This week the Premier Football League returned to fixtures, albeit behind closed doors to fans. The current Covid-19 Pandemic dramatically impacted competitive leagues with players forced to train in solitude for the past three months. Not only does this effect skills development and team tactics, but it will significantly impact injury rates moving forward. With only a short duration of strict restricted contact training before entering full game play, players will be at a much greater risk of injury due to the physical strength and aerobic de-conditioning, diminished reaction rates and sharpness of skills they acquire from regular game and training challenges.
With the likes of David Beckham and Cristiano Renaldo owing their successes to a regular Pilates practise under normal circumstances, perhaps there is a role for Pilates in the return to competitive sport after the Covid Pandemic.
Here are the top reasons Pilates can enhance football performance and reduce injury risk:
1.Full body workout.
This is the most obvious benefit of Pilates. It exercises the whole body from top to bottom, and both the right and left sides. This ensures any asymmetries are minimised by activating the muscles you underuse and mobilising those that are overactive and tight. Footballers are renowned for being dominant heavy ie stronger with larger muscle mass on the striking leg, or back asymmetries due to always twisting to the same side to strike with the preferred leg. A balanced Pilates programme will rebalance the body and assist with injury prevention.
Football consists of multiple unpredictable sprints, stops, twists, jumps, direction changes, and stretches. Most gym-based strength work involves working in one direction (sagittal plane) and whilst effectiveness in training that particular muscle group, it is not ideal for preparing for the sport’s multi-directional demands. Pilates provides strength training in every direction and a variety of positions to account for this.
The constant tackling, shooting, striking, and passing of football demands a stable leg to balance upon when you stretch the striking leg outwards. This stability is required from the ankle, knee, hip, pelvis, and trunk in order to provide the balance to execute the skill, as well as to allow the transfer of energy through the body correctly. Pilates exercises hugely focus on stability and involves a lot of balance work too, using the core as the powerhouse through which you transfer your energy.
The start-stop nature of football can promote muscle tightening as they rarely experience their full ranges of movement. With such a time out of play recently, the body will experience new ranges of movement and stresses that is hasn’t been subjected to for numerous months. This promotes joint stiffness and collectively lowers power output. Performance effectiveness is thus reduced and the risks of injury are enhanced as the body is not prepared for unexpected over-stretching. Pilates trains both flexibility and mobility to ensure the body can cope with extended demands.
Football training sessions always involve impact and are accompanied by strength sessions in the gym, giving very little room for full rest and recovery. Pilates provides a low impact workout for the body that can be used as an active recovery, allowing the muscles and joints to recover whilst still providing exercise benefits. It also works great for rehabilitation following injury when a normal session is inappropriate.
The fast-pace of training sessions and the competitive game mentality can provide over-stimulation and mental stress. This will be even more evident after the prolonged period out of training and matches, the strong desire to get back to playing and perhaps over-schedule sessions to account for lost time, and the added stress associated with reducing social distancing during this current time. Pilates encourages a clear mind with focus purely on your technique, form and posture. Utilising the Pilates breathing methods too can give mental relief, relaxation and re-set your focus. Footballers will require this more than ever to relax post-game and prepare for the next event.
Collectively all these benefits are provided in every Pilates workout, making it an excellent choice of cross-training for injury prevention and performance enhancement in football, ESPECIALLY after the global Pandemic.