While Pilates as an exercise form has been in the US for almost a century it has only recently become popular practice by teams and athletes in organizations such as the NFL, NBA, MLB and NCAA. They are recognizing that Pilates is one of the best forms of holistic conditioning a top-tier athlete can participate in. The integration of the trunk, pelvis and shoulder girdle and emphasis on proper breathing, correct spinal and pelvic alignment and smooth flowing movement allows athletes to access each part of the body individually, and become familiar with the functional mechanics. With Pilates training, athletes can hit the ball farther, run faster, and jump higher – all while decreasing their risk of injury.
Few sports place greater athletic demands on participants than basketball. Basketball requires the jumping ability to compete for rebounds, shoot over opponents and contest shots. Players must also have the lateral quickness to stay in front of their man on defense or drive by him on offense. Players are frequently coached to “use your feet” on defense rather than reaching which generally results in a violation.
In addition, excellent form and body control are what it takes to be a consistent shooter while physical strength is essential when battling opponents for position underneath the basket or trying to finish at the rim after midair contact. There are a variety of exercise methods that can work on each of these skills individually but practicing the Pilates method can assist in raising a players level while reinforcing all of these areas with a single exercise form.
One of the specific benefits of Pilates for basketball players is the improvement of not just core strength but also core stability. We all know the benefits of improving overall strength but improving core stability also improves the efficiency of movement patterns, quickness and balance. This leads to improved agility and more effective and efficient jumping skills, which are essential for success in this sport. Core stability can benefit their passing or shooting as well because they will be able to hold their trunks stable in order to make a better shot or pass, either statically or while on the run.
Another specific benefit that Pilates has on players is that it makes you very conscious of your posture, alignment and proprioception – where you are in space. In basketball, there are frequently quick changes in directions both laterally as well as forward and backward. Oftentimes you may be running full speed and have to stop on a dime. Developing a better sense of where your hips, knees and feet are in space allows for safer and more efficient transitions in movement decreasing the likelihood of knee and ankles injuries. Practicing Pilates enables players to develop a deep awareness of how they are supporting themselves and how their extremities line up with each other, which is important for injury prevention.
Agility is crucial in basketball, for dribbling, lay-ups or shooting. For improved agility you want to call upon your body’s flexibility. Pilates has a tremendous amount of focus on eccentric or lengthening contractions which helps improve agility for more efficient dribbling, driving for a lay up or pulling up for a field goal. We specifically see the benefits of this in players who practice Pilates with a decrease in soft tissue injuries such as muscle strains (specifically of the hamstrings, quadriceps and gastrocnemius muscles) and overuse injuries of the shoulder.
Overall, incorporating a structured Pilates program into regular season or post season training will help develop the body uniformly by correcting muscle imbalances, improving posture and body awareness, enhancing flexibility and range of motion and improving overall body strength and stability. All of these factors lead to more effective and efficient movements patterns and decrease likelihood of injury.
“Pilates workouts using Balanced Body reformers are an excellent conditioning tool for the NBA. The strength, agility and performance of my players have increased and Pilates has become such an essential part of our workouts that we take a reformer to our away games.”
-Lawrence Frank, NBA Coach
“I look for ways to turn every ounce of potential into winning performance for my players. Pilates training with the Reformer strengthens the core muscles, increases flexibility and helps my guys stay on the field – and off the injured list. The Allegro is the best equipment for the job. It’s well-built and can stand the pounding of day-to-day usage by the league’s biggest professional football players.”
-Garrett Giemont, Conditioning Coordinator, Pittsburgh Steelers
NFL Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year, 2002
Professional Football Strength and Conditioning Coaches Society
Christa Gurka MSPT, PMA®-CPT