06 Oct Pilates, Your Most Useful Cross Training Tool
By Megan Farrugia
“I have always maintained that although Pilates is brilliant exercise in and of itself, it’s something that you can do ‘in order to do something else even better’,” says Megan Farrugia, Pilates instructor at Flex Studio. And that ‘something else’ isn’t limited to sports, she adds. “It helps enormously with creating a mind-body connection, with breathing and stress, rehab and aging issues and also pregnancy. In fact, because Pilates builds on deep muscles throughout your body and encourages you to work opposing muscle groups equally, it’s applicable absolutely everywhere.”
With its emphasis on the core, Pilates seeks to build strength (and length) from your center outwards. As such, the exercises in Pilates stabilize your spine, increase your flexibility and begin to work on opposing muscles to those that you’re using for your sport activity of choice. This helps to eliminate muscle imbalances from years of use (and abuse). Since one of the main goals of cross-training is to ‘even out’ the muscle groups and help increase strength and stamina (positively impacting performance), a healthy, progressive Pilates routine will help you achieve just that.
Because it is such a thorough, full-body approach to exercise, which emphasizes the individual (vs. a group class of groovy moves), Pilates encourages participants to identify what muscles they are moving and how it is impacting their efficiency in movement. It helps performance athletes quickly assess where and when they need to move (or not move) to make the most gain.
A key factor in every Pilates exercise is the use of breath as you move through exercises. By breathing in through the nose and breathing out through the mouth (almost as if you’re blowing off a hot ladle of soup), you achieve the following benefits: 1) help to oxygenate the blood; 2) increase blood flow to the brain; 3) increase metabolism; 4) promote a sense of “controlled calm”.
For athletes plagued with anything from pre-event ‘butterflies’ to full on performance anxiety, a command of controlled breathing can positively impact performance and give you the clarity of mind to be at your best. By being able to control the breath, athletes can strategize while in motion, making split decisions on a defensive or offensive approach, recovering quickly from a setback, or powering through the proverbial wall or plateau.
The reclined position of many Pilates exercises take the weight-bearing impact away from the joints, back and neck etc. The exercises themselves promote lengthening and strengthening, which helps participants recovering from injury as well as those moving through the aging process. Pilates exercises, when done progressively and mindfully, prevent loss of strength and bone mineral content.
Because these exercises also work to eliminate muscle imbalances, they can help rehab patients from overcompensating during recovery. For example, if you break your leg, you are likely to put more weight and emphasis on the other leg, causing muscular and skeletal stress on that side, which can translate into back-ache and head-ache, etc. The full body approach focuses on equilibrium throughout and helps incorporate the compromised muscles during the rehab process. And for those progressing through a natural aging process, balance and awareness are exceptionally useful tools to have in your arsenal.
Pilates is also a great cross training tool for pregnancy. Pre-natal, it helps with flexibility and calmness as you approach and go through the birthing process. Post-natal, it can help you get back into shape intelligently and embrace your new role as a mum, while you begin to use different muscles and establish new sleeping patterns.
So, Pilates in my book is the perfect cross training tool. The main key to using Pilates as a cross-training tool is progression; build on the level of practice, the balance, the breath and the strength that you are putting into your routines. When done properly and mindfully, there are really no physical negative points to practicing Pilates.
Sign up for Flex’s Pilates Challenge and you will be fast tracking an improvement to every aspect of your lifestyle and fitness. Take the 30-hour Pilates Body Challenge and get 30% off a package of Allegro, Group, Trio and Private Pilates – or 20% off the 20-hour package, or 10% off the 10-hour package. And don’t forget, that once you’ve successfully completed your challenge, Flex has some fabulous gift goodies waiting for you.