Improve your running (and everything else, too) by cross-training with Pilates exercise.
As runners, we know the importance of strong hips and legs. But do you know that having a strong, flexible core and using efficient breathing patterns are equally important for runners? Deep core muscles give your body strength and stamina when upright and by breathing properly, you are able to get maximum oxygen delivered to all those working muscles. In turn, this will increase your running efficiency; making your current pace seem easier or allowing you to increase your pace for about the same amount of effort. I know I’m always trying to be a little faster!
So many benefits
Developed by Joseph Pilates in the early 1900’s, the Pilates method of exercise is a great way to achieve all of the above! Pilates builds strength, control, flexibility and body awareness with every exercise. It is a whole-body approach to movement and health. Exercises are performed with breathing awareness, a focused mind, concentrated effort and physical precision. When these foundational principles are practiced regularly in a well-designed Pilates program, movement organization and control become second nature throughout all of your other daily activities.
Let’s take a look at how this can specifically be applied to running. When practicing Pilates, the breath is used to enhance or modulate movement – it can provide more stability to your core during challenging exercises or it can be used to create more of challenge to the active muscles – all just depending on whether you are inhaling or exhaling. Learning to breathe in fully with the natural activation of the diaphragm creates more mobility through the rib cage, improved lung volumes and more efficient breathing.
Pilates exercises were designed to be performed with focused control and a concentrated effort. Quality of movement develops strength throughout the body, especially in the deep stabilizer muscles that must function well to support us while we are running. Many strength routines focus on the primary movers (ie. Glutes, Quads, Hamstrings). And while it is important to keep these muscles strong, a runner may still have strength imbalances or recurring injuries because the deep hip and trunk muscles are not working effectively.
Striving for physical precision with every Pilates exercise develops keen body awareness and postural alignment that carries over into your running. You will be much more in-tune to your running form and posture and therefore, better able to keep it in-check – especially when fatigue sets in. You notice when your head is leaning forward or your hips are collapsing and you have developed the awareness to correct it while you run.
Adding Pilates workouts to your cross-training activities can do wonders for your running. Running moves your body forward in one plane of motion, and those deep stabilizers are working hard to keep it that way. When the deep muscles of the core are weak or not active, rotational motion is not well controlled and we start to see knees turning in, over-pronation in the feet, hips dropping to the side or back pain. And with the repetitive stress of running, this will lead to injuries. A balanced Pilates program develops strength through the body in all planes of motion – a key component for injury prevention.
Ready to try?
Private Pilates sessions are a great way to get started to learn the foundational movements before moving to a group class setting. Pilates equipment is fun to use and it can easily be adjusted to make the exercises less challenging or much more intense. And while some mat exercises are quite basic, many are actually considered because they require full-body control without the assistance that equipment can provide. Give Pilates a try – it won’t take long to really notice a change in your body!
As an introduction to more comprehensive Pilates workouts, you can begin by adding a few basic mat exercises to your running warm-up. A little bit of core activation (not a full core workout) before your run will help wake up those supporting muscles to make sure your running form is at it’s best from the start of every run. I’ve put together a quick routine in this video to get you started – hope you enjoy it!