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Finding Core Strength for Sport: Pilates for a Powerlifter

It’s been nearly 12 years since I’ve dealt with a lower back injury that sparked my love for using Pilates, both mat and Reformer, for physical therapy. That’s right, a teenage athlete with a debilitating back injury. It turned out that the mentality of an “invincible” teenage athlete, combined with a six-pack and 13% body fat, did not mean that my core was strong. I found that out the hard way, on more than one occasion: multiple back injuries, a shoulder dislocation, reconstruction surgeries on both feet, and a knee surgery - all of this happened over the course of just five years.

Those experiences are what blossomed my interest into a career in fitness.

Starting in college, I worked to acquire an undergraduate degree in kinesiology, earned multiple personal training certifications, and now have a strong passion for and focus in injury prevention/rehabilitative exercise. This brings me to today - all of this ultimately led to my interest in a position as GM at a Club Pilates in Maryland. I now know how to use Pilates for recovery and injury prevention with mobility and core strength-- but that’s just the tip of the iceberg in my mind.

I’m also a powerlifter.

I have always lifted for strength, but I decided to channel my training toward competition in 2020. A large part of my competition prep included Pilates to maintain my mobility and really focus on core strength to properly brace during my lifts. Compound movements rely heavily on a strong, healthy, and properly engaged core.

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Then... the shutdown came this past March.

I was supposed to compete in May. A normal powerlifter/weightlifter would have felt at a loss with gyms being closed, but I knew I had Pilates. To prep, I did Mat Pilates at least 4 days per week, if not every day.


The results spoke for themselves.

By the time gyms reopened in the summer, my mobility had increased significantly and my core was stronger than ever. With my competition being postponed to December 2020, I was able to get back to the gym to work my way back into the weights, but equally importantly, I stuck with my existing Pilates routine.

Fast forward 8 months. At this point, I had been incorporating Pilates 3-4 times per week since March 15th with a combination of 10-15 minutes of mat work and Reformer classes.

By November, maximum output on squats increased about 50lbs and my deadlift increased by nearly 60lbs

-- even after not touching a barbell for 3-4 months. 

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My first competition was in mid-December, where I won my weight class, even on a bad lifting day. Now, I can say with confidence that my body doesn’t ache unless I don’t exercise, my six-pack is almost back, I can squat over 300lbs and deadlift almost 400lbs easily. When anyone asks me how I got so strong, I tell them it’s because of Pilates, not the plates.


 Written by Samantha Cabrera-Gardner, General Manager at Club Pilates Olney (MD)


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