How Pilates Is Helping Professional Footballers

Flexible footballer

Professional footballers are particularly prone to hip and groin injuries and then arthritis in later life.  One contributory factor is that they are more likely to develop femoro-acetabular impingement, where irregularities in the shape of the ball part of the joint, i.e. the head of the femur, can damage the hip socket, causing pain, injury and eventually arthritis. All of which can prematurely end a promising career as a professional footballer.

Premiership side Southampton FC have a special interest in hip and groin injuries. They were a massive problem for the club that had gone under the radar.  Senior players were retiring from football and young talented players were not fulfilling their potential because they were spending too much time in the clinic rather than on the field.  Mo Gimpel, Director of Medical and Science Performance Support at the club identified that the players who were experiencing pain in the hip and groin area were unable to move their femurs, i.e. their thighs, independently of their pelvis.  So, for example, when they brought their knee up to the chest, they rocked their pelvis backwards, rotated it, in fact did a whole range of different movement patterns rather than keeping the pelvis stable.

Gareth Bale doing the Pilates dart

To avoid footballers experiencing hip and groin injuries, they need to increase the flexibility and range of movement in the hip.  Uniquely among premiership clubs, Southampton FC developed a pre-activation session where the physio takes the players through a series of Pilates-based flexing, extending and rotating exercises for the hip and groin area.

Since introducing the pre-activation sessions the club has seen the types and severity of injuries coming into the clinic dramatically change.  The club very rarely sees hip problems, there’s no chronic groin pain and general back pains have also disappeared. The team’s players have very little surgery compared to those of other clubs i.e. hip, inguinal groin and abductor surgery.  Similarly, when you look at hamstrings, the club’s last analysis showed that on average a hamstring problem will keep a player out of action at Southampton FC for, on average 7.8 days, whereas the typical champion’s league and premier league player is out for almost three weeks.  Further, the club has no recurrent hamstrings or groin injuries, which is almost unheard of in football.

Pilates saves the day…again!  Well done, Pilates.

Southampton footballers celebrating


Information source: BBC Radio 4, Inside Health programme, 26 January 2016

2 thoughts on “How Pilates Is Helping Professional Footballers

  1. hello, Great article. Would it be possible to send me some examples of pre-activation routines / exercises, as i work at a semi pro team, who have had a lot of groin and hamstring problems this season. I also work at Kidderminster Harriers Academy and am interested in bring this to next season.

    Thank you in advance to any help or guidance you can offer.

    • Hi Peter. I would recommend you work with a Pilates teacher to develop a series of exercises tailored to the specific needs of your semi-professional football team and the Kidderminster Harriers Academy. This would be more meaningful and beneficial than me just giving you a set of generic exercises, and knowing very little about the footballers and athletes you work with. I would be happy to help you in this way, or you can find a more local Pilates Foundation teacher by using the Find a Teacher function on the Pilates Foundation website…

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