Common Ground: On the Mat and Court

As the U.S. Open continues on, Pilates and tennis instructor, Emily Wagner, discovers that what seem like two distinct passions actually have more in common than at surface level.

Breathing, centering, concentration, control, flow, and precision, are all principles of the game of tennis.

Oh, wait, I mean, of Pilates.

Let me try again.

You can learn a lot about yourself and life through playing tennis. Nope, rewind.

You can gain self-awareness and learn life lessons while on your Pilates mat. Yeah, that’s it.

Or can both be true???


My two passions in life, tennis and Pilates, may seem different since one is a personal endeavor while the other is a competition. As a student of both, however, I’ve discovered more similarities than differences between the two.

In Pilates, everything starts with the breath, a key component to an effective tennis stroke. Have you ever heard a player grunt on the court? That’s the breath! Balance and concentration are essential, whether to achieve symmetry of movement or to find stability to increase power through contact with a ball. We are taught to control the apparatus in Pilates, not to allow it to control us. In tennis, we are taught to control the ball with varying distance, spin, angles, heights, pace, and power and then to anticipate our opponent’s move so as not to allow the opponent to control the game. Joseph Pilates designed the Reformer and mat sequences to flow as one continuous exercise. When experiencing that flow, it’s euphoric. An athlete that describes being “in the zone” understands flow and rhythm as the optimal feeling on the court – some may say euphoria. The precision of movement in Pilates ensures “effortless effort,” while precision of shots allows a player to dictate point construction.

I’ve learned about my body’s imbalances on my Wunda Chair and on the court. My strong arms take over, and I neglect using my glutes.

My right side dominates EVERYTHING.

More length is always the answer, from the reach in my legs in the Hundred to the extension of my torso in my serve.

On my Cadillac and on the baseline, I discovered how I feel about my body, how I approach (okay, let’s be honest, avoid) conflict, how I relate to others, how I learn best, and how I am way too hard on myself and want to be perfect NOW. I’ve cried on my mat because my hamstring injury won’t heal, and I’ve cried in my car after a devastating tennis loss. I’ve celebrated learning headstand on the Reformer and adding the backhand slice to my tennis repertoire.


I also teach Pilates and tennis professionally. Movement and problem solving drive my passion for helping others. When a student comes with an injury or weakness, I love finding solutions through movement to help them heal, find strength, gain confidence, and feel better physically and mentally.

Pilates practitioners and tennis players are passionate and will do whatever it takes to continue to practice and play. Many of my Pilates clients are tennis players seeking relief from back pain, frozen shoulders, weak ankles, and foot injuries, and they are dedicated to getting stronger to stay on the court. Ankle injuries plagued my high school and college tennis careers, yet I have avoided those issues as an adult because of Pilates’ focus on foot health and ankle strength and mobility. Body awareness developed in the studio transfers to the court, and movement patterns on the court influence how I teach clients in the studio.

What we learn in the studio and on the court, we take with us throughout daily life.

Okay, I think I got it now…

As tennis champion Andre Agassi wrote, “the basic elements of tennis are those of everyday existence.”

And of Pilates, I say “ditto.”

Emily Wagner earned her first Pilates certification from Balanced Body in 2009 and opened her own studio, EmJ Pilates, in 2015. She completed a mentorship with Kerry DeVivo of Excel Pilates Annapolis and is currently in an intensive training program with Chris Robinson of Pilates and Sports. She received her PTR Level I Tennis Coaching certification in 2021. Instagram: @emjpilates



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