Pilates for the Basketball Big Man

Many top athletes and trainers’ today swear by certain types of strength and training techniques. They rage on the internet and argue about which form of training is getting them the best results. And when they choose one, they go on to proclaim that it is the new ‘revolution’ in athletic development.

The problem with this is that it places a lot of confusion and mis-information in the minds of well-meaning coaches and parents looking for the best solution for their players and children. I get many questions about what I believe are the best methods to use and why. After my long career as a professional basketball player competing around the world and as a strength and conditioning professional, I believe that there is no single technique or style that will produce ‘magic’ results or all of a sudden create the ‘perfect’ athlete.

Variety is the spice of ‘training’, and when you are looking to help young athletes and players improve their performance, you should be open to a global, multi-lateral approach to your programs.

Pilates is one method that a lot of people have begun to swear by in the sports industry. I believe that it is a great supplement to any program and can dramatically help the basketball big man develop his core strength and overall performance. NBA stars such as LeBron James, Jason Kidd, and Ben Gordon have become Pilates fans and use it regularly to stay on top of their game and to prevent injury.

So what is Pilates exactly?

Pilates was designed as an exercise system by a german therapist and world-class athlete back in the 1940s. To improve the physical condition of returning vetereans from the first world war, he created a group of principles that would help condition the entire body from the inside out. It had within its principles a strong inter-relation between the mind and body as it required focused concentration on strengthening, stretching, and stabilizing specific muscle groups.

The ‘Pilates Principles’ were created to educate the body in: proper alignment, centering, concentration, control, precision, breathing, and flowing movement.

Speaking as a Big Man myself, I wouldnt need to have any other motivation for using Pilates than the above stated principles! What more could any basketball big man want than to possess each and every one of those qualities in their game??

For now, let me just focus on one specific principle: Centering.

Centering is another way to explain what we already know is very critical to a Big Mans success; Core Strength. Mr. Pilates himself called the very large group of muscles in the center of the body – encompassing the abdomen, lower back, hips, and buttocks – the “powerhouse.” He believed that all energy for movement began from the powerhouse and flowed outward to the limbs. In other words, the physical energy exerted from the center should coordinate the movements of the extremities.

Therefore, Pilates is the essence of what I have talked about in previous posts. Developing core strength is paramount for the success of all aspiring basketball big men and should be an intricate part of their training repertoire.

The fact that some NBA star guards are using it in their training should turn a light on for all of you big men out there that need to improve your athleticism, strength and coordination! The big man has larger and longer limbs to control which require even more so than smaller players, the development of a powerful core musculature system. The more powerful your center, the more explosive and strong your extremities will be.

Here are a couple of exercises for you to try.

Leg Pull Front is a core strength builder that engages every part of the body. Leg pull front takes a standard static plank exercise a step further. By lifting one leg off the floor, you introduce instability that challenges the abdominals and shoulders to keep the trunk and pelvis stable as you move

Start on your knees. Place your hands on the floor in front of you, fingers pointing straight ahead. Keep your arms straight and your elbows unlocked.

Engage your abdominals and lengthen your spine, extending through the top of the head as you lean forward to put your weight on your hands.
Your shoulders should be directly over your wrists and settled in your back. That means there is a lot of space between your shoulders and your ears.

 With your abdominals lifted, extend your legs back so that they are straight and together. Your toes are curled under so that some weight is on the balls of your feet.
Your ears, shoulders, hips and heels should be in one long line.

Extend one leg from the hip so that your foot lifts off the mat a few inches. Your foot can point softly as it is released from the mat.

As you extend your leg from the hip, your hip will lift slightly, but the challenge is to keep the rest of your body stable in plank position. This requires extra work from your abdominals, shoulders and back. It is important that you initiate this move with your powerhouse and through the hip, not just from the back of the leg. Try not to get tense; use only as much energy as you need to keep perfect form. Focusing on length will help a lot.

Return your foot to the mat and extend the other leg.

Repeat the lift five to seven times on each side

Shoulder Bridge is an advanced Pilates exercise. It requires a lot of strength from the abdominals and hamstrings as they stabilize a lifted pelvis against the movement of a fully extended leg

Lie on your back in neutral spine, with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Your arms are extended along your sides.

Inhale: Press down through your feet to lengthen your spine and press you hips up. You will come to a bridge position on your shoulders with your knees, hips and shoulders in one line. Your abs and hamstrings should be well engaged.

Pause at the top of the bridge to practice lifting one leg, then the other, off the mat. If you are stable with this part of the exercise, proceed to step 2

Inhale: Fold one knee in toward your chest and then extend that leg toward the ceiling. The rest of the body stays still. Relax your shoulders and neck, the work is in the abs and hamstrings.

Exhale: Lower your leg so that your knees are side by side. As you lower your leg, go for as much length as you can. The knee of your supporting leg, the extended leg, and the tailbone are reaching for the wall in front of you as the top of your head is reaching away in an opposing stretch.

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