For many years Pilates exercise has been largely recognised as a beneficial form of exercise for professional dancers and encouraged by physiotherapists for rehabilitation. Over the past 15 + years, its popularity has grown and moved into the mainstream as an effective exercise format and we are all used to seeing Pilates classes as part of any studio timetable.
Joseph Pilates himself studied and trained in the art of bodybuilding and his physique right up until his death at the age of 87, was truly remarkable. I have competed as a body fitness and trained figure competitor with the UKBFF and natural physique association and used Pilates exercises during my own training. As a specialist Pilates teacher, I usually teach general classes, but I have noticed that many other sports people are practising Pilates due to its benefits. I have experienced working with Bodybuilders and it is this group of athletes that I want to explore in this article.
Bodybuilders, I’m sure you’ll agree, are probably outside of what is considered the ‘usual Pilates demographic’. However, these athletes need to create a sports specific programme for strength, power, endurance and precision alongside muscle balance, core strength and stability, improved concentration and injury prevention – and therefore performing Pilates exercises fits all of these requirements.
The use of Pilates to balance the body and develop muscular symmetry is crucial for the competing bodybuilder. Being able to show clear fluidity of movement, muscle contraction and isolation plus TVA engagement during a posing routine will naturally assist the competitor. By adopting the practice of lateral thoracic breathing to help maintain muscular contraction throughout the posing routine without having to relax or expand the abdominals in order to breathe, will also have a positive effect during competition.
The muscle fascia has to stretch in order to allow the muscles more room to grow whilst maintaining mobility, increasing the range of movements to aid the execution of exercises and strengthen the joints. If we look at problems that can occur within the weight training arena, kyphosis is common and therefore the need to perform scapular retraction and thoracic spine mobility exercises such as swan dive and chest opener are advised. Whilst I am not saying that this is always the case, problems often arise between the strength, mobility, flexibility and endurance levels of these individuals. The capabilities for their core strength often conflict with what the mobility and flexibility in the muscles and joints are able to cope with and sustain during a Pilates session. It becomes difficult for heavier individuals to sustain elevated positions, in particular the legs, with minimal repetitions being managed, whilst their core strength, determination and high testosterone levels will encourage them to suggest that higher levels and repetitions is more advantageous.
One way of managing this scenario with such athletes is to overload a particular muscle (or agonist to antagonist) by supersets with maximum strength exercises within the range of 8 repetitions with little to no rest in between. This is then off set with the appropriate mobility and flexibility exercises to correct and ensure postural alignment is achieved according to the individual needs.
We know that muscle imbalance and postural defects are common when playing a sport where repetitions and overuse of a particular group of muscles or joints is needed, or by incorrectly training in the gym. Since such a key part of the Pilates method is focused on postural alignment, any imbalances you can see on your client will become more obvious to you as a teacher and in turn will help you to formulate a program to release the overworked tight muscles and strengthen the weaker ones with asymmetrical exercise. This will create a more balanced body and consequently aid the prevention of injuries that might otherwise occur when stress is placed on an unstable structure. Again, creating a symmetrical body through practising Pilates exercises, encouraging clear body alignment and focusing on precision and quality of movement will assist the bodybuilder throughout training and on stage.