Why Should Runners Do Pilates?
Runners need to be strong, flexible and fit. The tendency is often to focus on fitness, training to run further and faster, whilst strength and flexibility are overlooked until an injury interrupts training. Pilates is an excellent addition to a runner’s regular programme, improving core strength and flexibility, giving the runner a good posture and body awareness?
Why is posture so important?
Poor posture, whether walking, sitting or running, can lead to muscle imbalances and injury. A poor posture will cause the body to be held out of alignment, affecting muscle strength and flexibility. Muscles work in pairs, if the body is held in a position that leads to one muscle becoming short and tight, the opposite muscle will become long and weak, which will affect movement, leading to injury. For example, runners often tense and lift their shoulders as they run, which can tighten the chest and neck and weaken the back. It can also lead to tension in the lower back, hips and knees.
Pilates which is a series of slow, controlled exercises, will improve core strength (muscles of the back, abdomen and buttocks). This basically means it strengthens all the muscles that support the spine, ensuring that the spine is supported in its correct, natural position, improving posture.
How will Pilates improve my running?
Pilates will improve the posture, which will make movements more efficient and co-ordinated. More efficient movements mean less wasted energy and faster running.
These improvements can be broken down to different parts of the body to show just how useful Pilates training can be for runners:
Thoracic Spine (shoulders and mid back)
Pilates can improve shoulder flexibility and upper body strength. Runners often focus training on the lower body, because strong legs make strong runners, right? Yes to a point, but if the upper body is weak this imbalance of strength will affect running posture and performance.
Modern life, using computers, driving cars, sitting on sofas all help to develop tight chest and shoulder muscles. When running this tightness can cause us to round and lift the shoulders, which puts strain through the back, makes breathing less efficient and makes the runner tense.
By lengthening the chest muscles and strengthening the shoulders and back muscles Pilates will help the runner to relax the shoulders, which will reduce the tension in the lower back, improve the breathing and lead to a much more relaxed, enjoyable and efficient running style.
Exercises such as chest opener and swan dive will improve upper back strength and flexibility whilst the plank with strength the shoulders and core muscles.
Lumber spine (lower back)
Pilates will strengthen all the abdominal muscles, not just the “six pack” which will ensure the pelvis is held in its correct position. If the abdominals are weak or imbalanced, the pelvis will tilt either forward or backwards. Running with the pelvis out of its correct position will lead to back pain, hip tightness and a compromised running style.
Pilates also helps to strengthen the gluteal muscles (buttocks). Strong glutes are essential for runners; if they are weak the pelvis will rock from side to side putting strain on the knees and ankles. Anyone who has suffered from IT band problems will know how painful it is and it can be avoided if the glutes are strong.
It’s not just about strength though. Strong, tight muscles are as likely to lead to injury as weak ones. Runners are prone to tight hip flexors, quads and hamstrings.
Pilates will help to lengthen these muscles, along with improving flexibility of the entire body. A Pilates class starts with a series of simple, range of movement exercises which on their own form an excellent 10 minute stretching session, leaving the body relaxed and energised.
Running is not just physical!
All runners know that being tense and stressed affects performance. Pilates doesn’t just improve physical health, it is an excellent way to relax and de-stress.
Pilates exercises are very precise and participants have to concentrate on what they are doing. This allows them to forget the stresses and strains of the day and they leave the session energised and relaxed.
This concentration can transfer into running as well; by become more body aware and focussed, runners are more likely to maintain an efficient running style, with good posture and relaxed breathing; any changes in style or technique will be quickly noticed and can be remedied before injuries occur.
Pilates can improve those areas of training missed by running, namely core strength and flexibility. Without these, the runner is likely to find their training interrupted by an annoying and persistent injury that could have been avoided. Pilates isn’t a new idea, it’s been used by dancers and boxers for over 70 years, so maybe it is time runners gave it a try?