By Shannon Willits, Master Trainer at Club Pilates; Functional Pilates for Golf & Racquet Specialist
If you've recently jumped on the Pickleball train, I’m going to tell you some of my secrets that I share with my clients and members in our Club Pilates studios.
I’ve been teaching Pilates since 1999, and standing, movement-based Pilates since 2010. I have trained thousands of golf and racquet athletes, and in 2020, I became curious about Pickleball. I haven’t looked back since.
When I teach a Pilates class, it is no surprise that there are more Pickleball players in class than golf and tennis combined!
According to the 2022 Sports & Fitness Industry report, more than half (52%) of core Pickleball players—those who play eight or more times a year—are 55 or older, and almost a third (32.7%) are 65-plus.
I’m in the 55 and older group, and have been playing for just over one year. I am completely addicted and want to keep myself in Pickleball shape for longevity in my game because it is so much fun!
Getting fit to improve your Pickleball game is important! We all know that strength and flexibility are essential elements to a healthy body.
But what if I told you that there is a more efficient way to get Pickleball fit than by doing traditional strength training and stretching.
The Pilates Reformer
The Pilates Reformer is a wooden frame apparatus with a sliding carriage, springs as resistance, ropes, and pullies. It looks a little medieval, but it is far from that. In fact, Reformer Pilates is the choice of many Pickleball athletes. I love the springs because dynamic control is built in to every movement.
The Pilates Method techniques of alignment, precision, concentration, dynamic control and core stability/strength make it the ideal training environment for Pickleball athletes, whether aspiring or professional.
The workout is low-impact and works well for the aging athlete who wants to get into Pickleball shape safely and effectively.
Three MAJOR Reformer Pilates Benefits
Benefits of Reformer Pilates for Pickleball: #1 – Alignment and Precision go together in the Pilates workout. Learning how the body is ideally aligned at the joints, and the concept of precision in motion, transfers directly over to Pickleball. The Athletic Ready position while playing a Rally or Dinking is first introduced on the Reformer in the Bridging series. Bridging focuses on Neutral alignment of the ankle, pelvis, and the spine, as well as spinal and hip stability/mobility. When executed with precision, the glutes (the big butt muscles), legs, back muscles and abdominals all get stronger and leaner. Because Pilates develops strength and flexibility simultaneously with a focus on the core (abdominals) it’s safe and effective for everyone.
In Pickleball, knowing where your body is in space and how it is precisely aligned is a major benefit to avoiding injuries due to falling.
Benefits of Reformer Pilates for Pickleball: #2 - Flexibility is built into every Pilates exercise. We all know we need to stay limber for Pickleball; being able to lunge with reaching without falling requires balance and flexibility. Here’s the thing: if you aren’t flexible your balance is going to suffer.
Flexibility is a physical resource and an essential element for preventing falls while playing Pickleball. My Pickleball coach says her only three rules are “No Face Plants, No Back Pedaling and Have Fun.” Face plants can be avoided by improving flexibility. Back pedaling can be avoided by training the hips and pelvis in rotation to encourage flexible control in a quick change of direction.
When the Pickleball player has developed flexibility, their confidence goes sky high, and guess what - they’re having fun!
Flexibility training with the Pilates Method is movement Balance training.
This type of movement-based flexibility training works well for Pickleball players, because when the brain and body have practiced movements that are specific to the sport, players ultimately perform better. Training the brain and body together allows players to perform at the highest level without injury.
Side Splits on the Pilates Reformer with rotational reaches simulates the movements at the net. The springs bring in the control aspect as well as alignment and precision delivering flexibility gains, strength and stability as well as core and back strength.
Benefits of Reformer Pilates for Pickleball: #3 – Power and control while serving and returning comes from Core strength, and is critical for maintaining pelvis and spinal alignment in the dropshot.
In other words, if a player wants to play for a long time, they need core strength. I’m not talking about crunches, which only strengthen the superficial muscles.
The Pilates Method focuses on breathing techniques that strengthen the deepest abdominal muscles, aka the Core.
The Core is the diaphragm, pelvic floor, psoas, transverse abdominus, internal/external obliques and rectus abdominus. Crunches only train the rectus abdominus, and when overdone, crunches can actually cause low back pain. Every single Pilates exercise turns on the deep core muscles, and within a few classes most people experience better tone in their abdominals, less low back and neck pain, and better Pickleball performance.
Reformer Pilates for the Pickleball Win!
Because the Pilates Reformer uses springs as resistance, it simulates the way our muscles work while playing Pickleball by shortening and lengthening.
When we train our muscles for strength, they contract or shorten. When we stretch our muscles, they lengthen. The Reformer allows for this strengthening and lengthening all while focusing the mind on the breath and core. Reformer Pilates is for men and women of all ages and all backgrounds. Just like Pickleball, Pilates is for Everybody!
Bonus Reformer Pilates Benefit for Pickleball – The Mind-Body Connection! By strength training your mind-body connection, also known as proprioception (an awareness of yourself in space), through a Reformer Pilates for Pickleball training program, the Pickleball player is having fun because they’ve developed strength, flexibility and core strength. The fear of falling is gone!
About the author:
Shannon Willits is a Functional Pilates for Golf & Racquet Specialist and Master Pilates Educator for Club Pilates. Shannon is the owner for four Club Pilates studios in Ft. Myers, Florida, where she conducts Pilates for Pickleball classes and workshops. For more information visit: www.shannonwillits.com or find a Free Functional Standing Warmup video on www.pilates-pickleball.com.