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The Art of Training Professional Athletes in Pilat...

The Art of Training Professional Athletes in Pilates

Is the question, how to teach professional athletes Pilates or how to train your clients Pilates?

Teachers often ask me, “How did you begin training professional athletes?” It wasn’t something I was seeking out when I began my career as a Pilates instructor. I’ve been able to maintain success with my clientele because of my style of teaching and ability to resonate and connect with them as individuals. But at the beginning, I was lucky enough to “fall” into it – I would go to the gym with my husband, where his trainer, Al Reeser, worked with pro athletes. He is truly great at what he does, but it wasn’t my style of movement – so I would modify the workouts to incorporate Pilates into his training sessions. Al quickly noticed what I was doing plus the benefits of my additions and began incorporating Pilates movements into his sessions.

Not long thereafter, one of Al’s clients, Eric Kendricks, an NFL pro-bowler at linebacker, texted me asking to schedule a Pilates session. And while I may not keep up with sports, I definitely understand movement. At the time, I was already teaching a wide variety of clients – men, women, old, young, fully healthy, those with injuries, and others who were more athletic – so I had to become comfortable teaching all kinds of bodies and adapting to their needs. I’ve noticed that many new instructors are intimidated by choosing which exercises work best for their clients as injuries, body types, and age all play a factor. From my perspective, this is the most exciting part of my job. I love that every hour is a different challenge and that there is an opportunity to set and exceed goals, both for myself and my client.

When Eric and I first began training together in the summer of 2018, I was a newer instructor still trying to find my voice. As a linebacker, Eric takes a physical beating on the field with a ton of heavy impact on his body. At first, I felt comfortable teaching the basics of Pilates like I would with any other client. We would work on simple movement in an effort to help him recover after the long season.

Because of his athletic mindset and training, Eric, like most athletes, was able to pick up the movement and instruction quickly and progressed exponentially. That off-season, we worked together 4-5 days per week, and it became apparent that he had a knack for Pilates. There was no need to explain exercises or movements over and over – at most, it would take two run-throughs, and then Eric would get it right on the third attempt. As a result, we were able to get a lot more done within each session than I was used to. We then transitioned from restorative work to strengthening for the next season.

Soon, Eric began to spread the word on the benefits of Pilates and the positive impact it had on his body, so much so that I took on 6 or so new athletes the next off-season. I soon realized my pro-athlete clientele also had the potential to learn and progress very quickly. This caused me to lose my footing a bit, as I felt I wasn’t challenging my athletes enough in each session. I made the mistake of pivoting away from traditional Pilates work that I was comfortable teaching and started to incorporate non-Pilates exercises that I didn’t enjoy doing even in my own practice. I felt lost in my teaching and became discouraged that the stress of teaching athletes had crept up on me.

I realized that I had to regroup and adapt. I looked back at my days doing Pilates in the gym with my husband and remembered what felt good on my body within a gym setting. I began to focus heavily on the anatomy of the body and its correlation to athletic movements, injuries, recovery, and strengthening. I went back to the basics of Pilates and focused on teaching my athletes movements they couldn’t find in the weight room and tried to mimic on-field motions through the application of controlled movement and strength. As a result, I was able to get back to teaching my clients as individuals, and not solely as a group of professional athletes.

My years of experience working with athletes from both the NFL and NBA have forced me to teach efficiently with precision towards a common shared goal of movement. I must strive to be creative teaching within the space of Pilates – the day I’m not challenging myself in my teaching is the day I know that I’m not challenging my clients.

 

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Nicky Lal is the founder and creator of Fuerza Pilates in Los Angeles, California. Born and raised in Miami, Nicky discovered Pilates while taking classes as her daily form of exercise during her time working as a Graphic Designer in the fast-fashion Industry. Nicky quickly learned of her love and passion for Pilates, and it did not take long for her to make a career change. Soon thereafter, Nicky began her training to become a Balanced Body certified Pilates Instructor and gained experience working in multiple Pilates studios in the LA area. Nicky's focus is to teach the core principles of Pilates while maintaining the philosophy that it should be accessible to everyBody.

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