Pilates is just for Sisters and Sissies, Right?

5 Benefits of Pilates for Athletes


It’s funny, the responses that I get from people. “So, what do you teach?” I answer, “Pilates.” Sometimes, there is that typical look of pity. “Oh, that’s like stretching for old people, right?” And then, others surprise me. “Oh, I’ve heard about it. My physio’s always telling me to do it. She says I need to strengthen my core.” This helps me. It means that a) I don’t have to explain this isn’t a pre-flying course or that b) This has nothing to do with a deceased Roman ruler called Pilate.

And then of course, there are the standard misconceptions. Many athletes (especially male) also give me that look, and seem surprised when I suggest they add Pilates to their workout. If you want the scientific and bio-mechanical basis, you’ll find it easily. Many excellent articles have been written on the benefits of Pilates for athletes. I’m not going to repeat their content. I’d like to share with you why, in my experience as a practitioner and trainer, Pilates is good for everyone, especially athletes.

Referring back to our original question, Pilates was designed by and named after a man: Joseph Pilates. This needs to be clear and set the record straight. Joseph, originally from Germany, is said to have been a human movement genius, at least 100 years ahead of his time. The First and Second World Wars, internment and POW camps, corsets and bloodletting defined his time. Joseph was very strong, completely masculine and also completely respectful of female and male strength. Read his story. It will inspire you.

Joseph was an athlete. He lived to a ripe old age and understood the pressures on super athletes. He believed in healing the body and utilising all of its levers naturally. He lived and taught so that men and women can walk with strength, comfort and grace. Dancers, actors, celebrities and normal people all flocked to his US studio to heal and rediscover their strength.

Now, here are some of my thoughts on why athletes should really look at doing Pilates.

Athletes need:

  • to be challenged differently
  • multi-varied movement to condition the brain
  • true fitness for flexibility, strength and endurance
  • a non-competitive environment
  • to breathe and destress


1. Challenge all the Muscles

Running, cycling, golf, canoeing or dancing are all sports that focus on a specific type and level of fitness. It’s like opening and closing the same door again and again, getting better at this door, but what about the others? Then there are the repetitive stress injuries that can develop from opening and closing the same door. The body is a system of levers designed for movement. All our levers and fitness forms need to be activated regularly or at the same time. Pilates does this simply and efficiently. Even one session a week can condition the body and realign the levers.

2. Train with Your Brain

Mechanical movement, especially under the influence of rhythm and music, switches the brain off, not on. Pilates challenges the brain in a quiet, focused atmosphere. It helps to recondition the central nervous system, which is rather important for quality of life.

3. Embrace True Fitness

Now, I say this as an athlete. I know what happens when my performance increases and the adrenaline kicks in after a very good climb, swim or run. I think I’m really strong and it’s without the context of total body fitness. Total fitness equals flexibility, strength and endurance. Pilates focuses on all three. It never becomes easy. It humbles me and helps me to see the equal strengths and weaknesses in others and myself.

4. Friends and Fun Count

Training regimens can be harsh and unforgiving. Highly competitive environments create stress, and inflammation from cortisol production. Training in a non-threatening environment, which focuses on the health of the individual and the group normalises us as athletes. We learn it’s not all about us. We are reminded that we are people too. We develop friendships. We enjoy moving our bodies and releasing pressure. Sometime we forget the importance of enjoyment. Fun calms us, helps us produce endorphins and stimulates our pleasure pathways – these are responsible for healing and well-being.

5. You’re a Being not a Doing

Living in a world where even your job seems to be on a conveyor belt, we need less paralysingly stress and more motivating stress. Pilates, in focused gentleness, helps us to breathe, reflect and just be. As we move, we rest. Peace is restored. We let go of outcomes. We focus on the gift of being alive. We see classmates moving with us. We appreciate the rich variety of the world. We understand and are reminded that we are human beings, not doings.

To all my athletes out there, I encourage you to find more healing movement. Go try a Pilates class. Confront the prejudices and misconceptions. Pilates is for you too!