Yoga/Pilates for Basketball Players: Why It’s Worth It

In Blog
Check It Out

This is a guest post written by my trainer Maria Scally, who also authored the Ultimate Athlete and Position of Power programs that you can get and use on your own. I asked Maria (whom I met when I first tried Pilates classes and was blown away by how challenging her class was) to write on this topic because I have recently made yoga a regular part of my routine. I aim to increase my body’s elasticity and prolong my physical prime through the practice. 

Here’s Maria:

“What Can Basketball Players Gain from Doing Yoga/Pilates?”

Practices, workouts, games…. There is so much physical effort and time that goes into an athlete to perform at optimal levels of a sport. To be the best athlete, you have to train to be the best by incorporating a multitude types of training: strength, cardiovascular, flexibility, and mental training to have a calm and clear mind to perform well.

Maria Sollon In basketball, skills and drills are imperative to work on, but it is also very important to have a well rounded training program off the court so that the athlete is complete in all areas of the sport. I’m not just talking about a strength training or a conditioning program. I’m referring to training that usually gets worked on very little to not at all, due to lack of knowledge or lack of time. Taking a more mind-body connection approach by adding yoga and Pilates into an athlete’s training program can make all the difference in performance.

There are so many physical and mental benefits that will help catapult a “good player” into a different category of “best player.” Some of these benefits include:

  • Axial Elongation of the Spine: Creating space within the spine to stand taller
  • Breathing to Facilitate Movement: The breath helps the movement of the body to perform better
  • Learn to Move with Coordination: Multiple movements occur within the body at the same time
  • Core Control: Complete core activation and control throughout all movements
  • Control of their Bodies: The ability to react with total control
  • Lengthening of the Muscles: Length occurs with strength development within the muscles
  • Whole body Strength: The entire body develops overall strength for movement activation
  • Whole body Health: The body works in conjunction with breath, alignment, core control, and movement
  • Connection of the Mind, Body, and Spirit: A direct connection of the mind to communicate to the body and vice versa. This type of connection creates an overall calmness within the body to think and respond clearly when in action. The spirit or soul of the athlete will be able to have their mind work their body and be completely ‘into’ the game with their mind, body, and soul.

You might ask:

Are Pilates and yoga the same? Do they have the same
benefits? Which one is best?

These questions are good to ask. My goal is to provide you with the knowledge and information about how incorporating Pilates and yoga into a basketball training program will aid in better overall performance on and off the court.

Yoga and Pilates are two different type of mind-body trainings that offer similar benefits. Both have many different styles that instructors are trained in and offer different techniques to provide the same benefits. It all depends what type of person/athlete you are and what type of training fits your training style best. One way to find out what style is best for you is to try different studios, different classes, and different instructors. Many times a certain yoga or Pilates style, as well as a certain instructor, will make a huge difference in making a positive experience to get hooked into the routine.

Why do Yoga?

• Improves muscle tone, flexibility, strength and stamina
• Reduces stress and tension
• Boosts self esteem
• Improves concentration and creativity
• Lowers fat
• Improves circulation
• Stimulates the immune system
• Creates sense of well-being and calm.

Research shows that yoga helps manage or control anxiety, arthritis, asthma, back pain, blood pressure, carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic fatigue, depression, diabetes, epilepsy, headaches, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, stress and many other conditions and diseases.

There are many different types of yoga to practice and it is important to know and understand the different types so that the athlete chooses the best style for their training.

Different types of yoga (To name a few styles…):

Hatha– A Hatha class is meant to be slow-paced and geared for beginners. There is a lot of breath work, i.e., pranayama, as well as an introduction to a variety of poses, and slow, gentle movements. Pranayama is a yoga term meaning “control of the breath.” Hatha is also great to wind down with in the evening after a tough training day.

Anasara – Anusara classes typically have an upbeat, uplifting, community-type vibe that can be very welcoming. Anusara may also be the most spiritual of the different types of yoga, as it focuses on looking inward, and seeing the light within yourself and others.
It’s a great style for those new to yoga, as many of its poses allow the use of props
for extra support, and there’s a lot of alignment and breath work.

Vinyasa – Vinyasa is creative flowing yoga movements with a variety of difference sequences and poses. It’s also the most popular style of yoga in the United States. Other than expecting a series of Sun Salutations, no two classes are alike, and Vinyasa is probably the best suited style of yoga for the type of person who likes to move! The instructor’s personal style will definitely come through in Vinyasa, therefore, it may take a few classes to find the instructor you most connect with.

Ashtanga – Referred to as “Power Yoga”, Ashtanga requires constant movement and is physically demanding. This type of yoga practice may be well suited for an athlete or someone who enjoys moving very quickly. There is a specific series performed each class in the order it is meant to be followed by other options once certain poses have been mastered.

Restorative – Restorative yoga is typically practiced with props, and involves only a handful of restorative poses that are held for extended periods of time with the purpose to connect your mind with your body. Expect more poses that open the chest area for breath work and more lying down than in your typical practice. This practice is also very slow moving.

Bikram – This type of “hot” yoga turns up the heat to 105 degrees with typically 40% humidity! There are only 26 Bikram poses, many of which are focused on proper alignment.

Jivamukti – Jivamukti means “liberation while living” and is a school of vinyasa yoga so it is physically intense. Jivamukti is a diverse style of yoga as it can also involve music, scripture reading, and chanting.

Power Vinyasa – This type of yoga class focuses on a lot of dynamic strength and developing length while the breath helps move the body seamlessly from pose to pose.



Why do Pilates?

• Improve strength, flexibility and balance.
• Tone & build long, lean muscles without bulk.
• Restore postural alignment & create a stronger, more flexible spine.
• Promote recovery from strain or injury.
• Reduce stress, relieve tensions, boost energy through deep stretching.
• Improve circulation & heighten neuromuscular coordination.
• Compliment sports training and develop functional fitness for daily life activity.
• Correct over-training of muscle groups which can lead to stress and injury
• Improve the way your body looks and feels

There are also a lot of different types of Pilates classes and different ‘styles’ of movements. Some of these classes include:

Classical – Pilates training that strictly adheres to the traditional exercises and methods of Joseph Pilates.

Modern – Many things have changed since Joseph Pilates first developed his movement techniques. Modern Pilates brings his approaches into the 21st Century by using all the latest research and knowledge available to perform safe and effective exercise.

Barre Work – Barre has incorporated all the best of both aerobics, Pilates and ballet into one dynamic cardiovascular, fitness and muscle building and toning repertoire. Most of the work is performed at a ballet barre or by doing calisthenics on the floor.

Maria Sollon 2 Hybrids

Fusion classes that incorporate both

– If time is an issue for adding yoga/ Pilates into the training routine, try to do a fusion class or create a routine that incorporates exercises, poses, and qualities from both categories to maximize your training time.

All in all, a Pilates class aims to rebalance the body by improving posture, muscle tone, flexibility and core stability. The slow and controlled approach to exercise that Pilates adopts can also help to relieve stress and tension, help with back problems, assist in injury rehabilitation and improve body awareness. It is a system of exercises that encourages balance of muscle strength and flexibility with minimal stress on the joints.

Which one is best?

There is not one program or modality that is best for any athlete. It is a combination of all types of training and what the athlete will adhere to best. Some people prefer one over the other. Personally, they both have amazing benefits and will offer the most complete whole body training for any individual or team sport.

To better your game day performance, plan a well-rounded training program on and off the court to work on things that make you complete. Try to make time for yoga and/ or Pilates within your weekly training program. Be patient and open to the effects of doing this type of activity.

The best Athletes will set their goals high and strive to reach them every day. This can all be accomplished if you understand the benefits of incorporating this type of training into your routine and if you actually make the time to commit to accomplishing a well rounded program. By committing to either yoga, Pilates, or incorporating both, time will show all the benefits through the practice that will transfer into better performance on the court.

Maria S. Scally, MS, CSCS