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Pilates for Athletes

Now you’re probably taking more of your training sessions indoors it might be time to change things up a little. As I’ve previously mentioned now is a good time to address injury niggles, muscle imbalances etc. So they that are not going to stop you hitting your PB in 2020.

Enter Pilates.

Joseph Pilates developed his method of exercise after working in hospital rehabilitating soldiers during the war. The system was then taken on by dancers to reduce injuries and thus followed studios and the gaining popularity that it has today. 

So why Pilates? In short Pilates builds balanced bodies.

It can be used to correct postural imbalances and/or poor posture which in turn can help to prevent injury. That’s why athletes have been using it for years, most famously Andy Murray uses it as part of his training regime.

It can be used to address overuse of certain patterns by encouraging you to perform more rounded movement patterns that create balance throughout the body. For example if you’re sport is one side dominant like racquet sports spending some time moving the body symmetrically can undo any potential repetitive strain injury.

It can be used to address your particular injury issues such as hip and back pain, shoulder tension or foot pain.

It can be used to compliment your existing training as a lower impact option whilst still training muscles required for your sport.

For example Pilates works a lot of the deep core muscles which provide a solid base from which to emit power such as throwing a ball, swinging a golf club etc or to remain stable whilst other limbs work which is vital for runners,swimmers , horse riders.

It can also Increase flexibility which in turn can aid in injury prevention.

Many of the exercises require coordination and body awareness which will improve aspects of most sports.

Pilates also works on breathing technique, which can be useful for weight training sessions, during long training sessions and in downtime to help calm the mind.

So here are a couple of exercises to work breathing, coordination and your core. Remember technique is key-5 good ones is better than 10 rubbish ones.


Toe Drop and Dead Bug


Bridge March


Boost your Immunity

I’ve already started to become surrounded by coughs and colds. Everywhere I go someone is complaining of sneezing, coughing etc usually stating it’s that time of year…..


According to statistics most of us get between 4 and 6 colds a year! 


This is not helped by the trend of presenteeism in the office I.e. people turning up to cough and splutter their way through the day kindly sharing their germs with you, then there’s air conditioning, usually extra heating and the windows closed to really help lock those germs in and circulate them.


If you did not spend your youth building a robust immune system (read:being covered in mud and horse p&&) like I did then you’re going to need some extra help to make it through sniffle free. 


  • Firstly eating a balanced diet full of varied vegetables and fruit can ensure your body is getting a good range of nutrients. It has been shown that diets high in Salt, Sugar and Fat reduce white blood cells. Your white blood cells are basically your bug fighters so it’s extra important to keep 80% of your diet as Fruit, Vegetables and Lean protein at this time of year. It is also a good idea to back this up with a multivitamin.
  • Vitamin D is vital for immunity but we get less at this time of year due to the lack of sunlight, so to give your immune system a boost as well as maintain bone health a Vitamin D supplement should be a winter staple.


  • Over training. If you have a heavy training schedule it can take its toll, making it harder for your body to fend off illness. If you’re feeling a little run down or burnt out from your training it’s best to take a step back before you get ill and have to stop altogether. Basically adding in an extra rest day might just save you having to spend a week in bed further down the line.


  • Sleep. This is similar to the over training, your body needs adequate rest to repair and regenerate. If you aren’t getting adequate sleep it’s going to suffer. Try to prioritise sleep like you would training sessions or important work deadlines-make time to get 6-8 hours in as much as you can.


  • Manage your stress levels. When you are stressed you have raised levels of the hormone Cortisol. Cortisol suppresses your immune system, which is fine on a very short term basis but when stress is prolonged this of course leaves you open to infection and being wiped out trying to fight it. I know life is kind of stressful by its nature but we should priories trying to minimise it’s effects. If you can, go out at lunchtime for some fresh air as this will re-oxyegnate your brain and help you feel refreshed. Try to spend some time winding down in the evening so that you sleep well and find ways to mentally recharge every day.


Plantar Problems

Heel pain or pain in the arch of the foot is very common amongst both active and sedentary individuals.


It is generally an irritation of the plantar fascia/tendon which connects from the Achilles under the heel right up to the toes. There are also potentially bone spurs or nerve entrapments but I’m not going to look at those here. 


So what causes the pain? 

It can be caused by various things such as Overuse, age,obesity, hard surfaces, flat feet, high arches, calf tightness. But also it can be multi factorial and there may be more than one issue. 


Identifying potential triggers is a good start, it does not necessarily mean you would need to eliminate these triggers just find ways to manage them. As obviously if you spend a lot of time at work standing and that is a trigger, not going to work is not an option! However changing shoes, perhaps doing some stretching throughout day and adding in some strength work could help you manage it.


So let’s look at those management options.


Firstly footwear. Experiment with different footwear to see which makes it better or worse. Usually footwear with good arch support helps but different types work for different people. 


If a change of footwear doesn’t help, Orthotic insoles fitted by a podiatrist can help.


Stretching. This can be done a couple of ways. 


Putting the foot across the knee, and flexing the ankle whilst pulling the toes toward you stretches the entire bottom of your foot.


You can also try rolling the foot on a ball to stretch it out.


Stretching the back of the calf both with the knee straight and then bent can help to release the Achilles and therefore the Plantar Fascia.


Strengthening exercises include.


Heel raises. 


Single Leg Deadlift 


Squats on toe tips. 

Fitness Testing

How do you know whether you are improving your fitness? 


If you do a particular sport you might base it on whether your competition results improve, but surely if you are looking to improve your results you want to know if you’ve improved before you get to the competition?


Do you ever assess what your strengths and weaknesses are? What you could have done better at that competition?


Why not have an honest look at your strengths and weaknesses and make a dedicated plan to improving on those weaknesses.


If you do a particular sport doing a specific fitness test could be a good measure.


For example.


As a runner you may do a Bleep test (I’m still psychologically scarred by this from school!) or a timed distance run such as 1 mile.


A Golfer may look at mobility and stability patterns, or your power output by looking at things such as a Vertical jump test and Seated Medicine Ball throws. 


It’s just a matter of looking at your particular sport and ways to test its main requirements.


Or maybe you want a look at your movement as a whole, in which case I offer Biomechanics and movement assessments that can do just that! We can have a look at restrictions, instability and “funky” movement patterns that may be hindering your performance. 

Perfect Programming

Now we are officially into “off season” for most people maybe you’re looking to spend more time in the gym but not sure what kind of training you should be doing. Or you have a standard routine you follow and aren’t sure how to take it up a level?


Programming follows some general principles.


The first step should always be  Muscular Endurance and Hypertrophy ( which is muscle building FYI). This will be a period of lifting moderately heavy weights for 10-12 reps x 3-4 rounds.


 Your previous training experience and long term goals will determine how long you spend in this phase. If you are new to training your endurance phase may last 8-12 weeks. If you want to focus on building bigger muscles your Hypertrophy phase may be extended.


If you are a more experienced exerciser the endurance/Hypertrophy phase may only last 4-6 weeks. 


Then once you’ve built a base of conditioning you move on to a pure Strength phase. This is when the weights get heavy, the reps get lower with longer rest periods between. For example you may squat heavy for 5 reps rest for 2-3 mins and repeat for 5 rounds. The last couple of reps of each round should feel really tough. Again depending on your long term goals this may be a short phase of 6 weeks or maybe 12 weeks or longer if getting seriously strong is a major goal of yours.


Then you move on to a Power phase -which is essentially strength at speed. Think weighted sled pulls/pushes, heavy weight quick fire exercises such as Kettlebell swings, Snatch, Clean and Press. The sets and reps are similar to the strength phase but the weights a little lighter as the aim is to move them faster. They should still be heavy so the last couple of reps are tough but you should be able to move them pretty quick without losing form.


Depending on your 2020 Goals you should find this takes you up to where you’ll want to get back into your sports specific training.


In terms of exercises there are obviously hundreds of them but sticking with the basic compound moves of Squat, Deadlift, Lunge, Bench Press/Press up, Pull up, Bent Over Row and Over Head Press is a good start. You can then vary from there depending on your needs such as single leg/single arm or add in accessory work for your own individual weaknesses such as glutes, hamstrings or arms etc.


I know this can sound a little daunting and yes there are loads of ways things can be varied and manipulated to mix things up, suit individual circumstances etc. But if you’re new to this and not working with a coach the best thing you can do is just keep it simple and keep it consistent. 


React Fast

If you play a team sport you may be familiar with reaction training. Basically it’s training to react to situations quickly and continue play. 

For example in hockey or football you need to be alert as to where the ball is going, other players etc which could mean you have to stop and change direction quickly and frequently at speed. Being able to do this firstly makes you a better player but also having trained your body to do this means it is less prone to injury in this situation.

I also had a think about whether reaction training would apply to more solitary sports such as running or cycling and I believe the answer is yes. If you run off road then you constantly need to adapt to the ground underneath you, and if you’re a cyclist the terrain, other cyclists, pedestrians and vehicles could be moving around you that you may need to react to.

There are various ways in which sports teams add this into their training.

Here are a couple of simple ways you can help train your fast reactions.

  • Reaction ball-These little bouncy balls are odd shaped and when you bounce them on the floor they fire off in any direction meaning you have to react fast to catch it! 
  • Using a timer set it for say 20/30 secs then put it somewhere you can hear it but not see it. Sprint as fast as you can, then when the buzzer goes stop dead and change direction.


Move Your Core

No matter what your sport in fact just for general day to day life a well functioning core will make things a lot easier.

A stable middle supports your spine so can help to prevent back pain, in terms of sports performance being able to maintain a good position whether that is running, cycling, golf etc. Makes you a more efficient athlete. This means you can spend more energy on power and speed rather than just holding yourself up. 

In terms of core training I imagine the first thing that comes to mind is Plank which is a great start but ask yourself how often you use your core in a completely static position? I’d say 9/10 you are also moving at least one limb.

So it makes sense to train your core whilst moving a limb too!

Here’s some variations of plank that require some limb movement too.

Mountain Climber.

Not the fast high bum ones often seen as bootcamp but maintaining a flat back, hips staying low bring alternate knees to the elbow. Done slow this is purely core, done fast maintaining form this is also a great running drill.

T Plank.

This also challenges your shoulder stability. The aim is to go from a solid plank to a straight diagonal line side plank dip all under control……

Opposite Arm and Leg lift.

This can be done either by lifting the arm and leg to the side or by lifting them straight up. You want your torso to stay as still as possible without too much tipping and of course keeping a flat back.

Plyometrics for Power

Last week we looked at improving your strength for performance this week let’s look at some plyometrics to improve your explosive power. 

Plyometrics improve power, speed, as well as your ability to absorb impact, which in laymans terms means your bodies ability to repeatedly hit the tarmac during a run and remain unscathed. This improves your movement economy I.e you use less energy to produce the same power output… you can go for longer (stop it lads…..)

Plyometrics also improve flexibility and stability (we all know how much I love stability!) which again assists in injury prevention. 

So, where to start?

Squat Jumps, Tuck Jumps and Long Jumps


A starting point of a squat, jumping up and landing back into a squat, progress to lifting the knees and heels and then change it up with adding distance instead of height. 

These are all basic plyometrics that over time can be made harder by adding speed, height, length and intensity.

Box jumps -similar to the squat and tuck jump but with the added challenge of landing on a surface. This obviously challenges stability too! Again this can be made more difficult by making the box higher or perhaps narrower -eeeekkk!

Lunge Jumps- This challenges stability and co ordination. To make it more difficult you could add more height or speed.

So off you go bounce like tiggers to improve your power output……boing!!!

Gain Speed Over Winter

Now we’re into looking at your winter training let’s have a look at some ideas of what you could be including to help you improve your performance for the next season.


One of the most common goals is to be faster. To be faster you need your muscles to generate more power which means you need to be stronger because Power=Strength at Speed.


So you need to get stronger then you need to use that strength to do things fast.


A great strength exercise that I think should be every athletes programme is the Deadlift. Deadlifts although predominantly thought of as a glute and leg exercise, are also a huge back and shoulder exercise. They really work the entire body. This is because you need your shoulders to retract, your hands to maintain grip and stability on the bar as your core engages, the hips drive forward as the legs contract to standing and the back helps to control the position as it lifts. 


The Deadlift can also be manipulated to achieve slightly different things.


I would always say to use it to build strength first so programme at least 6-8 weeks of focusing on heavy deadlifting, aiming to increase weight where appropriate and possibly in the 5 x 5 rep range. 


After this though with your solid foundation of strength you can add power, which remember is strength at speed. So instead of increasing the weight instead increase the speed of your lift. Make sure you still go on quality form but instead of a steady lift up and down set yourself up then rip the bar up fast and explosive each time. You can make the descent slow still help you re set your form each time or if you’re fairly experienced you can lift and drop in one fast movement. 


This technique can also be applied to Squats. So you would start with a foundation of increasing strength/weights in the squat then move to a period of fast squats really dropping under then powering your legs back up each time. 


Need some help with your winter programming? Drop me a message and we can work together!

Winter Training Goals

You may have noticed the nights have started to get a little darker, and although I’m not sure it ever properly stopped raining that rain has definitely gotten colder.


This means it might be time to bring your training indoors for the winter.


For most people this is also the end of the competition season, or at least the big competitions, so it’s time to reflect on the season just gone and look forward to improving for next year.


What does that mean for your winter training schedule?


For most people this is a great time to focus on your strength and conditioning training and deal with any niggles.


Most niggles come about because of a weakness in a movement pattern, that is often repeated in your chosen sport.


Have a think about repetitive movement patterns in your sport, what do you do with your muscles to make it happen?  


Which bits of your body do you think struggle with this the most?


This is a great time to put a plan in place to strengthen those weak areas,  or if you aren’t sure book yourself in for a movement assessment (with me!) to identify any areas might need some extra work.


Perhaps you need to get faster, which means you need to get stronger and generate more power. Dedicating some time over winter to power training will have you raring to go next season.