Pilates as Cross-training


What do Lebron James, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Tiger Woods have in common? They use Pilates as cross-training. After all, Pilates has long since ceased to be a women’s-only domain and is ideal for people of all genders: as a challenging, low-impact training method that strikes a balance between strength, mobility, and flexibility. 


What exactly is Pilates?

Pilates is a systematic whole-body workout invented by Joseph Hubertus Pilates (1883-1967). It involves balancing the body through symmetry, refining muscle patterns, and strengthening deep muscles. Pilates consists of more than 600 exercises on the mat and equipment such as the Reformer, Cadillac, or Wunder Chair. 


Pilates enjoys great popularity, especially in the USA, but the training form is not yet as widespread in Germany. Sometimes there are even reservations about it. After all, the advantages and benefits of Pilates are mainly known to women. And we men? Unfortunately, we men often reject typical female training methods without really knowing them. At first, I also had prejudices against Pilates – but my first class convinced me. 

Initially, I assumed Pilates was a kind of gentle gymnastics with pumping arm movements. But that’s not the case at all because, after the first class, I had physically reached my limits. The teacher challenged me in ways that I had never been challenged before. My body felt trained and strengthened but somehow also light. The fact that I could not yet perform many of the exercises in the Pilates repertoire motivated me to continue, and I began to practice Pilates daily. The physical challenge, so to speak, was accepted by my mind and body. I felt the Pilates method begin to work, but more on that later.


What is Cross-training?

When you do at least two forms as part of your regular exercise routine, it’s called cross-training. Cross-training provides a welcome change of pace to prevent boredom in the gym or at home.


Who doesn’t know the motivating feeling of seeing and feeling progress quite quickly after starting a new sport? However, it is not uncommon for the body to stop reacting so intensively to the training stimuli after a certain time, and the paralyzing feeling of stagnation becomes stronger and stronger. Trying out a new sport in parallel is recommended for more variety and training success. This is because combining at least two sports keeps motivation and fun high in the long run. With cross-training, it ideally makes sense to combine two sports that complement each other. Pilates is ideally suited for this because every good Pilates workout improves core strength, stability, flexibility, and balance. These benefits are fundamentally important for every athlete, whether a professional or a hobby. 

Let’s take a closer look at the individual components of Pilates training, what they are and what they bring:


Pilates as Cross-training: Core Strength and Stability


The exercises on the Pilates mat and the equipment strengthen not only the outer muscles of the core but also the deep, inner stabilizing muscles of the pelvis, abdomen, and back: the core muscles.


Strong core muscles are essential for reducing back and hip pain and pelvic floor dysfunction, which affects amateur and professional athletes alike.

A strong torso from which to perform explosive movements is very important to the efficient performance of any sport. In Pilates, this is sometimes called the “powerhouse.” The extent to which the muscular components of jumping, for example, improve in conjunction with a Pilates program has been studied in volleyball players. The agility, the so-called “vertical jump,” and the “attack jump” of the players improved significantly. 


Karthikeyan T also highlights in his study “Pilates and Vertical Jump Performance of Basketball Players” among basketball players that the Pilates exercise group shows significant improvements in trunk strength in vertical jump performance than conventional trunk strengthening exercises. 


And an 8-week pilot study of youth baseball players from 2020 found significant positive increases in trunk strength, shoulder strength, and overall body composition. 


Overall, core muscles support the back and neck. It promotes healthy posture and frees up joints, so limbs remain naturally mobile. This type of strength and flexibility training translates well to all other fitness activities to avoid or prevent poor posture.



Pilates as Cross-training: Flexibility


Adequate levels of muscular strength and flexibility are critical to good musculoskeletal performance. With increased muscular flexibility, the athlete can perform exercises with a greater range of motion, greater strength, faster, more fluidly, and overall more efficiency.

It is also important to note the relationship between muscle shortening and muscle-tendon tears. Pilates has been shown to increase flexibility in soccer players and is an interesting alternative for injury prevention and rehabilitation caused by muscle shortening. The goal should be to train the entire range of motion with Pilates exercises. 

Pilates as Cross-training: Balance

In fast competitive sports, good balance is essential.

Dynamic balance means having more control over your center of gravity in an ever-changing environment. You can react more quickly to obstacles when you suddenly need to change pace or direction (tennis, basketball, soccer, or American soccer). Another notable benefit of good balance is reduced risk of injury, as better balance helps you avoid falls. In Pilates, balance is challenged with a variety of standing exercises on the Reformer, Cadillac, and Wunder Chair. 


The Pilates method improves core strength, stability, flexibility, balance, coordination, and the mind-body connection.


Pilates as Cross-training: Coordination


Pilates exercises are combined in a new way in each workout, improving the interaction of the muscles in general. The variation challenges the trainees each time anew, and one can set different stimuli and improve coordination. Because in the Pilates repertoire, there are endless combinations of movements of each body part in different planes – sagittal, frontal, and transversal. This challenges coordination and the brain in ever new ways as neuromuscular patterns are refined. People define coordination as the ability to move the body smoothly and efficiently in different movement patterns. Exercises that challenge coordination engage the cerebellum. The cerebellum is related to the ability to think and the speed with which the brain can process information. In fast-paced sports, quick thinking can make the difference between winning and losing. 




Pilates as Cross-training: Mind-Body Connection 


Pilates is a mind-body routine that promotes body awareness by focusing on the body’s sensations, pain, comfort/discomfort, emotions, and environment. Body awareness is the connection to one’s body, also known as kinesthesia. This awareness includes the spatial orientation and position of the body in relation to muscles, joints, and gravity. The proprioceptive system and the vestibular system are involved in this.


Pilates as Cross-training: Regeneration


The Pilates method is so adaptable that it can be used as regeneration between active training sessions, and the trainer/athlete can modify the exercises even in case of injury. 

Pilates belongs to the category of moderate physical activity because some exercises are performed in a lying or sitting position. This means that you can use Pilates as a regeneration workout instead of making your tired body even more tired by exercising. You can train without exhausting yourself at the same time. Challenging the big muscles to improve the body’s performance is not always necessary. Targeting the small and deep muscles creates efficient muscle recruitment and brings performance. Who wouldn’t want to sit on a road bike with improved posture or take the strain off the legs while running because the core muscles are sufficiently active and strengthened?


My personal relation to the Pilates method and what excites me so much about it:


What excites me about the Pilates Method is that it is so universally adaptable and applicable that high-performance athletes can benefit from it just as much as amateur athletes. There are thousands of variations or modifications to the exercises, so the challenge and motivation remain high.


When I took my first Pilates class in 2012, I couldn’t believe how many exercises I couldn’t do. At the time, I was convinced that my daily dance training was sufficient to meet my job’s demands as a professional ballet dancer. At that time, I did not know the concept of cross-training. My wife Hannah made me aware of the benefits of cross-training different sports. Since I had to rely on my own body in my job, it was time to invest in it, and I started attending Pilates classes every day. I quickly made significant progress, especially in core stability, which had a tremendous and positive influence on my balance. As a professional dancer, especially in choreography, you must repeat many one-sided movements thousands of times until perfection, so it is crucial to have a sport to balance the muscular asymmetry. You can, of course, also transfer this concept of balancing asymmetry to other sports, not just ballet!

It was impressive to feel how Pilates made my body more pain-free, resistant, and efficient. After my professional dance career, I still do Pilates daily, as it is perfect for my body. It has become a kind of hobby that I wouldn’t want to miss in my daily training routine.


Pilates as Cross-training: Benefits


  • increases athletic performance
  • improves cognitive abilities
  • improves balance
  • increases flexibility and mobility
  • prevents injuries
  • relieves back pain
  • improves posture
  • strengthens the trunk muscles



Pilates is suitable as a training method for cross-training because it gives stability to the core muscles, in particular in a way that, in my opinion, cannot be found in any other sport. This stability makes the body and the movements more efficient. Pilates trains the mind-body connection, core strength, and stability, improves coordination, balance, and flexibility, and can be used as regeneration. Due to the constant variety and the option to modify exercises, the combinations of the Pilates method are very diverse and never boring. The Pilates method constantly challenges the body anew, which also helps training motivation.

These arguments all speak for Pilates being an excellent cross-training method. I recommend everyone to try it at least once.

TEXT: Christian Teutscher, Pilates trainer and former professional dancer. Translation: Hannah Teutscher


 Pamela Toy (2021) 25 Professional Male Athletes Who Do Pilates in 2021 https://pilatesbypamela.com/blog/pro-athletes-pilates/ (abgerufen am 16.09.2021)
 International Journal of Physiotherapy and Research, Int J Physiother Res 2014, Vol 2(6):793-98. Online abgerufen am 1.09.2021 unter https://www.ijmhr.org/ijpr.2.6/IJPR.2014.695.pdf Seite 793-798
 Karthikeyan T: Pilates and vertical jump performance of basketbal Scholars Press https://my.scholars-press.com/catalog/details//store/gb/book/978-613-8-94361-7/pilates-and-vertical-jump-performance-of-basketball-players abgerufen am 27.10.2021
 Effects of 8-week Pilates training program on hamstring/quadriceps ratio and trunk strength in adolescent baseball players: a pilot case study. Online abgerufen am 27.09.2021 unter https://europepmc.org/article/pmc/pmc7056474
 Effects of a training program using the Pilates method in flexibility of sub-20 indoor soccer athletes 2007 (englische Version), online abgerufen am 27.9.2021 unter  https://www.scielo.br/j/rbme/a/8wZrYLxNKPwV74zqdzb5sHK/?format=pdf&lang=en
 Pontificia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul Effects of Pilates Standing Exercises on Walking Mobility and Postural Balance 2018 https://clinicaltrials.gov/ (online) https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT03526757 (abgerufen am 19.08.2021)


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