Updated: May 21
Pilates is more than just great exercise, it's a way to maintain and achieve functionality for daily activities and even training for athletes. In this post, we're going to break down primary benefits of utilizing pilates for functional training.
What is Functional Training?
Functional training is training that has a purpose. That purpose can be related to getting better at everyday activities: picking up our children, carrying in groceries, getting in and out of our cars, raking leaves - or preparing to compete in a sport or athletic event. A functional workout is simply one that strengthens you in a way that directly translates to an activity outside of the pilates studio or gym. Functional training is done to make activities easier to perform, without injury, for the duration of one’s life.
Pilates as Functional Training for Daily Activities
Our daily activities are actually quite complex and require many joints and muscles working harmoniously to be done with stability and strength. Consider the functional movements required in daily life. Most of them don’t require dead-lifting, biceps curls, or lifting hundreds of pounds over our heads. It’s not likely you do any of these activities on a regular basis, which leads one to wonder why so many training routines ask us to perform these movements.
In reality, people need to sit at their desks with good posture and have their spines properly supported in a way that makes it easier to breathe. They need to be able to look at their computers without rounding their shoulders forward or straining their necks to get closer to the screen. They need to be able to get off the ground after sitting on the floor with their grandkids.
These activities do not require brute strength, bulging biceps and a shredded 6-pack. What they do require is the ability to hold their spines erect, to have mobile yet stable joints, and to be both strong and flexible.
Pilates is functional training because it teaches exercise as movements, not bits of movement. Every exercise is a full-body exercise. You will never be asked to solely do a bicep curl or solely perform a squat because those are not things humans naturally do in life. However, one may hold a child in one arm while they squat down to pick up a dropped pacifier. The purpose of Pilates is to prepare you for functional moments such as these when the demand on your structural alignment is high.
Pilates as Functional Training for Athletes
Athletes tend to develop movements patterns due to repetitions of movements required to excel in their sport. Consider the field goal kicker for a football team. They need to shift all their weight to their standing leg, elevate the hip of the kicking leg, rotate the trunk, and rotate their foot all to adapt their body for that one moment. And they have to do it over, and over, and over.
Left unchecked, these adaptations can create movement patterns that the athlete performs in daily tasks that lead to dysfunctional movement and pain. Soon this very athlete will find their ribs unable to rotate in the opposite direction, and their ability to stand on their kicking foot will become quite difficult.
In athletes, we’re not just asking ourselves if we’re strong, we’re asking ourselves how we are strong. Pilates is not about building the muscles that weigh you down, it’s about building the muscles that hold you up. Think of yourself as a tree: big strong branches (biceps and quadriceps) can’t be stronger than the trunk (your core).
In Pilates, we focus on your powerhouse: your abdominal muscles, lower back muscles, and buttocks. It begins at the base of your pelvic floor and continues upward to the base of your diaphragm. Pilates exercises are oriented toward functional fitness and strength. That means that Pilates teaches you to move better, in a way that enhances performance and reduces injury in all activities. Pilates is the original functional training.