Pilates is too much for golf

20/03/2012 6:27 am 126 comments

The BIG buzz training at the moment seems to be Pilates. Everywhere I turn another Pilates studio is opening. Three have opened within 6 weeks of each other in the area I live in, all I’m sure offering a cure-all for back pain, weight-loss and toned, lean muscles. Riiiiight!

Recently, at an LPGA tournament, I ran into an associate, a well-respected golf coach, who didn’t look too happy. “I need some advice Rich”, he said. “One of my players has been doing a heap of Pilates, now her swing is all over the place.

What do I say? “Sit down my friend, we need to chat!”

Ah, this is not the first time I have heard of Pilates taking a players swing into tailspin.

I attribute this to the following.

Before I go any further, I HAVE my Pilates teaching certification and taught classes for 3 years. I still use aspects of what I studied, however with much caution.

Continuing on,

Firstly, most Pilates exercises are way to advanced for anyone other than high performance athletes such as gymnasts, trampoliners and high divers. You might not believe it considering the exercises don’t look like much, but when done incorrectly, they just fuel the fire for more problems.

Secondly, many Pilates ‘teachers’ barely have a clue what they are talking about, let alone what is going on in the body when they are instructing.

I know of some Pilates training courses consist of only 2 weekends of practical training as a group followed by an open book test. Minimum requirements (if you’re lucky) to do the course are a Cert IV in personal training and that was probably a 2-6 weeks course where a competent – not competent system of examining is used. What, is that, you ask. That, is the subject of another article where I will explain how your so-called expert trainer became qualified.

Essentially, follow this flow chart

Pilates done too higher level        +      A Trainer without a clue      =      Injuries and less time on the golf course

Thirdly, how many of these ‘alleged’ experts have any idea about swinging a golf club?

Overall, these exercises are plain and simply inappropriate and when delivered by a teacher who struggles with the rudimentary basics of functional anatomy, it becomes downright dangerous.

A 2007 study by Professor Stuart McGill a spine biomechanics specialist and chair of the kinesiology department at the University of Waterloo in Ontario Canada, found, through measuring how different loads and forces affect the way the spine functions, that the transversus abdominus muscle does not play as pivotal a role in protecting the back as was once thought. His research suggests the drawing-in activation of the transversus abdominus taught by Pilates actually reduces stability of the lower back region.

This technique of teaching lower back stability can be found throughout the fitness industry oftenly misinterpreted and taught badly, a concern to lead researcher, Professor Carolyn Richardson of the University of Queensland’s department of physiotherapy.

Also worried is Fiona Troup, a physiotherapist and qualified Pilates instructor at the Sports & Spinal Clinic, Harley Street who agrees that much of what is taught is inappropriate for the general public claiming to have seen many people who have done their backs serious harm through Pilates.

Her advice is, unless the exercises are tailored to the individual and taught correctly according to their back diagnosis, it can cause injury.

In the case of golfers, Pilates not only may increase the chance of injury it can be disruptive to a golfer’s technique.

Many of the Pilates exercises stabilize and work the body in the sagittal plane, that is forward and backwards, neglecting the rotational aspects needed by a golfer. For the golfer, learning to activate and control the lower abdominals is enough, anything else is over-kill and will begin to interfere with that fine balance of swing mechanics and power development.

For a golfer it is better to use deep abdominal activation exercises as a pre-hab and when need re-hab training, once you understand how to activate the lower abdominals it takes minimal effort reconnect with these muscle groups.

If you are thinking of Pilates as a training method, reconsider and seek out a Sports physiotherapist or exercise physiologist who understands the nuances of sports movement and muscle activation. Only use the aspects of deep abdominal activation and training, which are applicable to you and incorporate that into to your regular gym training to reinforce your lifting technique and body awareness.


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