Sports injuries are all too common, but there are easy ways to prevent them. In fact, one of the best ways that athletes can prevent and even rehabilitate sports injuries is through the regular practice of Pilates.

Regular practice of Pilates actually prevents injuries, and can even speed up the recovery process. Here’s how:

Pilates focuses on problem areas

Pilates concentrates on specific body parts, isolating areas and improving their functionality. These movements aren’t just thrown around; they are conscious and intentional at all times during the workout. Practitioners of Pilates learn to isolate muscle groups that need to be strengthened, a powerful tool to have when it comes to preventing injuries. Athletes who practice Pilates learn to manipulate the areas just around injured parts of the body, or to ward off injury by focusing on places that are more prone to injury.

This method of exercise is adaptable, allowing users to figure out exactly where they need to go with their movements in order to get the full depth of Pilates benefits. Different areas of the body are more or less likely to become injured based on the needs of the specific sport, and Pilates offers the opportunity to zero in on the precise problem areas.

Breath control

Relieving tension and learning to properly release and pursue the breath is a great way to prevent injury. Pilates is all about learning to follow the breath and to allow it to guide movement. This consciousness is something that is often missing in athletics, and it’s common for athletes to hold their breath unnaturally and therefore to be more likely to become injured when all of that tension meets the physical exertion of sport.

Proper breathing stabilizes the trunk to offer a more solid foundation for movement. It also relieves pressure that builds up and can cause muscles to become rigid.

In Pilates, breathing is intimately connected to movement, with inhales coming as motion builds, and exhales coming as the motion proceeds. It sounds simple enough, but without consisted practice it doesn’t often come easy. Regular Pilates practice helps athletes to harness the power of the air coming in and out of their lungs in order to keep potential injuries at bay.

Balanced muscle development

Pilates benefits the development of muscles all over the body that are properly balanced. In any sport, some muscle groups are naturally going to be used more often than others.

For instance in tennis, the triceps and pectorals are heavily relied upon in order to get that perfect serve. The opposing bicep and trapezius muscles are left without an equal amount of focus, causing those more developed muscles to create an imbalance and leaving the door open to over exertion and injury. Without working opposing muscle groups, athletes find themselves in a situation in which the don’t have balanced development, leaving them more prone to injury.

The proper alignment that comes with balanced muscle development can correct imperfect movement patterns, bringing movements into better and more healthy alignments that prevent sports injuries. Changing those patterns can also help to alleviate in problems after they’ve manifested and to get athletes back on track.

A fundamental philosophy of Pilates is that it works the whole body, specifically focusing on balanced muscle development. Opposing muscle groups are consciously developed in an effort to keep the body from pulling too far in one direction or another.

Body awareness

The whole system of Pilates helps practitioners to find out where their bodies are in space, how they move and what kinds of movement feel certain ways. There is an optimization of movement that comes with regular Pilates practice, a personal efficiency that fosters self-discovery of what works and what doesn’t work so well. This awareness gives athletes the chance to make adjustments when necessary, decreasing the likelihood of injury.

So often we just move our bodies without thinking. This is something that’s true even of high level athletes. Moving the body becomes more of a reflex than a conscious decision. The problem with that is that everyone, no matter what their skill level, learns habits that aren’t perfect. Getting out of those bad habits is no small thing, but by improving body awareness it is possible to make the kinds of adjustments in movement that foster easier and more effective engagement in sport activities.

We are in control of every movement that our bodies make. Learning to sense how movement affects the body, how to live in the body with the mind fully present, allows athletes to sense injuries before they become overwhelming. In this case, knowing really is half the battle.

Control

It’s not only important to be aware of the body in order to prevent injury, it’s equally important to have control over the body’s movement. Pilates gives that control to practitioners. Precision is the name of the game in Pilates, with movements being controlled down to the minutiae of their execution.

Most of the work in Pilates takes place in the “mid -range” – not engaging a muscle group to its limits but rather holding back somewhere between no exertion and fully going there. Athletes often miss this range, pushing their bodies hard but without the kind of control that’s necessary to prevent injury.

Pilates offers a safe and effective training method for athletes to learn how to control their muscles and to hold back when necessary. Preventing serious injury in sport is often about learning to hold back when a muscle or joint is slightly compromised to prevent a traumatizing event.

The bottom line on sports injuries is that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Athletes who are serious about keeping themselves in the game and out of the doctor’s office are well advised to take up a regular Pilates practice in order to prevent injury. You can begin today by downloading our easy 100-day challenge! We’ll provide you with a quick, new Pilates exercise to do each day, making you stronger,  more flexible, and less prone to injury.

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It’s no secret that cross training offers a whole host of benefits for elite athletes. In the pursuit of that Olympic glory, many athletes have turned to Pilates to help them take their sport the next level. Because Pilates offers a balanced, whole-body workout that pulls the mind in line with the physical body, it offers a perfect way for Olympians to add that special something to their regimen, giving them the edge over the competition.

Here are six Olympic athletes who use Pilates to help them go for the gold.

Haley Anderson

The only female athlete swimming in the open water, 10,000-meter event in Rio, Anderson won Silver in 2012 in London. This year she hopes to take home the gold. Since her Olympic debut four years ago, Haley has graduated from college and now trains full time.

She’s added in Pilates as part of her new, tougher regimen to help her improve the balance and stamina that she needs to beat her rivals. Her race takes almost two hours and is the equivalent of the marathon in swimming. That kind of distance is difficult to imagine, and a regular Pilates workout reinforces the stamina necessary to make it happen.

Missy Franklin

One of the most prominent Olympians in Rio is Missy Franklin, a swimmer who owns multiple world records and is swimming in her second Olympics in 2016. In London she took home five medals, four gold and a bronze. This year she hopes to add to that tally.

The core building nature of Pilates helps her to swim stronger and with more balance and she credits that work outside of the pool with helping her to dominate in the water. What’s great about Pilates for swimmers is that it encourages movement that stems from the core and flows out. That focus and control helps swimmers extend their motion and move faster through the water. The bodily awareness is also an important aspect for swimmers, who can learn to tweak their movements more effectively and thereby know how to make adjustments that get them to the wall that much faster.

Andy Murray

British tennis superstar Andy Murray is well known for his stamina and speed on the court that led him to a gold medal on his home turf in London in 2012. After back surgery in 2014, Murray turned to Pilates to build his core and help him to recover in a positive and balanced way. Today he’s a heavy medal favorite in Rio.

Murray has been an outspoken advocate of Pilates in the years since his surgery, talking to the Wall Street Journal at length about the benefits Pilates has given him. He’s even been known to take his favorite Pilates instructor with him abroad to keep his training up as he works out overseas. In the aftermath of his back trouble, Pilates has been a central focus of his cross training for tennis. Those same benefits are available to anyone recovering from an injury, as Pilates is a perfect recovery tool.

Victoria Pendleton

One of the most decorated female athletes in British history, cyclist Pendleton won gold in Beijing, gold and silver in London. She’s also a member of the European Cycling Hall of Fame. Competing in her fourth Olympics in Rio, she’s added Pilates to her regimen for added balance and improved core strength, two of the most important things for a cyclist to develop.

In a 2012 interview with Marie Claire, Pendleton credited Pilates with helping her to get over back trouble and get back on the cycle.  “I’ve been doing Pilates for more than a year, and for me, it’s been a real breakthrough in managing back pain and building my postural muscles.” Cycling is tough on the body, requiring long periods of rigid muscle control at high speeds. The core strength needed to maintain all of that is phenomenal and a regular regimen of Pilates offers a boost to all cyclists, elite or amateur.

Kerry Walsh-Jennings

Beach volleyball is one of the most highly anticipated sports of the Games, and one of its biggest stars is Kerry Walsh-Jennings. Competing in her fourth Olympics in Rio, Walsh-Jennings won gold medals in Athens, Beijing and London. Her dominance in the sport is difficult to overstate, as she is both a pioneer and a still prominent figure on the sand. She’s set to add to her trophy case in Rio, where she’s a heavy favorite.

She credits Pilates with helping her to regain her strength after giving birth, saying  “Pilates gives you such great body awareness. When I got pregnant, I really got into Pilates because I wanted to fix all my asymmetries. I have a new body because of it.” That new body has worked for her and she continues to be an outspoken advocate of Pilates as part of her training.

David Boudia

American diver David Boudia is set to make history once again in Rio. Competing in his third Olympics, Boudia won gold in London on the 10m platform and bronze in the synchronized 10m platform with partner Nick McCrory. In Rio he’s competing with Steele Johnson, a new partner, and has added Pilates to his workout regimen for added flexibility and strength as he goes for the gold once again.

Divers in particular get a lot out of Pilates, as they need a great deal of control to form their movements perfectly. Pilates encourages a bodily awareness that’s hard to beat, something that just isn’t there with other cross training methods. Synchronized diving like that practiced by Boudia requires it even more, as both divers have to simultaneously be aware of their movements and those of their partner.

Begin your Pilates journey

You don’t have to be a world class athlete to get the benefits of Pilates. No matter what your age or skill level, starting a regular Pilates practice can help you to feel better, do more and be healthier. Begin today with a simple, free download of our 100s to Happiness app, a seven day starter package with a new Pilates lesson each day!

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Pilates can be intimidating. It’s easy to see how a beginner may see the exercises as too difficult. However there are some easy, effective and fun exercises for Pilates beginners that are accessible for even those who have never stepped onto a mat.

To show you just how accessible Pilates is for newcomers, here are the six best Pilates exercises for beginners.

1. Rolling like a ball

Starting off with whimsy is never a bad idea. This move is playful and simple, not to mention it offers a great massage for tight back muscles and a perfect warm-up for those abs. One reason that it’s great for beginners in particular is that it teaches you how to get that rounded spinal shape that is central to Pilates. The core engagement is also phenomenal, pulling in the muscles all the way around the midsection.

  • Sit down just forward of center on the mat, knees bent and feed pointed. Toes should be barely touching the floor.
  • Place the hands on the back of the thighs, then lift the legs slightly off of the floor. Ensure that the knees remain shoulder width apart.
  • Lower the head slightly between the knees and inhale as you pull the belly button towards the spine.
  • Stay in this position for two cycles of breath.
  • On the inhale, rock back all the way to the upper back and shoulders, stopping before the neck while keeping the head off of the floor.
  • Exhale, rocking back up to the seated balance position.
  • Repeat four more times for five total reps.

 

2. The Saw

Learning how to form a solid base can be a challenge for beginners, but the Saw offers a perfect way to practice that skill. Posture is a key ingredient to great Pilates. The Saw also loosens the shoulders and upper back, opening up the chest to allow for easier breathing.

  • Sit upright in the center of the mat, legs straight out with feet touching either side.
  • Extend the arms out from the body to the sides, straight and with fingers pointing. Inhale deeply.
  • Exhale, and in one fluid motion twist to the left as the right arm stretches toward the left foot, pulsing three times.
  • Inhale, pulling back up to center.
  • Repeat to the opposite side, then repeat the whole cycle twice more for three total reps.

 

3. The Criss-Cross

Pilates doesn’t have to be a complicated or heavy kind of workout. The great thing about this exercise is it involves simple movements – with profound effects.

  • Lie on your back on the mat, pulling your knees to your chest with your hands behind your head (or place a towel underneath to give a bit more of a boost).
  • Extend the right leg out straight, keeping that left leg bent as you inhale.
  • Exhale as you twist toward the left leg, engaging the core to draw the upper body off the ground.
  • Inhale back down as you switch legs.
  • Repeat three times to each side.

 

4. The Mermaid

The sides of the body are often neglected and easy to ignore, but stretching them out can feel positively magical. Relieving tension and offering a wonderful lengthening to the side body, the Mermaid not only does some great toning bout also feels fantastic.

  • Sit down on the mat with the right hip towards the ground, legs folded to the left side.
  • Place the left hand around the ankles, then inhale as you reach the right arm up into the air with the upper arm next to the ear.
  • Exhale as you pull the straight right arm forward, then swoop it out to the left as you feel the stretch in your side body.
  • Repeat twice on this side.
  • Staying in the same position, reach your right hand down to the ground and do the same movement with your left hand.
  • Switch your legs to the other side and repeat the entire sequence in reverse.

 

5. Single-Leg Circles

A big trick to Pilates is keeping those abs engaged while the body is moving. That’s no small thing to do, but it is a powerful door to unlock. The single leg circle sequence offers a serious boost to the core while also exploring how the legs work together with it. If you need to, it’s okay to bend the leg slightly. In fact it’s better to get a slight bend on the leg than it is to lift the hip off of the floor at all. Another option is to bend the stationary leg that’s on the floor, offering a bit more stability and grounding.

  • Lie down on the mat, legs either bent with feet on the ground or extended out straight and together.
  • Extend the right leg straight up towards the sky as you inhale.
  • Exhale, circling the leg across the body towards the left edge of the mat and back around to the right edge, stopping center.
  • Inhale has you pause, consciously keeping the abdominals fully engaged.
  • Repeat five times, then switch legs.

 

6. The Hundred

There’s no way around it – the hundred is a core of every Pilates practice.  This movement is a challenge for many beginners, but it keeps the blood pumping and is a perfect warm-up. If one hundred reps proves to be too ambitious at the beginning, then it’s absolutely permissible to keep it to fifty, then work up to the full 100.

  • Lie down flat on the mat, drawing both legs up to the chest and rolling the head and upper back up to create a tight ball as you inhale.
  • Exhale, pulling the legs up to a tabletop position with the knees directly over the hips and the shins parallel to the floor.
  • Stretch the arms out by the sides and pulse them ten times, inhaling for five and exhaling for five counts.
  • Repeat the pumping nine more times without a break, for a total of ten reps and one hundred counts.
  • Inhale as you roll your head and shoulders back down the floor and rest your head flat.

 

Pilates Exercises can be Easy!

Pilates is a form of exercise that truly should be accessible to everyone, no matter what their level or comfort. Starting something is always the hardest part, but with these moves it doesn’t have to be overwhelming!

The First Step on your Pilates Journey

Another easy way to begin your Pilates journey is with a single step – downloading our 100 day challenge app! We provide you with a simple, but impactful, short exercise video each day with a new Pilates move. At the end of 100 days, see what benefits your mind and body have unlocked!

 

 

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Most of us spend our days walking around in our heads. Right now, as you’re reading this piece, you’re likely wholly unaware of your body. You might have some vague, back-of-your-mind sense of your hands on your electronic device or the stiffness in your legs, but for the most part your mind is separated entirely from your body.

Living your life with a weak mind-body connection is a recipe for missing out. There is a richness to living with awareness that is difficult to articulate, but marvelous to experience. When we are fully present in our bodies, with our minds fully engaged and in sync, the world opens up, with stress and strife melting away into the distance. When people talk about being happy, about feeling fulfilled, they are most often talking about times when they lived in a state of full mind-body integration.

Pilates offers a system of not just physical exercises, but mental ones as well that push forward the connection between the physical self and the mental self. Here’s how:

The breath

Mindfulness starts with breath. Breath control is seen in mind-body exercises in all forms and across disciplines. What’s wonderful about the breath, and what’s so important about it, is that it’s both a voluntary and an involuntary muscle movement. When you’re not thinking about it, this necessary bodily function happens on its own. When you are thinking about it, you have the ability to control the rate and depth of it.

The flow of air in and out of the lungs has a powerful effect in a wide variety of other bodily functions, from blood pressure to digestion. Breathing with intention is something that not everyone does on their own, but it’s a central pillar to Pilates instruction. By learning to manipulate the breath, those who practice Pilates can learn to take control of their physical bodies through mental discipline. With each and every exercise on both mat and machine, Pilates is designed to be integrated with precise breath control.

Breathing with intention takes a great deal of practice to master; it’s not something you just learn to control in a day. However, it’s also something literally everyone can do, no matter what other limitations they might face.

Controlled movement

So often, we move around without even thinking about it. We instinctively open doors, drive cars and type on keyboards. Though these movements are often precise in nature by demand, they are rarely executed with any intention. Learning to control movements with more intention is a central pillar in Pilates. Each movement in Pilates is intended to be not only correct, but carried out with control.

Again, this is something that’s developed through practice, and that kind of repetitive practice is wonderfully experienced through Pilates. The more controlled and precise those bodily movements are, the more integrated the mind and the body become. Pilates exercises are slow, with significant attention to detail, versus other similar forms of exercise.

Isolation of movement and mind

Just as we tend to walk around with our minds and bodies separated, so too do we tend to walk around with a sense that our bodies are just one blob of motion that’s moving around without much consciousness. We aren’t engaged with our bodies. Pilates focuses on is teaching us to isolate parts of our bodies, pulling them apart and sensing exactly what’s going on.

Pulling that awareness down to just one small section of the body is an important step in learning how to integrate the body and the mind. Trying to be aware of every sensation and motion within the entire body at once is a tall order, and one that can prove to be a challenge that’s just too much. By bringing the focus down to a small sliver of the body, we’re able to increase the connection between the physical and mental selves. Pilates walks practitioners through the process of isolating one precise part of the body, allowing the mind to experience the connection, even if only for a moment. That isolation comes in many forms in Pilates – from articulating the spine during a head roll to the unique movement of lateral breathing.

Mental and physical focus

Learning how to focus is a skill that can be taught, and Pilates offers a solid teaching tool. More than turning on a laser light, learning to focus is about letting go of all of the things that are weighing down and distracting the mind. That letting go and keeping the mind in one place is important to the mind-body connection as well – allowing the body and mind to align for the same purpose instead of going off in divergent directions.

Pilates pulls focus right down to the forefront through physical activity. This method of learning focus through movement is extraordinarily helpful for many people who have struggled with focus and connection in the past. That’s because the body isn’t offering the kinds of distraction that it normally does. Rather than focusing on something external, Pilates lets practitioners work with the body so that it’s not a distraction but a gateway into better focus.

It’s important to understand that, unless you’re enlightened, you’re not going to live in a perfectly aware state. That’s a great goal perhaps, a distant ideal, but it’s not where even the best of us are. Living with a strong mind-body connection means that you have the ability to pull yourself into that state of awareness when you want to, and that above all you are able to create within yourself a consistent state of at least partial integration.

It’s this level of awareness that Pilates brings to people who practice it. That strong sense of empowerment through integration, the control and the focus as the mind and the body come together through the breath, all work together to build the mind body connection.

Practicing the mind-body connection

Do you think you can bring your focus to that intense mind-body connection for five minutes or less, every day for 100 days? Then download our app and try our 100s to Happiness challenge – and let us know how you feel!

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Think about it – your spine is the center of your body. Its physical placement is right there in your middle, connecting you from your head all the way down to your bottom. From your first breath to your final, your spine is an integral part of you and one that is a key to maintaining good health in every stage of life.

Sensing the centrality of your spine

Take a moment to feel your spine right now, to sense how it is a part of you.

Wiggle your fingers – you can sense that connection as the signal to create motion comes from your brain and cascades down your spine, through your shoulders and all the way down the length of your arm to the tips of your fingers. Now do the same with your toes and you’ll get that same sense of the way that those signals travel from your brain, down your spine, past your hips, running all the way down your leg and through your feet until reaching your toes and wiggling them.

Roll your head around, then shift your ribcage back and forth, and finally shake your hips a bit (right there wherever you’re reading this – don’t be shy!) All of that movement comes from your spine–not just in the sense that the signals are traveling down your spine from your brain to spark the movement, but also in a more concrete sense, as you are articulating your spine intentionally and that movement sends out other movement in your body.

The spine’s role in overall health

Though the spine is a key player in the health of the body in terms of movement and sensation, its importance doesn’t stop there. That centrality in the body means that the spine is connected to every vital function. The integrity of your spine is very closely tied to the overall integrity of your health. The more effectively your spine functions, the more effectively the rest of your body will function as well.

Your spine was designed to protect and house your spinal cord, which is the partner to your brain in your central nervous system. These two work in tandem to make it all happen. All other nerves and sensations make up the peripheral nervous system, which sends and receives signals from the brain and spine. To put it simply: Without your spine, all your other nerves and muscle movement would suffer greatly – so you want to keep it healthy and flexible!

This is way more important than just comfort and ease of movement: The spine sends and receives signals from your vital organs as well. Without your spine, your stomach can’t digest your food, your lungs can’t contract and expand, your heart can’t beat. Those nerves maintain your body temperature and your blood pressure, control your sexual function, tell you when to feel hungry or tired, allow you to feel the cool breeze on your cheek and the warm sand between your toes. Nerves from your spine innervate all of you, making your body function. Everything about the way that your body functions and interacts with the world around you is controlled right there in your spine.

Keeping those bones in line

Your spine is composed of 33 bones called vertebrae, small bones that are stacked on top of each other and house the bundle of central nerves that make up the spinal cord. Those nerves from the spinal cord reach out through the spaces in the vertebrae on the way to their destinations through small holes called foramen. When the bones in your spinal column are pinched, tight, or out of alignment, then those nerves can become compromised, and it’s something that’s all too common, especially as we age.

The bones of the spine are supported and controlled by ligaments, muscles and other tissue that surround them. When we talk about strengthening your spine, we’re not talking about actually doing anything to the bones themselves – those are what they are and can’t be modified without surgery, which of course we want to avoid. Rather, when we talk about “strengthening the spine” or “aligning the spine,” what we’re really talking about is strengthening those muscles and the surrounding tissue in such a way as to pull those bones into alignment and to relieve any pressure that might be on those nerves that are reaching out of the vertebrae.

Maintaining the integrity of your spine through the right kind of fitness is an important part of keeping your body healthy. Using an exercise system like Pilates that focuses on working with the spine to keep it properly aligned and easily mobile is a key to maintaining overall health, both for you in terms of your ability to move with ease and in terms of your body’s ability to function at its best.

Spine health and aging

We hear about back pain so often that it is practically an expectation that we will have it in some form as we age, but this is by no means a discomfort that we should simply live with. There are ways to prevent and reduce back pain as we age.

Many of those common aches and pains come from a spine that’s compressing nerves because it’s not properly supported with strong core muscles. The good news is that there is something you can do about it–whether you’ve never experienced those aches and pains or whether they’re old familiar friends. Improving posture and core strength through exercise is a proven way to take the pain out of the spine and thereby to improve overall health.

As the years pass it’s easy for the stresses of life, both physical and mental, to take a toll on the spine and cause us to feel older than we are. Exercise that focuses on improving the functionality of the spine isn’t just about getting your body to move with ease in the sense of making you more limber and agile – it’s about taking the pressure off of those so important nerves and allowing them to do their job of supporting your vital bodily functions.

The good news is, you can start today! For the next 100 days, I challenge you to strengthen your spine and your core through our quick, simple daily challenges. Just download the app!

It’s just as important today as it is for your future – because after all, you’re only as old as your spine.

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