As Thanksgiving memory-making comes to a close, the rest of the season is upon us. I’m not just talking holidays…

I’m talking grit. I’m talking sweat and effort. I’m talking…Gridiron!

If you know a football player or watch games, you can appreciate how incredibly grueling it is physically and mentally.

football players on a field

As a Pilates instructor, I hadn’t had much personal experience with elite football until I trained some NFL players this off season.

It was such a rewarding experience, I wanted to share why I think football players benefit immensely from Pilates (*specifically from Pilates apparatus work).


A big motivating factor for football players to practice Pilates is injury prevention and rehabilitation.

Football players are more flexible than they look. While they can appear to be boulders of muscle and padding moving around the field, the range of motion for great plays might surprise you up close. Pilates provides stability while allowing broad ranges of movement and movement adaptability.

I love figuring out how to create more mobility by utilizing stability methods. With NFL players, the strength is there, but tapping into the different ways of stabilizing (using local stabilizers) is key.

For example, you can’t do reformer footwork well if you’re buckling your knees and banging the bed around. You have to control  the equipment requiring deep muscle activation frequently, throughout the full range of a given exercise.


I like to say some body parts are actively stabilizing (look like they’re not moving) and some body parts are actively moving throughout the work.

When I think of Joseph Pilates’ boxing background, I believe there was a fair amount of ‘bracing’ incorporated into his Contrology method. Full body integration is nuanced and takes mindfulness. 

NFL players understand the benefit of nuanced movement and its capability to elevate performance. (This makes working with them really fun!)

Having agency over the body will assist in improved spatial awareness, precise movement, and heightened cognition — all essential for peak performance on the field.


Another layer of stability is breath.

Fortunately, breath work is choreographed into Pilates, but I think encouraging breath work for NFL players is vital. For one, the diaphragm is a primary muscle aiding in lung capacity and in regulating the nervous system. A stronger diagram can assist in supporting the back, the ribs, and the pelvis. When you allow the lungs and diaphragm to work at fuller capacity, it’s cross training for both.

Plus, the diaphragm is located at the top of the abdominal cavity and it operates with the abdominal muscles and pelvic floor to assist in core stability when braced.

Pilates is a barefoot (or shoeless) endeavor and a barefoot workout will fundamentally create more proprioception in the foot and toes. Barefoot-work greatly emphasizes metatarsal and arch strength if you actively stretch and strengthen in multiple planes.


This barefoot work will ultimately create not only ankle stability, but better lower limb mobility and help prevent injury likely all the way up the chain.

Here, I would emphasize Pilates exercises like toe corrector, the foot corrector, kahuna board and footwork on all the equipment. But don’t limit the possibilities (go outside the sagittal plane.) I love inventing exercises, and as an ex-professional ballet dancer this is my vibe!

Over time, there will be more adaptability and intrinsic strength in the ankles and feet and once those cleats go back on, players will benefit in a myriad of ways.

With the intensity football practice and games have on the physical body, a Pilates routine will offer a less aggressive movement experience and likely a restorative one.


Carson Palmer (former NFL former quarterback Bengals)

“…But Pilates provides such a unique way to workout and has such gentle movements – it’s non-weight bearing, it’s easy on the joints and its slower strength-building stretching movements makes all the difference in the world. It is a great alternative on days when cardio or weightlifting might be just too much. It really helps keep me fresh through 16 weeks of an NFL season.

Don’t make the same mistake I did by looking at a Pilates class and thinking ‘It’s not for me.’ It is for you. It is for everyone, you just have to try it. I guarantee that in two weeks you will feel great and in three weeks you will feel better and stronger than ever before. For me the proof was in the pudding.”


Pilates also contributes to nervous system regulation, an important skill for athletes during high-pressure situations. Tapping into the parasympathetic nervous system (rest & digest) for an NFL player is important and gives players a chance to down regulate.

The generous amount of eccentric muscle work, precise back extension, as well as loaded spinal flexion, all very challenging if your typical movement is relatively different. If you think of variable movement as vitamins, Pilates is fortifying in so many ways. 

Sometimes described as a moving meditation, these combined elements of breath awareness, enhanced movement potential, elevated concentration, and deeper awareness overall means better health on and off the football field — a total WIN!