Before you roll your eyes and scoff, hear this: Some of the biggest, baddest dudes in professional sports get taken to task with a little bit of Pilates. For instance, Marquise Goodwin, an Olympic track-and-field athlete and a receiver for the San Francisco 49ers, takes Pilates classes at the Austin, Texas-based studio Dancers Shape. “With the name Dancers Shape, you think it’s going to be easy girl stuff,” Goodwin says. “If you come in thinking that — you are wrong.”
And Goodwin’s not alone. Football players all over the country are turning to Pilates to target smaller muscle groups, improve core strength, and enhance flexibility. “Pilates transforms your mind and body, and changes how you look at the ‘little things,’” says Michael Davis, a Cornerback for the Los Angeles Chargers who takes classes at Club Pilates. “I never knew how it could benefit me as a person and an athlete.”
The thing is, a well-programmed Pilates routine doesn’t just make athletes stronger and more flexible. It can extend their careers. “I’ve been working with NFL players since 2012,” says Jennifer McCamish, the owner of Dancers Shape. “They typically overuse one muscle group and underutilize opposing muscle groups, creating imbalances, aches, and pains that can make them more susceptible to injury.
“The Pilates technique trains the deep stabilizers to strengthen the core. This helps improve proprioception, body awareness, and breathing to support a large body in motion. The more you’re in control of your bodyweight in space, the more efficiently you move.” In other words: It’ll make you a better athlete — and a more-balanced dude in general.
But you don’t have to show your face inside a “girly” Pilates studio if you want to give the technique a try. There’s a full lineup of mat-based Pilates moves that require no equipment and are perfectly safe to try at home. McCamish suggests the following home-based exercises.
“Pilates 100s is a classically effective move, especially for bulky football players,” McCamish says. “This is because your legs function as weighted levers, so large, muscular legs increase the intensity.”
Lie on your back, your hips and knees bent at 90-degree angles. Extend your arms at your sides. Engage your core and curl your shoulders up off the ground. Lift your hands and point them toward your hips. For a count of five, pump your arms up and down at your sides as you inhale through your nose, then exhale through your mouth for an additional count of five. This is a single round. Continue for a total of 10 rounds, breathing in and out steadily throughout the exercise.
Side Kick Kneeling
According to McCamish, the abductor muscles, including the gluteus medius, are often underused, which can negatively impact balance and proper hip tracking. The side kick kneeling exercise strengthens the abductors while stabilizing the shoulder joint.
Kneel on the ground and lean to the side, placing your right hand on the ground under your shoulder, with your right knee aligned under your hip. Pull your shoulders away from your ears to lengthen your neck. Extend your left leg and lift it from the ground to hip-height with your kneecap pointing forward. Lower and lift your left leg, keeping your core steady, isolating the action to your hip. After lifting your leg, sweep it to the front creating an L shape at your hip, then return it to the starting position. Continue until your form starts to suffer.
Mermaid with Twist
All plank variations are excellent for targeting the deep stabilizing muscles between your hips and your shoulders, but the mermaid with twist unilaterally isolates each shoulder, improves spinal mobility, and targets the obliques.
Start in a side plank, balancing on your hand or your forearm. Check your form to make sure your elbow or palm is directly under your shoulder, your hips are lifted, and your obliques are engaged. Reach your top arm to the sky, then exhale as you thread it under your body, simultaneously lifting your hips upward and twisting your chest toward the floor. Inhale to return to side plank, and continue until your form starts to falter.
The bird dog has its roots in Pilates, so if you’ve ever targeted the posterior side of your body with this move, you’ve already tested the waters.
Start in a tabletop position with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Engage your core, lengthening your spine from your neck to your lower back. Keep your shoulder blades flat so they don’t “wing” up or out. Extend your right arm and left leg out straight. On an inhale, open your lifted arm and leg out diagonally, and as you exhale, return them to center. Repeat on the opposite sides, continuing for at least 10 repetitions per side.