Go the distance: Pilates, best friend of the runners!
I teach so many runners over the course of my working week, some go running as their therapy, some like the social element and go with friends and some are very serious with their own trainers and races to prepare for. They all find Pilates very helpful for their running and here are some reasons why Pilates can be great for your running too:
Pilates develops core strength. Runners are often recommended to start Pilates as it will help you become a more efficient and powerful runner as you will powering through your centre. This means you will fatigue less as your core will be supporting the work being done through your shoulders and hips whilst you propel yourself forward in space! If your core is not strong then this section of the body is not able to support your hips and shoulders and you lose efficiency and wear yourself out more quickly. Put simply, you are not as effective a runner as you could be.
Pilates really helps you breathe! That sounds odd as we are all currently breathing but to be able to really use the diaphragm effectively you have to exercise it - it is a muscle after all! Most people tend to breathe in quite a shallow way and for many, the stresses of the modern world lead to us breathing at the top of our lungs. Better breathing helps everything, but as a runner it helps the body work efficiently which will lessen fatigue. One of the key principles of Pilates is to use breath to power movement and in doing so we are stretching the intercostal muscles (which are found between our ribs) which can get quite restricted. Many Pilates exercises are designed to open up chest to allow us all to breathe more efficiently and deeply.
Pilates helps you develop better posture. Better posture and dynamic alignment means you can run with greater efficiency, speed and you are less likely to fatigue your body as quickly. Watch the leaders in any marathon or race and note their posture compared to that of their competitors. Compare the running of those who make it look easy with those who look tired - can you see differences in their posture?
As a whole body system Pilates brings the runner's body back into balance. Runners come with many imbalances: tight hip flexors, quads, calf muscles, hamstrings and IT bands. Other common problems come from weak posterior muscles, hip stabilisers or feet. Many runners are quite religious about their footwear and spend a fortune on the right trainers. These are important but what about investing time and money on the one thing you can't trade in? I have runners appear with knee problems and a multitude of foot problems: neuromas, plantar fasciitis, sprained ankles, Achilles tendon issues, dropped arches. The Pilates system is very good at hunting down and identifying imbalances within the body and over time you learn how to help yourself - the area you may think is the 'problem' may not be the actual cause! Pilates can also really help you if you are injured and unable to run. No runner likes being told to rest, but having an active form of rest prevents you from losing condition and puts you back on track to be a stronger runner once you are allowed to resume your passion.
Pilates helps protect runners from injury. Runners often train on very hard surfaces such as footpaths or concrete which can repeatedly jar or stress joints. As we get older, the body's ability to deal with this repetitive stress and loading on hard surfaces (especially towards Marathon season) is challenged. Very few runners are blessed with enough time to make running their full time occupation and may be moving straight from their desk job, which may have created one set of postural imbalances and off to run, which can increase the potential for problems.
Pilates really can be the runner's best friend. It is your ideal form of cross training helping you develop a stronger core, better posture and be more efficient. You can run faster, prevent injuries and recover better.
Wishing all runners the best of luck this season, with the right preparation for your races you can be the best you can be!
Here's some final thoughts from one of my current running clients:
"For me, doing Pilates when preparing for a marathon was an incredible help, and continues to be an integral part of my running. Pilates improved my core strength and maintained my overall condition, as it used muscles all over my body, not just the key ones putting in the miles on the road. One vital area it developed was with stretching and flexibility. I always try my best post-run, but doing Pilates with a great teacher ensured that I stretched properly, keeping me more flexible and less achy in my muscles. Pilates really is a phenomenal supplement to any cardio centric activity." J.E. London