parent has ever noticed their child could benefit from increased focus? That’s is it’s own blog right there. 

Teenage athletes are a little different, they need more technique. With age comes more complex scenarios and problems and that is true in their physical development as well. It is great to have teen athletes with consistency to approach these learning objectives. What’s hard in there sport? Movements they struggle with? Anything that gives them problems, like hard to do or painful? We teach them how to stay connected to their center no matter what happens. We also work tandem with therapist or bodyworker for those that have pain to relearn healthy paths of movement. 

The key takeaway is this: young athletes need balance. The demands of schedule and sport can take over and it is really hard to do. Anything training beyond that is just lucky if you get it. Coaches, trainers, educators and parents need to watch their kids, listen and understand that little things go a long way. They don’t have to study pilates every week for year ,but they can benefit from learning some of the techniques.

There is a tremendous amount of social pressure on teenage athletes to do certain things. If we do our job in training athletes well, we will create athletes who are responsive, love what they are doing, a team player and someone that treats his or her body with respect.

All of that is in Pilates and bodywork training.