My journey with Pilates began in the spring of 2015 after my 7th season in the NFL. At the time, I had tight hips, tendonitis in my hip flexors and adductors, lordosis, rounded shoulders, and overall poor posture. The stress of kicking hundreds of footballs a week for over a decade had taken its toll. I had hip surgery earlier in my career, so I was feeling worn down.
My wife had been doing Pilates for a couple of years and finally convinced me to try a class. Little did I know, my first session was with a world-class instructor, Erica Ziel. It was challenging, but in all the right ways, and I immediately felt the benefits, I was hooked. I did private and tandem sessions for the rest of the spring and my body was transformed. My core engaged, hips centered, shoulders retracted. I was standing taller, lifting more weight with better quality, and it was easier. I felt amazing.
I traveled back to Seattle for spring workouts with the Seahawks and began training. A few of my teammates mentioned they were impressed with how I was moving, which for a kicker is a huge compliment. I was able to twist, jump, run, and pull up with great ease and technique – I felt like an athlete again. However, a few weeks into the program, I started getting tight again. I had to strain to complete sets of pushups and pull-ups, my low back started hurting, and my hip flexor tendonitis came back from running and kicking. I was feeling lethargic and worn down. What had changed?
Well, for one, the workouts were catered to position players and probably too difficult for me. Still, I also hadn’t done Pilates in over a month. It was at this moment that I realized I needed to figure out how to make Pilates a priority in my training routine.
The first step was to buy a used Balanced Body Studio Reformer. After that, I recorded some workouts via FaceTime with my instructor to complete with cues. I quickly realized that I needed some in-person sessions again, so I began working with another great instructor in Seattle (also named Erica). I also realized at this point; I needed to do warm-ups on the Reformer before practice at work. I eventually brought my Reformer into the Seahawks facility and stashed it in a rarely used room. In doing this, it opened up a whole new realm of possibilities. I learned there was a lot of value in getting on the Reformer even for 20- 30 minutes, not every session had to be an hour. With more experience, I could FaceTime with my instructor for private instruction with great success. Now, we can improve my technique and progress my fitness wherever I am, whether it’s off-season or in-season.
After five years of Pilates and heading into my 13th season, I have a firm grasp of what Pilates has done for my body. I have deep core connections, as well as great posture, body awareness, balance, and coordination. As the foundation of my training, I do it 3-4 days a week throughout the year. It’s a great warm-up before lifting, a great cool down after lifting or, obviously, a great workout on its own. Through Pilates, I can correct imbalances within my body as well as improve my posture. I can activate underused muscle groups while lengthening muscle groups that have been overworking. With my pelvis stable, my hips can stop gripping and relax. I can recover from games and long trips across the country.
At the most basic level, I do Pilates because it holds my body together with secure fascial connections and allows me to handle all the stresses of playing professional football. Then I lift weights to build muscle and strength on top of the connections I have developed on the Reformer & Cadillac. I have confidence that with this tool, I can continue to fine-tune my body and play football for as long as I want to. I also feel that when I finish playing, Pilates will allow me to stay healthy and connected. I hope to be still practicing when I’m in my 80s and be able to fight off the effects of gravity and maintain great posture and health later in life.
Granted, I do other things to help my body get healthy and recover throughout the year. Still, Pilates is the foundation that I build everything else. I think it’s the best tool out there for people to improve how their bodies feel and move. I always encourage my teammates and friends to find a great instructor in their area and commit to private lessons for a few weeks, then find a good group class once they get the hang of it. If they can eventually get their Reformer or get on one at a studio and practice on their own, that’s when even more learning and growth occurs. Teaching your own body how to move correctly is by far the hardest part of a Pilates practice. Once you get over the “am I doing this right” part, you start to build confidence and can then pay attention to how your body is moving in space. This intense focus inwards leads to mastery.
I realize most people won’t commit to this with the intensity and discipline that I have. Still, I do think it’s essential to help introduce the average person to Pilates and set them up for success. How do we improve access to this fantastic tool so more can experience it? Some fundamental barriers to entry that I see are the steep learning curve, the high entry costs of private sessions, and finding a great instructor and studio. Many people also have preconceived notions of Pilates, many of which are incorrect.
I initially thought it was something just dancers did. A lot of other NFL players don’t understand it either nor do many of the strength and conditioning staff or trainers in the NFL. To me, it’s just resistance training with springs through a big range of motion with intense focus.
Two of my teammates in Buffalo do Pilates throughout the year. They have 25 years of NFL experience combined, as well as several Pro Bowls, and Pilates has played a massive role in their successes on the field, as it has with me.