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Athletes: Performance Through The Roof


Real men doing Pilates.


Did you know that athletes do Pilates? Or have you always thought that Pilates is just for "girls"?

Actually, Joseph Pilates was a professional boxer who extensively trained competitive athletes in the fields of boxing, wrestling, gymnastics, circus arts, dance, as well as actors, police officers and people of all walks of life. The Williams Sisters, Tiger Woods, John England, the New Jersey Nets, Orlando Magic, the Green Bay Packers, the Detroit Lions, the Milwaukee Brewers, and closer to home, the UC Berkeley Golden Bears, all use Pilates as an integral part of their training.

Why is Pilates such a great form of strength training for athletes? Pilates is a method designed to strengthen the core while increasing whole body strength, flexibility, and balance while emphasizing healthy body mechanics. Many commonly used training regimens utilize high repetitions with

Joseph Pilates at age 57.
Athleticism that many
20 years olds would envy.

heavy weights, followed by stretching (hopefully) to prevent the tightening of muscles. In contrast, Pilates emphasizes short reps focused on perfect form and the "eccentric" contraction of the muscle. (An eccentric contraction occurs when the work of the muscle happens while it is lengthening, versus shortening.) The result? A workout with the perfect balance of strength and flexibility, a newly found awareness of one's body in space, topped off with the training of solid, healthy body mechanics. And healthy, balanced body mechanics create a smart and efficient quality of movement that allows you to throw the ball farther, run faster, and jump higher.

Athletics (and life) requires the dynamic, multi-dimensional movement of our bodies. In sports, movements are not simple and two-dimensional. Tackling and hitting require rotation and torquing in any given direction with force. That means that two-dimensional bicep or hamstring curls and crunches don't translate into the dynamic, multi-dimensional movements needed for the power and agility of high performance sports. Athletes need to strengthen their muscles in multiple planes and alignments in order to throw a ball effectively, swing a bat, dismount off of an apparatus, sprint towards home, or defy injury of a hard hit.


Stronger, More Flexible &
Faster With Pilates
Strength and flexibility also determine your speed. You may have a very fast gait, but if your muscles are tightly bound, your stride will be shorter than its potential. And tight muscles often lead to injury which can haunt an athlete for their entire career. Sadly, such injuries can force an athlete into early retirement from the game that they love so much. Pilates can help prevent injuries and can also help strengthen an athlete after they have "recovered" to regain their pre-injury strength, flexibility, speed and more.


In addition, using Pilates equipment is a phenomenal resource for plyometrics. Athletes can jump in a horizontal position; decreasing the effects of gravity, while allowing their trainer to help them re-pattern old, bad habits which may slow them down and decrease


Pilates takes an athlete's already dynamic body and mind and transforms it from the inside out. What happens when you increase deep core strength, flexibility, balance, and new movement possibilities? An athlete's game goes through the roof!


Reaching New Heights: Natasha C.


April Client of the Month, Natasha C.!



Natasha C. has pretty dancer lines, a wonderfully focused and hard working attitude, and plenty of potential for a career in dance. We met two summers ago while I was teaching contemporary dance at Contra Costa Ballet in Walnut Creek.  
The following summer, I again had the privilege of teaching Natasha and was happy to see that she had improved nicely over the year. Through Contra Costa Ballet's detailed technical training and eye for excellence, an inspiring summer away at Ballet Austin,  and Natasha's love of dance, determination and great work ethic,  she was beginning to transform into a solid dancer.

reachingnatashaIn order to be as strong and prepared as possible for her upcoming summer program auditions, Natasha began studying Pilates at Aspire about 6 months ago. Like most  dancers, she was concerned about the height of her leg extensions, her strength, flexibility and balance, and the potential for injury. Having a delicate, ballerina-sized frame that had not yet come into it's power, she had only glimpsed her future potential when we began working together.


Like all human beings, dancers develop unhealthy compensation patterns in order to succeed with movement. This over use of certain muscles and under use of others, hinders athletic performance and often causes pain. As with all Aspire clients, we began with our "inside out" path of strengthening and stabilizing Natasha's core. As her core strength increased, Natasha quickly discovered that movements initiated from this deep, center of the body were suddenly stronger, easier, more graceful, and didn't hurt.


Our next task was to focus more specifically on the alignment and stability of Natasha's foot, ankle, knee, hip and spine. Natasha has beautiful "banana" or "croissant" feet, as they are referred to in the dance world. "Banana/ croissant foot" is admired for the high graceful arch which gives a dancer's lines a lovely, polished look. However "croissant foot" is often accompanied by weakness in the ankles and feet.  And weakness in any joint usually translates into wobbles of instability, loss of power in movement, and possible pain in the future. 


"Soon after starting to work at Aspire," says Natasha, "I found that I began to use muscles that I didn't even know that I had. My big toe, which had always refused to point with the rest of my foot, now curls over with the rest of my toes.  Right away, my ankles started getting stronger and more stable." 


Natasha knew that she wanted her leg extensions to be high and turned out, but couldn't quite get her
leg up without pain in the front of her hip.
"When I figured out how to connect my core to the rest of my body," says Natasha, "my whole body became more flexible. My extension got higher without the "ginching" of my hip flexor. My turnout improved and I could suddenly balance for FOREVER." "Ginching" is dancer speak for "ouch."
Taking Pilates right before her dance classes and rehearsals meant that Natasha was already warmed up without being fatigued, and able to access the correct muscles from the very first note played in class. She was soon thrilled to discover that "my ankles and body no longer wobble on promenades and I can jump much higher with less effort." 

Each day Natasha continues to get stronger, more flexible, better balanced, and smarter in her body and approach to movement. Using Pilates technique, she has excelled beautifully and has "leap frogged" forward in her dance progress during her past 6 months of training.

After being accepted to several world class summer dance programs, Natasha is excited to be off to the prestigious Miami City Ballet in Florida. She will get to enjoy the sun and sand, while training with fellow ballerinas from across the country. Natasha has begun to open her beautiful, newly found wings as a young butterfly and will soon take to the skies. 

Best of luck, Natasha! We can't wait to see your name in lights!



Lisa T. -February 2010 Client of the Month


When Lisa walked into the studio, she was in horrible pain and without much hope that she could feel better. She was on a medical leave of absence from work and spent much of her time icing her back. Before being injured, she was a vibrant elementary school teacher and avid world traveler.

 "A year and a half ago, I slipped at work and slipped a disc at the same time. I underwent four months of physical therapy, chiropractic appointments and two epidurals. Doctors were telling me that the pain was 'normal' and I'd probably be in pain for the rest of my life. My daily activities had become excruciating. I was so badly injured that walking was painful. After trying yoga, I started Pilates."


When Lisa started working at Aspire, we started out slowly. "The first couple of weeks in private sessions, we worked on breathing exercises to get my core muscles to kick in. It doesn't sound like much, but I was in pain and too weak for anything else." These basic exercises gave Lisa a solid sense of body awareness, began strengthening her deep core muscles, and helped to stabilize her spine. In order to minimize her pain, we also suggested changes in how Lisa approached her daily activities, such as how to sit while grading papers and positions in which to sleep, which began to make an impact on how she felt.


Prior to beginning Pilates at Aspire, Lisa had little success relieving her pain or strengthening her body. But with this new and careful "inside out" Pilates approach, she gained strength, stability, improved body mechanics and endurance. She worked very hard throughout the summer, integrating the new techniques into her life. Then just before school started, a dramatic announcement came from her doctor: Lisa was cleared to return to work! "When I went back to work, I was SO HAPPY, but so nervous that I was going to hurt myself again or be back in pain. Thankfully, that hasn't happened."


Lisa continues to get stronger and stronger. After 18 months of not being able to workout or exercise, she still surprises herself that she is now able to spend an hour on the Elliptical. "Now I really understand what it means to use my core and am always surprised that now my stomach and legs are doing most of the work for me instead of my back."


"At my last appointment, the doctor said that my injury was considered 'stationary' and that I was working at 90%. Tonya has made it her personal challenge to help get me back to 100%." Will Lisa ever be back to 100%? Only time will tell. But through her hard work and positive attitude, Lisa has already gone far beyond what she or her doctors had dared to imagine. With less than eight months under her Pilates belt, she gets stronger and stronger, and the quality of her life has changed for the better. Our guess? That we will soon see Lisa, once again, leading youth groups across the world.


Best of luck, Lisa! You are a true inspiration!



This is the Year! (How to keep your New Year's Fitness Resolutions

"This is the year! I'm going to do it! I'm going to follow through on my New Year's resolution to get in thisistheshape no matter... how badly it hurts!" Unfortunately, because many of us tend to over extend ourselves during the first week of January, all of the positive energy and enthusiasm created by our aspirations are quickly dampened by sore muscles or even injuries. The injuries stop us in our tracks and the sore muscles transform working out into torture.

When we eventually stop working out - to end the torture - guilt sets in because we've bought into a "no pain, no gain" philosophy that, in the long term, really doesn't serve us well. Moving towards an outlook that embraces "no pain, big gain" as part of our 2010 New Year's Resolutions, is the perfect way to break the old patterns and start fresh. What's the key to "no pain, big gain"? Start slowly and build a foundation of healthy body mechanics. 

Tips to Build Successful Fitness Resolutions

Build a solid foundation of good technique. This enables you to realize fast results while simultaneously preventing injury.

Start slow and steady. This enables your body to become strong, flexible and prepared to tackle your athletic aspirations.

Remember that there is always tomorrow. You don't have to hit that athletic goal before the gym closes tonight.

Find a good teacher or mentor. Working with someone well qualified makes a huge difference in helping you start and stay on the path to long term success.