Pilates Flourishes at Universities

NATIONWIDE — In the past few years, universities across the country have begun offering Pilates classes to their students, staff and faculty. As of late September, the University of Pennsylvania took the craze one step further by offering one of the first fully equipped Pilates studios in a university recreation center.

Granted, rec centers at both small and large schools have started including Pilates in their programming, but those classes are generally mat classes or the equipment is used exclusively for athletic conditioning and physical therapy.

“We offered mat science classes, but when discussing an improved flexibility-training area, it was mentioned that Pilates was a great method of exercise for increasing flexibility,” said Christine Clay, associate director of membership and marketing at the recreation department at the University of Pennsylvania. “Staff here at the department of recreation looked into equipment, and here we are.”

The 1,600-square-foot studio has eight total workout systems, 12 mats, one classic Cadillac and six low chairs plus resistance circles, balls and foam rollers. The studio has equipment classes, mat classes and an Active Adult class. According to Clay, there is a waiting list for the eight-person equipment classes and only a space or two available in the mat classes that hold up to 20 participants. The Active Adult classes have also been well attended.

Equipment classes cost $10 an hour and mat classes cost $8 an hour. Due to the university's status as a non-profit entity, classes are only available to staff, faculty, students and alumni and are not to the general public. She said that from a financial standpoint the cost of the studio has been worth it.

College athletes are also seeing the benefits of Pilates. Rich Wenner, head strength coach at Arizona State University, said that while few university athletic departments have their own Pilates equipment, many athletes are going to studios on their own.

Bonnie Carr, director and owner of Balanced Body Pilates in Gainesville, FL, has worked with members of the University of Florida's women's gymnastics team, runners, divers and high school athletes. Balanced Body Pilates is a private physical therapy and wellness practice that offers one-on-one training.

Carr said teams typically have a limited amount of funds and Pilates isn't usually included in their method of training. Many times though athletes' parents will bring their children in and pay for the specialty training to see better sports performance, decrease their risk of getting hurt or for injury rehabilitation.

“There's no doubt that this gives athletes that extra edge,” Carr said of Pilates training. “Some athletes have incredibly weak cores. You can't tell because they have incredibly hard bodies, but after training, performance improves and injuries decrease.”

Although Carr said business from athletes has been off-and-on, many high-profile professional athletes, such as Tiger Woods and Jason Kidd, reportedly do Pilates for those benefits.

“The pros are definitely starting to see the benefit,” Carr said. “I think that's where [universities] are headed — depending on money and where they want to put it. That's always the issue.”

Shannon Foley, who specializes in Pilates-based sports rehab and fitness at her facility Butterfly Pilates, also said many college athletes are limited by what strength trainers and coaches can give them.

“For the general public, males wouldn't think of Pilates when training,” she said. “They think, hit the gym and the weights to beef up, and sometimes that works, but Pilates is a very good additive.”

Foley, a former athletic trainer, said the key is to get young male athletes interested in Pilates at a younger age.

“If we could get the youth of America to get involved in this as they are going through sports training, it would help them to achieve optimal performance,” she said. “It would really help prevent injuries as kids grow up through sports.”

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