Pilates and Your Young Athlete

Current guidelines for physical activity in children and teens include at least an hour a day of exercise for aerobic, muscle, and bone strengthening. Many children sign up (or get signed up!) for team sports, often through school, local organizations, or club sports teams. Most times, the season starts off strong. Regular practices, team building activities, and even some cross training ensue. Things are going well, until a child is injured. What went wrong?  

Just as adults need to train up to performance level, the same is true for kids. But unfortunately, foundational training is often overlooked in kids’ sports seasons. The “winning plays” (hitting home runs, striking out players, scoring hat tricks, lapping opponents, and coming in first in the pool or on the track) become the primary focus.  Consequently, the background work of building strength, flexibility, and healthy movement patterns with balanced muscle groups is neglected, and injuries happen. So instead of having fun with the team, injured kids get to cheer from the sidelines and may even have to go for physical therapy. Not the way you envisioned the season going!

So how can we help our kids become the athletes they hope to be while simultaneously minimizing their risk of getting sidelined due to injury?

Try adding Pilates. Pilates is not just for adults; the benefits to kids are astounding! Here are 7 ways Pilates can make an enormous difference in the life of your athlete:

1-    Improved mind-body connection. This can be huge when your body is growing and changing.  Practicing Pilates builds a sense of body awareness and alignment, which can serve to protect your young athlete when playing sports. She/he will learn how to engage the core and move from the center while maintaining proper spine and joint alignment. When they don’t move from their periphery, safer and more controlled movements occur.

2-    Protected joint mobility. Hypermobility is not a problem in and of itself, but lack of control of the body in this extra (hypermobile) range of motion can lead to injury. For example: female athletes with hypermobility of the ankles or knees are at risk of injury when pivoting in sports such as soccer or tennis. Pilates helps athletes learn to control their bodies throughout the entire joint range of motion. With improved proprioception (the sense of telling where/how the body/joints are positioned in space), movement patterns can be executed efficiently, protecting the joints no matter which position they’re in or surface upon which they move.

3-    Increased muscle strength and motor control through multiple types of contractions. Pilates exercises require muscles to work concentrically (to shorten the muscle through the movement), eccentrically (to control the lengthening of the muscle), and isometrically (static contraction and hold). Training muscles in multiple ways improves overall strength and neuromuscular control, leading to greater athletic performance.

4-    Strong foundation and core. Often injuries are due to an overuse of bigger muscle groups that create movement and an underuse of smaller muscles that are responsible for creating a foundation on which big movers work. For example, back and/or hip pain in running can be associated with a loss of stabilization of the pelvis. In this case, the big mover muscles in the back and legs may be causing the spine and pelvis to shift, leading to pain. Pilates addresses these weaknesses, leading to safer, more controlled and precise movements.

5-   Identify asymmetries and balance muscle groups. When athletes train, their bodies develop and adapt to meet the demands of the sport. To this end, certain muscle groups get more stretched out, certain groups get stronger, and certain groups go underused. Asymmetries develop, and injuries occur. Pilates helps to balance muscle groups, leading to more well-rounded development of young athletes and reduced risk of injury both on and off the field.  

6-    Heightened focus and attention when the pressure’s on. Let’s face it: playing sports can be stressful. Even though the main objective may be to have fun, many kids feel pressured by themselves, their peers, their coaches, and even their parents to do well. Pilates can help your athlete get his/her head in the game, keep cool, and tune out external stressors. Practicing movements in Pilates in a mindful, precise way will translate to increased ability to focus when playing sports, helping your young athlete perform with greater mental clarity and certainty.   

7-    Increased longevity in your child’s sport of choice. Look at it this way: the time, money, and energy you and your child invest in Pilates will help safeguard your athlete by teaching how to move safely and efficiently to help him/her start strong, stay safe, and adapt physically and mentally as his/her body changes and sports demands increase. Training with Pilates off the field can better prepare your young athlete for the current season and years of healthy movement and FUN!  

I am passionate about helping athletes of all ages learn to use and develop their body in ways that are safe now and in the long run and will help them be the athletes they dream to be.  Please contact me to learn more… I am here to help!