Athletes are revered for their precision, strength and quick reaction times. But are they truly healthy? Dementia is prevalent in football players, overuse injuries are common in gymnasts, and it seems second nature for soccer players to go through knee, Achilles tendon or ankle problems.
While their ability is truly amazing, I would turn down the opportunity to be an athlete every chance I could get. I would much rather be a Pilates instructor. Here are just a few reasons why:
1. Lung Efficiency as we age:
When it comes to lungs, there’s no doubt that athletes have an amazing cardiovascular capacity. The maximum amount of oxygen an athlete can use to sustain their cardiovascular needs (otherwise known as Vo2 max) far exceeds that of an average individual. The problem is, with age lungs become less efficient and vo2max declines.
As our lung capacity decreases, energy levels drop, our ability to move with ease decreases. We become more sedentary, and our health declines. For a former athlete there is no exception. Their lung capacity decreases too and the risk of sedentary lifestyle may just be the end for the former athlete.
So what do Pilates instructors do to maintain lung capacity that the athlete fails to do? They use the strength of their rib muscles, their internal abs and their diaphragm to maintain the efficiency of their lungs far after their V02max declines.
Pilates uses a form of breath called Lateral Breathing. As you inhale you expand your ribs to the side. This uses tiny muscles in between the ribs known as intercostal muscles. It also uses the diaphragm. As you exhale you purse your lips and slowly blow the air out. Hold your abs tight. To some, this feels like a girdle that wraps tighter around your trunk. By doing this you’re working your internal abs.
Lateral breathing doesn’t change the vo2max but it does create a more efficient lung that can take in more oxygen and breathe it out. As a result, as we age, our energy levels and muscular endurance stay high, reducing the chances that we will become weak and immobile. One point extra for Pilates.
2. Segmental movements:
the power an athlete possesses is unlike any other. The whole body moves with speed, agility and force. Yet for most sports an athlete is taught to move as one single body movement instead of each body part moving as a separate segment.
With age, moving as one single unit causes stiffness, rigidity and pain. It increases our chances for experiencing a fall as our movement become tight. This leads to a reduced quality of life.
Pilates focuses on segmental movement patterns, a rehabilitative technique that asks you to coordinate each body move separately from the other as well as focusing on moving each spinal segment separately and freely. This strengthens small muscles in charge of fine movement patterns, muscles that are often made weak when bigger muscle groups take over (much like in the case of an athlete). In the case of spinal segmental movements, the deep core muscles that are the major supporters of the spine are activated. These are the muscles that usually become weak and cause back pain. Segmental movements allow Pilates instructors to remain mobile by giving them the ability to articulate each joint freely while stabilizing the fine motor muscles that are used during each movement. Over time the result is fluid control over the body, reduced muscle and joint pain and a mobile, more active, quality of life.
3. Mind to muscle connection:
Athletes are exceptional at reacting in an instance to new situations that occur during their sport. The main goal is not to focus on the body and mind connection as much as it is to get either themselves or an object from point A to point B. These motions usually become second nature to the athlete. This is great for a sport but it’s not so great for real life. We tend to lose connection with our body as the years progress and move without thought in only the easiest and not necessarily the healthiest ways possible. As a result we tend to compensate, use bigger muscles for finer motor movements and create painful overuse muscle issues as well as muscular imbalances. We risk creating unwanted chronic body pain.
Pilates uses the mind to muscle connection otherwise known as the ability to think about performing a movement and successfully perform it as planned. Mind to body connection helps to control posture, alignment and position of our body through a conscious connection of mind to muscle. It also helps proprioception, the understanding of where our different body parts are in relation to each other and to the space around us. It allows us to adjust and contract our muscles rapidly to keep balance and move objects with ease. This makes everyday life enjoyable.
The end result determines how we age. While athletes are truly magnificent in their prime, once their careers are over they risk having a poorer quality of life. And, let’s face it, the lifestyle of an athlete is not sustainable long term due to the aggressive nature or rigorous training an athlete goes through. I’d much rather be a Pilates instructor, someone who can sustain fluid movements over the long term, adding to my quality of life.