Sports Conditioning Pilates Review

Our blog is taken over this month by Niall, a keen triathlete who reviewed our Sports Conditioning Pilates class for us.

Regular readers of this blog will be aware of how important I think strength and conditioning is to my triathlon training. Being a new dad means I have to make every exercise session count, but I’d never cut S&C from my week to make way for more swim, bike or run. In fact, out of the six hours of training I aim for in a week, I ensure that one hour of that is devoted to cross training. I look on it as maintaining a car with regular trips to the garage – regular small bits of work prevent problems building up un-noticed to suddenly ambush you at the wrong moment!

I find Pilates really works for me, so I was excited to be given the chance to try out a new class Pilates Plus are offering; Sports Conditioning. The fact it’s in Portobello and a leisurely five minute cycle from my house is a bonus! I was lucky to experience two different instructors over the two  classes, the first one taught by Julie, the other by regular instructor Mairi.

Pilates for Conditioning

As the founder of this system, Josef Pilates, was himself good at lots of disparate sports ranging from boxing to gymnastics, it seems obvious that Pilates has a lot to offer athletes in different specialities. The first run of these classes has been targeted at Triathletes, but now the focus is widening to make it more accessible to people from other sports. Ultimately, the flexibility, stability and strength requirements of many sports have significant overlaps, although of course each activity has it’s own specific demands and weak points. Given the degree of attention Pilates Plus focus on their sessions, I am confident that athletes from different sports will find their needs met just as comprehensively as triathletes.

As Mairi is a triathlete herself, she was able to relate many of the exercises to specific elements of the three sports of triathlon, for example maintaining still hips in the aero position on the bike, or kicking from the glutes with a straight leg during swimming. It really helps me to know what I’m doing during an exercise, so I can concentrate on activating the right muscles in the right way or even to get in a bit of visualisation of the activity I’m preparing for. During training or racing, I sometimes run a ‘systems check’ where I remember back to exercises and try to apply lessons to help me move more efficiently. One I really try to emphasize of breathing down into the bottom corners of my lungs – give it a try, right now, and feel how much more air you can get in than usual.

Working on Challenging Areas

As someone who is perhaps not as co-ordinated as they should be (translation: two left feet), I find the standing matwork particularly challenging and hence rewarding. I’m sure this is a sweeping generalisation, but I’d say that Pilates standing work is often about controlled movements from a dynamic or unstable base. This means that poor balance or a muscle weakness normally hidden by moving more quickly or from a more stable platform becomes blatantly obvious. It can be quite a dose of humility for experienced athletes – who are used to being physically competent  – to suddenly be shaking or stumbling about like a rookie. I’d say this can carry a double benefit; firstly, unearthing problem areas you wouldn’t have noticed otherwise and can thus target; secondly, encouraging the growth mindset of seeing a weakness as an opportunity for improvement. In Karate, they call it beginner’s mind, and it’s about staying open to new learning, avoiding getting stuck in your ways and thinking you know it all.   

I was surprised to find my shoulder mobility was substantially less in my right arm, which I’d assumed would be better as it’s my favoured side. It wasn’t painful, it just reached the end of where it wanted to go and would go no further! It’s that kind of testing that you’d never do on your own that highlights the benefits of an expert-led class like this. Also, it illustrates the danger of only sticking with one type of movement pattern – many sports feature repetitive movements that people can get really comfortable inside, whilst not realising that other areas are suffering. I recall particularly how my back was after years of rowing at a decent level. Although my back was really strong, it’s flexibility was pretty rubbish, meaning that any work outside the ‘comfort zone’ was difficult. It took several years of Pilates and Yoga to loosen up and build more meaningful strength across a wider range of movement.  

All in all, I’d recommend Sports Conditioning Pilates to anyone who wants to get the most out of their body and hence their sport under the expert tuition of the physio-qualified Pilates experts of Pilates Plus.