Professional athletes everywhere know that Pilates is one of the best cross-training workouts to level up their game. For swimmers, regular Pilates can be incredibly effective for injury prevention, core strength, and agility in the water.
Swimming is one of the most popular exercises in the world, and it’s also an exercise that truly engages your entire body. Whether you’re a casual or competitive swimmer, you need body awareness, control, balance, and mental focus in the water.
Luckily, these are all things that we also practice in Pilates!
“I grew up a competitive swimmer and have always been an athlete, when I retired from swimming I really struggled to find a workout that I loved and could do every day without dreading. I tried everything; yoga, bootcamps, personal training, spinning, and just couldn’t get into any of it. I finally found RTR and took my first Pilates class and fell in love at first class!” – RTR Instructor Lindsey
For swimmers looking to move more efficiently through the water, develop key muscle groups, and prevent injuries, Pilates is an ideal addition to your exercise routine.
5 ways Pilates can help you reach a new PR in the water
1. Strengthen your core for better form
For Pilates, core strength forms the bedrock of every exercise. Our core is the foundation of almost every movement in our workouts and our day-to-day activities.
Our bodies are an interconnected system of muscles, and most movements engage the core in some way. When our core is underdeveloped, it can cause other muscle groups to pick up the slack (especially our lower back). A strong core provides balance in the body, reduces injuries, and helps create more efficient movement – that means faster movements, with less energy expenditure!
A well-rounded core workout can lead to big results for swimmers. A 2020 study found that 6 weeks of core workouts 3 times per week lead to improved performance for swimmers. Similarly, researchers in 2023 found that adolescent swimmers who performed core exercises 4 times per week for 8 weeks experienced not only better performance in the water but also better results on Functional Movement Tests, which indicate a lower risk of injury.
2. Move more efficiently through the water
Both Pilates and swimming emphasize the need for efficient movements. At RTR Pilates, we build our classes around the concept of efficient, effective movements to strengthen the body.
Swimmers are constantly pushing their bodies against resistance in the water. In reformer Pilates, we work through resistance in the form of spring loads that help strengthen our bodies.
For swimmers, increased efficiency in the water can stem from multiple benefits that we see in Pilates. First and foremost, a strong core is key to moving efficiently and reducing the energy it takes to perform any given movement.
But posture and alignment can also play a large part in efficient movement. By strengthening the spine and building awareness of our body in Pilates classes, it becomes natural for swimmers to stay aligned in the water for reduced resistance.
3. Control your body with increased awareness
Connection with your breath and your body is a huge component of Pilates. We focus on building a mind-body connection and connecting breath to movement. Coordinating breath with movement is central to Pilates, and swimming as well. In the studio, we think about our breaths with every movement – the same can be said of swimming!
At RTR, we emphasize awareness, control, and connection to our bodies. This helps us stay present in the moment, and it also serves to activate our core to stabilize the body.
Swimmers who build a greater awareness of their body, in and out of the water, will be able to move more efficiently.
4. Improve your reach and range of motion
Swimmers rely A LOT on their shoulders. For optimum performance, your shoulders need to stay flexible and strong, with a full range of motion. With other cross-training exercises, such as weightlifting, swimmers can build the strength that they need, but they may not get the full range of motion. In weightlifting, people will often build up the middle of the muscle but fail to develop the full length of the muscle (especially the muscle near the joints!).
Pilates strengthens the shoulders and stretches the muscles and joints through a full range of motion.
Beyond the shoulders, Pilates also improves the range of motion in the hips, which is essential for your breaststroke.
5. Reduce injuries – especially in the shoulders
In general, any type of repetitive movement is going to cause some wear and tear on the body over time. We over-develop some muscle groups while under-developing others. Repetitive movements, without the proper counter exercises, can also damage the joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
Swimming is one of the most repetitive sports when it comes to how the body moves.
In swimming, most injuries occur in the shoulders from rotating the arm out of correct alignment, but other common injuries include knee pain from breaststroke and hip and pelvis injuries.
Pilates plays a big role in injury prevention by strengthening the body as a whole. By strengthening the full length of the muscle, protecting the joints, building a strong core, and encouraging increased awareness of the body, swimmers reduce the risk of injury and can even see a reduction in chronic pain. A systematic review of research found that people with chronic pain who practiced regular Pilates experienced significant improvement in pain relief and functional movement.
“I want clients to feel challenged while also having fun. I hope they feel stronger &, better than when they came in.” – RTR Instructor Rebecca
See the results for yourself!
With more than 300 classes/week across 5 studio locations, RTR Pilates has classes for every level and lifestyle.