Very excited about my first guest Blogger! Jen Montgomery, good friend and my daughter’s Pilates instructor, beautifully explains the importance of core strength for young athletes and non-athletes alike…Read on!
“Core strength. We’ve all heard this popular fitness term thrown around a lot lately. But what exactly does it mean, why is it so emphasized, and do our young athletes need to focus on it too?
While most of us think of our “six pack” (or lack thereof) when we think of our core, the true core muscles are comprised of the abdominals, the pelvis and hips, glutes, back, spine and shoulder girdle. If you’ve ever suffered from back pain as an adult, inevitably you were told to improve your core strength. But why is it important for young athletes, whose bodies seem pain-free and strong?
Anyone who has ever swung a bat, thrown a football, swam a lap or stood on a balance beam knows there’s a lot more at work than just arm and leg strength. Athletic movements are a chain reaction of energy, a term called the kinetic chain. If there is a weakness along any part of the chain, such as the core, it can cause a number of problems. Think of a volleyball player spiking a ball for example–the kinetic chain starts at the feet as the player leaps and the energy travels up through the core and out through the arm as it spikes the ball. If the core is weak, you can see how it can lead to a variety of problems, perhaps starting with a decrease in the power of the ball strike, and down the road, possibly an injury due to the athlete trying to overcompensate for the weakness. This kinetic chain explains why core strength is so important for any athletic movement.
With the rise of year-round participation in a single sport, strengthening the muscles that are at risk of overuse (while the child is still growing and maturing!) becomes more and more crucial. It has also been suggested that young athletes who repeatedly engage vigorously in sports or dance that put an uneven load on the spine may be at a higher risk for scoliosis.
So what’s the best way to help your young athlete strengthen their core? Hopefully their coach or instructor is already incorporating core exercises during practices. Often times however, this crucial part of training is overlooked, or it seems like there’s just not enough time for it all. Discuss any concerns with your child’s coach, ask questions, and if you’re not happy with what you hear, take matters into your own hands!
As a Pilates instructor, I’m obviously biased towards Pilates as the best way to strengthen the core – and entire body – to stay strong, safe and injury free. Many professional athletes and olympians are now incorporating Pilates into their routine, and many Physical Therapists are using it as a tool to help rehabilitate patients. Pilates is rooted in conditioning the core and the entire body. Pilates develops muscles uniformly and develops balance, control, and proper muscle firing patterns. In addition to strength training, the workout includes exercises that incorporate joint mobility and flexibility.
Many dance studios offer (and require!) Pilates/conditioning classes for their students, and welcome non-dancers to take these great mat classes. Teen athletes are old enough to train at a Pilates studio, either in a private/semi-private format or a group setting. It’s always best to start in a private or semi-private format, so the instructor can best evaluate your specific needs, tailor a program specifically to you, and ensure you are doing the exercise as efficiently and as safely as possible. If you are a coach, consider hiring a Pilates instructor to come work with your team once or twice a week, or find a studio that might be willing to create a specialized class for your team or group. If that’s not an option, take action yourself. Google or YouTube pilates exercises and core strengthening ideas. Challenge your child to a daily plank contest, do wheelbarrow races (great for core and developing upper body strength!), or check out Nike Trainer app or Xbox 360 fitness. Find a way to make it fun! Kids love swiss balls, resistance bands, balance trainers and other fitness props that seem like ‘toys’ to them.
If you live in the South Orange County, California area, I teach a “Pilates for Tweens” class at The Pilates Shoppe at Aliso Viejo Physical Therapy, along with reformer classes and private sessions. I also teach at the Pacific Coast Academy of Dance, both mat Pilates and apparatus classes and privates. Please reach out if you are interested, or if you need more guidance on where or how to seek a Pilates instructor or trainer. I can be reached at email@example.com or follow me on Facebook at ‘Jen Montgomery Pilates’. See my bio below for more information.
There’s really no excuse to not find some way to increase the core strength of your young athlete – AND yours too!”
About the Author
Jen Montgomery is a STOTT certified Pilates instructor and specialist with over 4,000 hours teaching Pilates classes, privates and semi-private sessions. Her passion is in sharing and tailoring the Pilates repertoire to create effective and safe instruction for all ages, groups and fitness levels. She is currently teaching at The Pilates Shoppe at Aliso Viejo Physical Therapy and Pacific Coast Academy of Dance in Mission Viejo, California.
Jen specializes in group reformer classes, Pilates for corrective exercise, physical therapy and rehabilitation, Pilates for older adults, Pilates for athletes, Pilates for tweens and teens, Pilates for figure skaters and Pilates for dancers.
Jen believes that Pilates is for everybody, and is passionate about sharing the love, wether it be assisting in a physical therapy patient’s recovery, modifying or intensifying exercises for clients in our group classes, or tailoring exercises for elite athletes.
Outside the studio her 2 kids, husband and golden retriever keep her very busy and active. When she’s not in the studio she loves activity outdoors, including golf, hiking, biking and paddle boarding. She and her family love to adventure and travel whenever they get the chance.