Whatever motivates you to run, every runner of every level should consider incorporating Pilates into their program. Yes, it’s an hour spent on a mat indoors when you could be out on a trail or track, but it’s also one of the best ways to insure your body against injury incurred through pounding the pavement (or whatever your terrain of choice is!) and breathe longevity into your running career.
Now be honest, who hasn’t taken time out to allow an injury to “settle”. It often includes a few trips to the physio for a short-term fix by way of manual manipulation, sometimes to be doled out with a handful of exercises that bare an alarming resemblance to…Pilates! Now don’t get me wrong, Physiotherapists and Osteopaths are highly trained medical professionals and are worth their weight in gold. When you as clients come to us Pilates teachers with ongoing aches and pains we refer you to the physio for a diagnosis and await their instruction as to what we can/can’t do with you. But wouldn’t it just be simpler if you didn’t get injured in the first place?! This is how regular Pilates practice can help and it’s really very simple…
Strengthen and improve endurance of key muscle groups that propel you forwards i.e. hip extensors (so hamstrings and glutes, glutes, glutes!) but also hip abductors, adductors and flexors. The fine balance between these muscles is key and an imbalance can cause wear and tear and eventual injury. More on injuries in my next blog post!
Increase range of movement (ROM) of hips, knees and ankles – strong muscles are essential but they must be at optimal length in order for the full ROM of the joints to be utilised in the way necessary to perform the desired activity. The ROM of a joint is also influenced by (amongst a number of things!) the relative length of tendons and ligaments. A joint that doesn’t move in the right way due to overly shortened or lengthened soft tissues will be subject to wear and tear in some way until symptoms of injury present. Pilates works muscles through dynamic stretching, so you mimic movement and seek to increase ROM over several repetitions. Muscles are supple and the body is agile, ready to move!
Strong muscles and an optimal ROM are all very well but not so if you have a trunk made of cotton wool. The point of running is to propel the body forwards in space and to run efficiently at any pace your legs need something to work against. A stable trunk and pelvis are vital. By reducing inefficient, energy-zapping movement of the torso you will stay upright for longer and retain energy to fuel working limbs. You’ll also be less likely to incur injury (as joints moving inappropriately can result in soft tissue damage)! The faster you go or the longer you run the more crucial it is to be stable. Pilates exercises are renowned for working the “core”; deep stabiliser muscles (i.e. transverse abdominis and multifidus) that help maintain posture over long periods. Running is incredibly dynamic though, so even effective deep stabilising muscles alone won’t save you once huge forces are transmitted through your body. Larger superficial muscles are needed too, such as rectus abdominis (to stop your torso extending when running forward) and erector spinae (to minimise leaning forwards!). Pilates works both of these muscle groups too. Watch video footage of any elite runner and you will see their torso stays remarkably vertical: the movement comes from the hips, knees and ankles. Finally and for the same purpose, trunk and pelvic rotation and lateral flexion should be minimised. Again Pilates exercises seek to promote stability in these areas whilst the legs are in motion. Result: a stable, balanced torso and with energy saving and injury reduction benefits. Simple!
Learn to breathe effectively and improve oxygen flow to working muscles. Pilates teaches lateral/diaphragmatic breathing which encourages expanding the ribs outwards so as to promote maximum air intake into the lungs, whilst maintaining a stable spine. It also promotes a feeling of calm, unity between mind and body and helps to release unwanted tension
Pilates works the whole body and instils good biomechanics. You develop a finely tuned proprioceptive awareness (of where your body is in space) that can only serve to improve your performance of any sport. A regular Pilates class will work all of the above but a good Runners-specific Pilates course will really target these muscle groups and promote unity when you run. And just like running, you get out what you put it. Pilates exercises takes time to master and even longer to appreciate. Its subtle in its method but by god it works!