As pillarPERFORMANCE owner Colleen Naus puts it, there is a hierarchy to optimal movement: “If there is lack of mobility in the body, it cannot find stability and therefore cannot gain strength. If the client doesn’t have mobility, their power is going to get locked up.
“Pilates offers an amazing opportunity to move in lengthened patterns against resistance, which helps give mobility to the system. Once they achieve proper mobility, they can work on stability, and then they’ll gain more strength,” says Colleen, a STOTT PILATES® Certified Instructor.
Teaching that to the many triathletes who visit her studio in San Diego, California, is part of her training philosophy.
“It’s really important for athletes to build a strong foundation,” Colleen says.
“” On top of weight training, we highly suggest clients work with our Pilates instructors; so we do see our gym clients venturing to the Pilates equipment, and that’s when they’re enlightened.
Once they pair STOTT PILATES with functional personal training, “they learn where their movements are initiating from, which then establishes better efforts in their triathlon, as well as when they’re out on the floor of the gym. It’s very symbiotic.”
How to train athletes in mindful movement
When working with athletes, Colleen says instructors need to understand how their sport has shaped and influenced their client’s movement patterns and habits.
As a former duathlete, for example, Colleen knows where her triathletes will most likely be weak, and what muscles they’ve generally overused. This helps her tailor her programming and adjust her cueing so it relates to their experience.
“I tell them things like, ‘When you’re on your bike, this is where you want to pull from.’ For running, I teach them about good posture. And when they’re fatigued and struggling, I tell them to think back to their Pilates breathing. I know that was beneficial to me when I was racing,” she says.
Among the many triathletes who train at pillarPERFORMANCE, Colleen says it’s not uncommon to find they have overworked hip flexors and psoas muscles, kyphosis from cycling, and limited connection to their core and posterior chain muscles.
“When the person shows up, you can personalize, modify and adjust the programming based on your postural analysis and movement patterns in their initial sessions,” she says.
“One thing that I love about working with triathletes across the board is exposing their bodies to the transversal and frontal planes, since the majority of their training is all sagittal.”
Tailor the program to their needs
Working all planes of motion became a key component of world-class triathlete Amy Rappaport’s program, designed by pillarPERFORMANCE STOTT PILATES® Certified Instructor and former competitive swimmer Jen Bellenger.
“When I started working with Amy, she was pretty kyphotic; her shoulders were kind of up by her ears, she had that hunched forward body position. It made sense that in her swim, her range of motion was limited and she wasn’t pulling from the optimal spots. We worked on helping her learn how to connect to the appropriate muscles. Opening her shoulders and chest have been a game changer for her,” Jen says.
Jen created a program that involved Matwork, the Reformer, Cadillac and Stability Chair™, among other pieces of Merrithew® equipment, to challenge Amy to harness the power in her posterior chain muscles, especially her glutes, and her core.
“Making that glute connection was huge for her,” Jen says. “Getting her to fire the glutes and not just the quads to gain efficient power versus wasted power, and generally just getting her to access the back of the body has been a big shift.
“As soon as she had that lightbulb moment, and she understood what we were working on and why, she was even more motivated to continue to do it because she knew it would improve her race. It’s so rewarding to work with someone who is that motivated and who can see results in her performance and recovery time.”
Amy, an accomplished athlete who has completed about 125 triathlons, including 20 full Ironman races and over 50 Half Ironman races, found that practicing Pilates once or twice a week at pillarPERFORMANCE has made her feel stronger and in overall better health.
“If you are not injured because your body is in alignment, you can train more consistently and gain fitness,” she explains.
“[I have gained] increased mobility, increased strength, awareness of my core muscles and my glute muscles. I now have back muscles that I never had before. I’m still working on using them correctly in daily life.”
Amy has become a strong advocate of Pilates, bringing other triathletes to train with her.
“These people have often never even heard of Pilates before, but they might be struggling with a certain aspect of their race and they want to improve on that. Once they come in and try it, they fall in love with it too. And then they bounce from Pilates to the gym based on their body’s needs,” Jen says.
Why STOTT PILATES is for athletes
In Colleen’s opinion, what makes Pilates and the spring equipment so effective for training athletes is how it builds strength in the body by challenging it to lengthen against resistance.
“Joseph Pilates was way ahead of his time because he created a modality that allowed that to always be in play. If you think of dancers, they are always in lengthened motion, they’re very rarely static or holding something. And dancers are not only agile and flexible, they’re strong, so I feel the equipment with the springs always offers this aspect,” she says.
“I call Merrithew’s equipment magical. There’s just something incredible about how it works and you can use it every day. Pilates doesn’t require recovery like a weight training session might; it’s a very unique training method.”