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Pilates can help people train for a specific sport

expert from Boomer Article August 2006 BY DONNA OLMSTEAD For the Jounal

In midlife, peak performance in any sport often requires cross-training to balance the body to avoid or repair injury. For Connie Harnick, 58, a competitive tennis player, a Pilates workout keeps her game as fresh as when she was in her 20s.

“I’m playing as good a tennis game now as I’ve ever played,” she says. “In tennis, if you don’t have a stable base, you’re never going to have a good stroke. Because of the core training with Pilates, I have stability for my forehand and my backhand.”

Harnick turned to Pilates because she couldn’t play her customary two games without suffering “miserable” back pain and often numbness on her right side. Since starting Pilates more than two years ago, Harnick has practiced it for several hours a week. After six months of conditioning, “I could go out and play tennis, even singles, and my back wasn’t hurting anymore because of the core strengthening,” she says.

Although Harnick had always cross-trained on the treadmill or stationary bicycle on days she didn’t play tennis, she knew that as she grew older she had to “work out more and work out differently to avoid injury.” Between tennis and other exercise, she says she is intentionally actively engaged about 15 hours a week.

Aline Alexander, who owns Momentum Studio in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights with her husband, Bryan Alexander, trains Harnick in Pilates and other exercise methods.
“Pilates builds strength from the inside out,” she explains, describing the system developed in the first half of the 1900s as one that increases strength and flexibility, and improves balance, coordination and tone.

At Momentum Studio mat work is alternated with work on special Pilates machines, including the Cadillac, the Reformer and Wunda chairs, all developed by Joseph Pilates, a German nurse who devised his exercise system for rehabilitation in an internment camp in England during World War I.

Balancing the body’s asymmetry is a key component of the Pilates method, Alexander says.

Sports like tennis or golf are called “unilateral” because they develop one side of the body, usually the dominant side, more than the other. “We are all asymmetrical. That’s normal. But for athletes the asymmetry can get out of control,” she explains. “In Pilates we’re looking for balanced musculature and strength through a range of motion.”

Alexander notes that range of motion through the shoulder may become so habitual for a tennis player that he or she loses sense of the individual muscles that make the serve occur. Pilates would help retrain the serving side for more control, and develop and strengthen the less dominant side to achieve more strength and balance.

Side bending exercises and torso lengthening work that builds the abdominal and other core muscles would be a good place to start for a tennis player or golfer, Alexander says.

With more than 500 exercises, a program can be designed for any athlete. The emphasis in Pilates is few repetitions, maybe three, with a great variety of exercises done with precision and proper technique, she says. “Each individual is unique.”

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