High school sports and intense sports and dance activities are part of more than 50% of teenagers’ lives. This is good news in our society where young people are also gaining weight. Exercise and sport help develop self-confidence if taught properly. It also builds a strong body, reduces stress, and encourages teens to work as part of a team and many make positive contributions to their communities. (National Prevention, Health Promotion and Public Health Council,2010) Pilates has been shown to help concentration and the above mentioned.
Adolescents can be very self-conscious so it is important they are taught through positive language. Practicing Pilates brings about individual awareness of body and mind which helps with managing stress as they grow into young adults. Joseph Pilates recommended that “students concentrated on good habits” and avoid, “superficial mechanical exercise which lacks mental concentration.” He felt that children in the industrialized world lived in an artificial environment and would need special courses in mind-body awareness similar to those we do naturally, such as walk, wrestle, run, jump, climb and tumble.” When children don’t get to play or spend much time being naturally adventurous they lose these natural skills.
As Pilates works on balance and coordination it is a great form of exercise during puberty and will help with natural flexibility. It wouldn’t be safe for a teen to do the same exercises as adults in Pilates as their skeletons and muscles are still not fully developed, so I wouldn’t advise taking your teen to an adult Pilates class. Pilates focuses on pelvis stability but with an adolescent girl who is still growing, we don’t put so much emphasis on that as we would a young woman who is fully grown. Until adolescents are fully developed they are at risk for overtraining and prone to injuries. Growth plate injuries in children and adolescents can lead to compromised bone development. These are caused by overuse or trauma during the growing phase of the bone. They are most common in football, long-distance running, gymnastics, and baseball and occur in bones in the top and bottom of arms, spine, and lower legs.
Research has shown Pilates helps improve alignment, improves core stability, and can be adapted to be sports specific. To help athletes prevent injury a 20 minute Pilates session should be incorporated into preseason training replacing or supplementing the usual warm-up. (Steffen et al, 2010) When students learn to move from their core and not their feet injury can be reduced. Ankle injuries are one of the highest injuries in teens along with back problems.
Young teens will benefit from a short Pilates mat workout. As they become more mature and engage with their core they can progress to the mat, reformer and the BOSU (both sides up) can also be added to encourage integrative training. This is where the spinal joints and various combinations of the ankle, knee, hip, shoulder, elbow, and wrists, along with all the muscles work together to perform an exercise. As the surface of the BOSU is unstable your muscles have to work as soon as you step onto it. Standing on it sends a different message to the brain than standing on a floor as your center of gravity changes so the body has to adjust.
The BOSU is very versatile and a beginner can start sitting on it. They can progress to kneeling, progressing to standing, single-leg, turning the BOSU over to change the stability and for stretching.
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When you have a child in a sport, consider the impact too much stress both physically and mentally has on them. When watching your child play and practice be more mindful of the long term impact repetitive movement or injury can have on your child. During the months or weeks when they aren’t training encourage them to do a group Pilates class. If they do it as a small group it will be inexpensive and hopefully prevent injury, time lost from activities and work, due to surgeries that made be required in the future.
“With body, mind, and spirit functioning perfectly as a coordinated whole, what else could reasonably be expected other than an active, alert, disciplined person? “ Joseph Pilates, Return to Life, 1945.