Most runners feel their running activities alone provide them with a well rounded exercise program. However, while running is great cardiovascular work, it can lead to imbalances in the body. Those imbalances can sideline runners and must be addressed in order to continue the activity in a healthy and beneficial way. Pilates is an excellent complement to any runner’s routine as it can help strengthen muscles to allow for decrease stress on the body during running.
There are many different kinds of runners. There are marathoners and other distance cravers who may or may not be competitive; there are short distance runners who also may or may not compete and then there are casual runners who just try to fit in a few miles a week to keep their cardiovascular systems in good working order. No matter which type of runner, the same muscle groups are used to propel the body forward. Primarily the hip flexors to pull the top of the leg forward, the quadriceps to extend the knee then tibialis anterior to flex the foot and prepare to plant the forward foot. Once down, that leg is pulled back using the gluteus and hamstrings. The big issue here is that while in that running gait, the runner’s body is moving in the sagittal plane therefore the muscles that support movement in the horizontal and frontal planes are not challenged specifically.
Runners can exhibit imbalances in a number of different ways. Some my have tight hip flexors on one side and a tight IT band on the other due to an instability in the pelvic girdle. Some runners may have great quadriceps strength but poor hip strength causing asymmetries with each stride creating low back or knee pain. Pilates can also help runners with core strength so they can be more upright in their posture as well as with increase chest expansion allowing for improved breath functions.
The benefits runners have by using Pilates
Increasing core strength and correcting postural imbalances
Increasing balance in the muscles of the back and hips
Increasing flexibility of LE and trunk musculature
Increasing thoracic mobility
Reduce the risk of injury
Below are a few Pilates exercises that can benefit runners:
Feet in Straps; medially and laterally rotated (hip rotation, mobility)
Footwork; medially and laterally rotated (hip rotation, mobility), heel lower and lift (calf strength and flexibility)
Side splits (lateral hip strength and stability, abductor and adductor strength)
Long Box series (thoracic extension, hip stability, core strength)
Seated twist with or without ring (hip stability, obliques)
Mat Work Exercises
Side lying leg series (strengthen gluteus medius & stabilize hips)
Leg circles (stabilize hips and move legs through rotation)
Swimming(thoracic extension, hip stability)
Side bend (strengthen abductors, adductors and oblique mm)
Here are 7 Pilates Mat moves you can perform at home to enhance your running performance and help keep you injury free:
Side Lying Leg Series: Top Leg Lift, Side Kicks and Bottom Leg Lift
Single and Double Leg Stretch
Double Leg Stretch
Of course there are many other Pilates exercises that can complement a runner’s program. If you are looking to begin a Pilates based program designed for runners make sure you find a reputable certified instructor in your area. Try to find a studio that offers small group classes either on the reformer or mat. You may also benefit from attending 1 or 2 private sessions to identify any specific needs your body may have and how Pilates can address those specific needs.
Christa Gurka, MSPT, PMA®-CPT