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Pilates and Swimming

I am no expert at Pilates (I've been doing it five weeks I think), but thought I should share my experiences so far with everyone, especially given the recent questions about strength training.

I asked Emmett about weight training in my never ending quest to improve my butterfly stroke.  Emmett suggested that I look into Pilates as an alternative to weight training.  I was extremely skeptical.  I couldn't see how some "girly yoga exercise" could possibly be any use, especially since the early clients of Joseph Pilates were dancers!  However, Emmett has yet to steer me wrong, so I decided to suspend disbelief and give it a shot.

There are multiple places where you can take Pilates classes.  The snob factor of who trained who, and who has direct hand me down knowledge of Joseph Pilates training methods is incredible.  The amount of weekend certified, glorified aerobics instructors jumping on the Pilates band wagon was also very off-putting.  What I didn't hear Emmett say when he suggested Pilates (he said it, I just wasn't listening) was that our own Michelle Haver is a certified Pilates instructor with her own business called Performance Pilates (713-301-5007) http://www.performancepilates.net.  Michelle offers an hour session for free to enable people interested to try it out.  The interesting thing about Michelle is that she takes the concepts that Emmett teaches and applies them to Pilates.  Michelle is specializing in applying Pilates to swimming strength and technique.  Swimmers that Michelle has worked with have knocked seconds off personal best times, and she is working with her local swim team.  One of her clients is attending the University of Arkansas on a swimming scholarship.

When I say that Michelle is applying Pilates to swimming strength and technique, this is not some hazy "yea, I can see the correlation if I look kinda left, and squint real tight" kind off correlation.  This is a direct, immediately useful and applicable correlation.  To fully appreciate this correlation you need to bear in mind Emmett's "schlumpy" under inflated rubber raft vs. the kayak metaphor.  Well, I think we all understand the principle behind this, but pulling it off is something completely different.  I was straining and wincing on a float working with partners recently trying to get my head alignment correct and my back arch eliminated and one of my lane partners said something like "well it's tough or impossible to do on a float, it obviously can't be done for a whole workout".  I have to admit that I agreed with her.  The amount of effort required to force my body into the shape of a kayak was enormous, and when combined with swimming strokes it was not sustainable.  I was wrong.

Michelle has taken Pilates and applied it to Emmett's concepts.  I can't tell you how many times Michelle has told me to "lift and grow tall" or to "get my head in alignment", or "put you shoulders back" or "keep your shoulder in its' socket" or "keep your pelvis in a neutral position" all of which is directly applicable in the pool.  Then of course she tells me I'm weak and need to work harder J.

So what is Pilates?  My very limited and brief description is as follows - A (mostly) non aerobic workout that concentrates on strengthening your core muscles at the same time as focusing on body alignment, flexibility and posture.

Pilates has been responsible for me losing about two inches around my waist, and I now feel that I can maintain body alignment throughout a workout.  I also believe that I know what alignment should feel like, even face down plowing through the water.  Since I have started with Michelle I have improved my best time for a 50 free by at least five seconds.

Short axis pulse.. Hmmm well I have a big flat spot in my lower back that doesn't like to bend, so my short axes pulse looks more that a short axis hinge.  In addition, I discovered that doing SAP continuously required a whole bunch of abdominal muscles that I clearly didn't have.  I was imagining hours of sit-ups in order to swim butterfly correctly, and that wasn't going to happen!  Michelle has been working on articulation of my spine (getting my back to bend) and with Emmett's patient guidance I feel that I can now get a semblance of a pulse moving.  As I said, Pilates works your core muscles in ways I hadn't dreamt of, and now I feel confident that I will have the core strength for the postal swim.

Well, sorry this is so long, but I thought that it might be interesting to share my observations.  It's not what I expected at all, and the results are impressive in my opinion. v

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Coach's Notes: Pilates and swimming are a natural fit. We've been working with core tension and aquatic posture concepts for quite a while now (see "Claim Your Lollipop" along with "Critical Mass in the Twilight Zone"). Those that are actively pursuing it are finding multiple swimming benefits. But the people that are supplementing their in-the-water training with Pilates are the ones really cashing in. Pilates gives you specific skills, feedback points and training on land that you don't really have a way to get in the pool. But, once acquired these skills are directly and immediately applicable to what you are trying to do in the water. Six-time Olympic coach and Head Coach of Stanford Women's Swim Team, Richard Quick, believes so strongly in the benefit of Pilates for swimming that he made it a standard part of their program. I strongly encourage anyone looking to boost both their understanding of posture (aquatic and otherwise) and their ability to achieve the desired posture, to give Pilates a try. Ideally you'll want to find a Pilates instructor with a sports-minded approach to the discipline. Those of you in the Houston/Sugarland area have a great resource in Michelle as she's not only sports-minded, her specific area of interest and expertise is in working with swimmers. She can be contacted through her web site http://www.performancepilates.net. - Coach Emmett Hines

About Andrew Bruce:  I was born in the UK in 1962.  I've been swimming for about two years on and off.  My background is rugby & cricket with a fear and loathing of swimming.  I came to swim with Emmett Hines because I wanted to compete in a triathlon, but couldn't swim 25 yards without dying from exhaustion even though I could run and bike for miles.  Emmett got me so interested in the intricacies of swimming that now I just swim, Oh, and I'm adding some Pilates in now too!  My current goal is to swim the US Postal one hour swim all butterfly in January 2006.  I'm doing it because Emmett said it could be done, and I didn't believe him (I know this is backwards).  As of January 2005 I could not swim one stroke of fly.

About Michelle Haver: Michelle is a certified Pilates instructor.  Her certification is through Peak Pilates System and Pilates LifeStyles.  She also has a special causes certification with Peak Pilates allowing her to work clients with special rehabilitation issues. Outside of professional Pilates training she has been a competitive swimmer for over thirty years, has been a triathlete for over three years and is a certified Spin instructor.  She currently swims with the H2Ouston Swims Masters swim team and teaches triathlon training clinics at Finishline Sports in Sugarland, TX.  Michelle offers sports-specific conditioning for all athletes, especially in the field of swimming.

 


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