Baseball playoffs are in full swing as the top teams in each division compete to play in the World Series. This year the Yankees, Astros, Cubs and Dodgers are all vying for the opportunity to hoist the Championship Trophy in a few weeks. Baseball has a grueling season that begins in April and lasts until November if you’re lucky. These athletes have to be in tip top shape to last for 7 months and over 160 games.
Many players utilize a variety of strength programs with Pilates becoming increasingly more popular over the last several years. The core strengthening, flexibility improvements and stability that stem from Pilates exercises is particularly beneficial for athletes. These benefits are the main reason why some of the most successful MLB baseball players reveal that they rely on the Pilates method to maintain their optimal physical shape and improve performance.
One of the most notable Pilates enthusiasts is Cy Young and World Series winning pitcher Jake Arrieta. Arrieta had a massive 2016 season culminating with a historic World Series win. He credits the addition of Pilates into his routine as an integral part of his successful resurrection into baseball stardom. About two hours before every game Arrieta jumps on his reformer (a Pilates machine) he had specifically designed for his large frame. He goes through a flow of movements designed to challenge and activate parts of his body for competition: abdominals, obliques, lats, shoulders, hips…. This continues for about 20 minutes. He credits this exercise system for providing results that include better body control, improved breathing capacity as well as mental toughness.
Some other notable players that have incorporated Pilates into their in-season and off-season training include Hunter Pence, Nate Robinson and Evan Longoria. In an interview with ESPN, Longoria admitted that Pilates has provided better results than he had previously experienced with his yoga routine. According to Longoria, Pilates is crucial to his much-needed strength and agility training. It has helped him maximize bat speed and increase core motion for superior performance during the season.
Several studies have been performed that confirm the efficacy of the benefits Pilates has on lumbo-pelvic stability as well as improving overall flexibility and range of motion all of which are crucial components to athletic performance. In 2007 a study was performed on The Effect of Pilates Exercise on Trunk and Postural Stability and Throwing Velocity in College Baseball Pitchers. The study took baseline measurements for double leg lowers, Star Balance test and throwing speed for the baseball players. Each pitcher was introduced to a Pilates program and was re-tested at 4 weeks and 10 weeks after beginning the program. Significant improvement was noted in all three baseline measurements for 70% of the subjects and in 2 out of the 3 baseline measurements in the other 30% of subjects.
Pilates is different than traditional strength training programs because it focuses on mobility and stability. Most mainstream strength programs work muscles in isolation (think bench press, bicep curls or leg presses). However, most athletic performance involves combinations of movements that take athletes to their end ranges of motion (think throwing a baseball, swinging a bat, diving for a ball or sliding into second base). Pilates develops strength by elongating muscles, improving muscle balance and symmetry and increasing joint mobility. Injuries are less likely to happen when the body has a nice balance of strength, stability and mobility.
So, as you prepare to sit back and enjoy the thrill of competition during The World Series, watch the athletic prowess these athletes exhibit and understand some of that comes from the lessons and skills they built practicing the Pilates method. Now think of the amazing effects it might be able to have on you.
Christa Gurka, MSPT, PMA®-CPT