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Cross-Training: Pilates & Synchronized Swimming

Implementing Pilates into your synchro training regimen can drastically improve your performance in the pool. It strengthens your core, stabilizes your spine, increases your overall flexibility, and can even teach you the best way to focus your energy.

Still not sold on the idea of the mat and reformer? Check out these reasons why Pilates is one of the best ways to cross-train.

Benefits for All Levels

The benefits of Pilates can apply to every synchro swimmer no matter your skill level. The emphasis on building core strength will give you a strong center to work from. The strengthening of smaller, supporting muscles will allow you to move more efficiently. The attention to breathing methods and focus will keep you calm and cool through even the most high pressure situations. Pilates has the potential to make you a more efficient, concentrated, and flexible athlete.

Minimal Risk of Injury

Many athletes cross-train with activities like running and cycling. Unlike those high-impact (sometimes risky) activities, Pilates has almost no chance of injury. And let’s face it, synchro swimmers tend to be less coordinated on land than in water!

If performed correctly, Pilates has little — if any — negative impact. The reclined position prevents any impact on the joints, while the exercises themselves can help prevent future injuries by strengthening the muscles that surround the spine.

Always Accessible

Pilates is easy to practice, wherever you go. It has minimal equipment and low spatial requirements, so even a corner of the pool deck will suffice. If you can lie down, you can do the exercises. All you need is an inexpensive mat to cushion your spine against the floor, and you can begin a quick and effective core workout.

Once you have received instruction in basic Pilates, the exercises will be easy for both your mind and body to remember. As an athlete, it will be comforting to know that you will be able to get in a workout, regardless of the circumstances. Pilates can be a valuable tool in this respect, especially for athletes that are constantly on the go for competitions.

Faces of Synchronized Swimming ...
Kendra Zanotto
Team: 2004 US Olympic Team
Date of Birth: Oct. 30, 1981
Resides: Los Gatos, CA, USA
Club: Santa Clara Aquamaids
Getting to know Kendra Zanotto: Born with scoliosis, it was difficult for Kendra to have a full range of spinal mobility. But that didn't slow her down. In order to improve her vertical alignment and unrolls – both of which require the ability to control your spine – she practiced and saw improvement with Pilates. Today, Kendra cross-trains younger swimmers in Pilates and Yoga.

Breathing Lessons

One aspect of Pilates, largely unknown to those outside of the practice, is its emphasis on proper breathing. The exact style of breathing is called posterior-lateral breathing.

Posterior-lateral breathing is a conscious breathing method in which you expand your lungs and ribs horizontally as you breathe in, opposed to letting your upper chest rise and fall vertically. As you exhale, your abdominals are drawn in closer to your spine.

This is extremely important in the effectiveness of the Pilates exercises. Further, it’s also a very useful tool for synchro swimmers since proper breathing will improve your lung capacity and teach you to concentrate on breath when it’s needed most. Posterior-lateral breathing will also stabilize the spine and help strengthen core muscles.

Never a Bulky Moment

Weight training can build bulky muscles, but Pilates focuses instead on building long muscles – perfect for synchronized swimmers. When practiced correctly, Pilates will help you develop a toned body without any tight tissue. It builds a unique combination of flexibility and strength that leaves the practitioner with a sleek, adaptable physique that is both agile and stable.

Safe for Injury Rehabilitation

After an injury, it can be difficult to jump back to full-time activity without re-damaging recently healed areas. Here’s why:

  1. Pilates can be easily modified to avoid using or stressing any injured body parts.
  2. Pilates strengthens and stabilizes joints. This will simultaneously help weakened areas and prevent future problems.
  3. Pilates emphasizes spinal alignment which will make your whole body more efficient.

Full Body Conditioning

Although there might be a certain area of your body that you want to strengthen, synchronized swimmers need to condition their entire bodies. Pilates can strengthen specific areas, but also has more general benefits.

Since Pilates reaches the body as a whole, there is never any concern for over-strengthening the muscles that do most of the work already. For example, while Pilates will build strength in the all-important quads, it will also work the hamstrings and hip flexors. Pilates can work muscles that often are overlooked.

The Perfect Warm-Up

Finding the perfect warm-up routine isn’t easy. Jogging and jumping jacks only help so much. Simple Pilates starter exercises like 100s and Mermaids are great for warming up, activating the core muscles, and getting the blood flowing. Pilates also, as mentioned before, requires minimal space. If there’s room to lie down before the competition begins, there’s room to warm-up with some Pilates.

Breathe Out, Dive In!

So the next time you’re sitting around wondering how best to cross-train, try dropping in on a local Pilates class. It’s a fun, accessible, and challenging workout that will strengthen every part of your body and your mind.

Pilates could be your new favorite cross-training method. Discover why synchronized swimming athletes rave about it in this guide.
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