This is an excerpt from Pilates and Conditioning for Athletes by Amy Lademann & Rick Lademann.
Pilates is a complete body-conditioning program that integrates your mind and body to improve precision in muscle control, strength, flexibility, and breath control. Joseph himself described his system of Contrology as “a method of physical and mental conditioning.” The exercises within the Pilates repertoire help to activate lesser-used muscles and require full recruitment of your core (powerhouse). The movements work to develop more symmetrical muscle development, allowing you to work more efficiently and effectively.
Stability and Mobility
As mentioned earlier, each Pilates exercise incorporates a component of both stability and mobility. Integrating these components helps to create fluid movements that feel as if they glide from one exercise to another rather than a constant sensation of stopping one movement and then starting another. Think of Pilates as a way to create space and length within your body. It will open your joints, elongate your muscles, deepen your breath control, build your endurance, and connect your mind to your body. Your Pilates practice will help you to create an entirely new relationship with your body.
Pilates can correct body imbalances caused by injury or postural problems by aligning the body correctly and balancing the muscular and external forces affecting the joints, muscles, and skeleton. We use Pilates as an integral part of rehabilitation from overuse or misuse of the body, helping athletes reduce their chance of additional injuries postrecovery. We often find that many athletes' injuries are caused not only by weakness and compensation, but also by muscle tightness. By incorporating Pilates into their weekly program, they are able to increase their range of motion and enhance their overall flexibility.
Pilates will help to increase your spatial awareness and body control. These new patterns are fine-tuned through repetition and are directly transferable to the gym, field, court, course, or track.
Pilates will help you increase your power output. Your body cannot generate power from a position of instability. Increased core stability is one of the key benefits of every Pilates program, enabling you to channel and maximize your power more efficiently and effectively. As your body develops greater strength and stability through your hips and core, you will be able to generate greater power and force. Many exercises mimic specific patterns along the kinetic chain that are used in movements on the field and court. The National Academy of Sports Medicine defines the kinetic chain as the relationship or connection between your nerves, muscles, and bones. The kinetic chain is broken into two categories, the open kinetic chain and the closed kinetic chain, and is used to help describe or classify exercises. For example, when you squat, your foot presses against the floor to raise and lower your body. This is a closed kinetic chain exercise. Using a leg curl machine, where the lower leg swings freely, is an example of an open kinetic chain exercise.
Strength and Speed
Pilates exercises such as the side-lying leg series place people in unilateral positions. By working through similar exercises, you discover how to balance your body's weaknesses and find greater symmetry and strength from your right to left side, and from the front to back of your body. Strength and flexibility have a direct correlation to speed. When athletes have a strong base and their muscles are “elastic” and flexible, they are more likely to increase their speed. Weak and tight muscles limit speed.