Two of the most popular forms of mind/body exercise today, yoga and Pilates have both shown their strengths in the fitness industry. Now they show aptitude toward training an extensive niche market: athletes.

Pilates is one of the fastest-growing forms of exercise in the world, with more than 10 million participants in the United States alone. And athletes are turning to this form of exercise as a complement to their training regimens to get an edge on their competition. In the second annual Fitness Trends survey conducted by the American College of Sports Medicine, Pilates made the top 10 list of trends for 2008.

In fact, top-dollar athletes are also turning to this form of exercise to stay on top of their game and prevent injury. For these reasons, we are seeing numerous pros incorporating Pilates into their workout routines, including golfers Tiger Woods, David Duval and Steve Ballesteros, basketball star Jason Kidd, pitcher Curt Schilling, pro hockey player Carlo Colaiacovo and offensive lineman Ruben Brown, among others.

"Pilates helps athletes develop core strength, increase flexibility, assist in rehabilitation after injury and create balance throughout the entire body,€VbCrLf says Moira Merrithew, Executive Director of Education for STOTT PILATES. "As a result, athletes can withstand rigorous training regimens and ultimately improve their golf drive or baseball pitch, prevent or recover from injury and maintain an optimal fitness level for the activity of choice.€VbCrLf

Benefits for Athletes
Pilates helps build strong, healthy muscles, improves blood flow and engages all the muscles at the right time. It works your body inside and out for optimal body conditioning - and is ideal for anyone wanting to expand their exercise regimens to include overall toning and strengthening moves that also work the inner mechanism of the body.

"Pilates is no longer a method of exercise exclusively practiced by professional dancers to stay conditioned and injury-free. It's evolved over the past 20 years to help a wider group of athletes to accomplish their competitive goals, no matter what sport they participate in,€VbCrLf explains STOTT PILATES President and CEO, Lindsay G. Merrithew. "And that's why top fitness facilities and elite sports and conditioning trainers are introducing the benefits of Pilates to their athletes for rehabilitative and strength conditioning purposes.€VbCrLf

Experts have identified seven physical performance factors of great significance to athletes' overall conditioning practices and rehabilitation of sport-related injuries, including: posture, balance, mobility/flexibility, stability, coordination, functional strength and endurance - all of which are addressed with Pilates.

"Pilates works on developing kinesthetic awareness of the body, or where it is in relationship to itself and the world around it. It also focuses on good postural alignment, which will help an individual perform a movement efficiently, thus reducing the amount of unnecessary strain on the muscles and joints,€VbCrLf explains Moira. "Specific strengthening exercises will also help to balance the muscles around a joint and balance pairs of muscles from one side of the body to the other.€VbCrLf
Most Pilates workouts begin in a supine (lying on the back) position and then progress to sitting or standing when stability increases and can then carry over into the sporting realm. This allows the athlete to train or retrain muscles then transfer movement patterns to outside the practice environment and into the sport-specific skill.

According to Laureen Dubeau, Assistant Program Director for STOTT PILATES, one concept among others being embraced by sports trainers is LATD, or Long-Term Athletic Development. "This type of training progresses from general to specific and from simple to more complex. The lighter resistance and multi-angular training makes Pilates perfect for LATD as well as anatomical adaptation, focus on developing muscle memory and patterning. This usually occurs in the preparatory or pre-competition phase of training for an athlete.€VbCrLf

Recovery from Injury
There are other areas of sport training in which Pilates can be particularly useful. Regeneration is the period of active recovery from a strenuous workout or game, and Pilates can help in fulfilling this role and returning muscles and joints to their anatomical length. Also, during rehabilitation, Pilates can provide an interim step between non-weight-bearing to open-chain to explosive movements. "The focus on mobility, flexibility and strength through a full range of motion help restore the injured tissues to a healthy state before sport-specific training begins,€VbCrLf continues Dubeau. "In rehab, Pilates can be used at all stages from the most acute phase to advanced functional re-education.€VbCrLf

According to Matt Nichol, Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Pilates teaches athletes to be mindful in their movements - integrating their pelvis, trunk and shoulder girdle in a safe, challenging and progressive system. "Pilates can be a very effective supplement to an injury rehabilitation program, as it provides athletes with a challenging workout without impact or excessive weight bearing,€VbCrLf says Nichol.

The Bottom Line
Traditional athletic training methods will help develop the muscles required in a specific sport, but may not address the stabilizing muscles around the joints or the torso. Often, one muscle is identified, and exercises are designed to isolate that muscle, usually in a single plane of motion. However, Pilates exercises can be more complex than traditional moves and will therefore recruit a larger number of muscle groups or strengthen the same muscles from many angles and in a variety of different ranges of motion.

Pilates Benefits for Athletes

  1. Improve lung capacity and oxygen to the blood.
  2. Achieve an overall sense of satisfaction, inside and out.
  3. Assist with rehabilitation of injury as well as prevention.
  4. Relieve stress and increase athletic focus.
  5. Enhance coordination, flexibility and stamina.
  6. Learn how the body performs and functions.

Kerrie Lee Brown is the vice president of communications for STOTT PILATES ( and the former editor-in-chief of Oxygen: Women's Fitness and American Health & Fitness magazines. Kerrie holds a Bachelor of Arts, Communication Studies and Political Science Degree from Wilfrid Laurier University and a Bachelor of Applied Arts, Graduate Journalism Degree from Ryerson Polytechnic University.

Yoga is one of the most common group X programs today. Members of almost every health club or fitness center love this 4,000-year-old practice that combines science, art and medicine. As a union of mind, body and spirit, yoga helps its devoted followers achieve better flexibility, balance and elasticity in our joints and maximum functional range of motion.
But does yoga belong in your arsenal of tools for training athletes? Yes, when yoga is specifically designed for sport.

Athletes' yoga is geared toward the unique needs of athletes, taking into consideration the repetitive stresses they place on their bodies during sport. For example, golfers need to make sure their hips, thoracic spine and scapulae open up in the rotational plane (for their back-swing and follow-through) in order to prevent injuries to muscles and/or joints in other parts of the kinetic chain. Basketball players need to have excellent dynamic balance, what is easily understood as balance in transitional motions or positions. Pitchers need a strong core, flexible back and hamstrings to maximally accelerate a pitch.

Any prolonged or repetitive activities relating to work or sport can create muscle imbalances. Dependent on the activity, certain muscles are shortened, while others are lengthened and weakened. These imbalances can cause a strain on joints and result in injury. The yoga for athletes system was created to reduce these muscle imbalances. The practice of yoga increases strength, flexibility, balance and stamina to improve overall sport performance, reduce injuries, enhance posture and overall function. In addition, it improves digestion, organ function, metabolism, body awareness and proprioception.

Many athletes suffer from flexibility deficits. Since most sports involve the same repetitive motions, an athlete's body becomes biased to those directional movements and positions. As a result, they become at risk of injury if they are challenged out of their available range of motion.
Traditional stretching programs are uni-planar, meaning they only stretch the muscle groups in a single plane of motion. Each muscle in the body functions in three planes of motion. They have a dominant plane - for example, the hamstrings function primarily in the sagittal plane, yet this muscle group also functions in the frontal and transverse planes as well.

The flexibility component of yoga is very dynamic. It stretches multiple muscles at the same time in all three planes of motion. It involves opening the entire kinetic chain, thus simulating the motions and creating flexibility that is sport-specific for the athlete.

Athletes report fewer injuries after participating in a yoga program. Their dynamic balance, flexibility and strength have all improved. They report an improvement in their mental acuity and overall focus on the field. Overall, athletes experience an improvement in their entire sport performance. Overwhelmingly, athletes who were most doubtful about yoga quickly catch on and incorporate it into their daily lives. They feel invigorated and report a much healthier outlook on their performance.

Yoga Benefits for Athletes

  1. Studies show the practice of yoga can lower your resting heart rate, increase your max and lower your blood pressure.
  2. Yoga frees athletes from mental distractions, allowing them to increase their mental awareness. It develops focus, concentration, patience and determination.
  3. The practice of postures also develops grace and precision. It teaches the athlete struggle and challenge themselves without risking injury.

Alyssa Dinowitz, RYT, is the founder of Athletes Yoga ( She has been practicing yoga for over 10 years, and she became a certified Yoga Instructor in 2003. Alyssa has taught yoga privately to professional hockey players, golfers and football players and works consistently with several players from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.