Pilates and Running

Many runners feel their running activities alone provide them with a very 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 that are not used specifically for 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 glutes 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.

You may see the effects of the imbalances if you have a client who loves to run. They may exhibit great strength in their legs but have real issues with tightness in the hips, with low back or knee pain, and/or problems with balance. As an instructor it is very important to work the client in the horizontal and frontal planes. Pilates can also help runners with core strength so they can be more upright in their posture as well as breath control. Below are a few Pilates exercises that can benefit runners.

Mat Work Exercises

  • Side lying leg series (strengthen glute medius & stabilize hips)
  • Leg circles (stabilize hips and move legs through rotation)
  • Swimming (thoracic extension, hip stability)
  • Side bend (strengthen abductors, adductors and obliques)

Reformer Exercises

  • 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)

Of course there are many other Pilates exercises that can complement a runner’s program.

The benefits runners have by using Pilates

  • Increasing core strength and correcting postural imbalances
  • Increasing balance in the muscles of the back and hips
  • Reduce the risk of injury
  • Assist with breath control

Make sure your runners know they need to work other muscles besides those for running. They’ll be really happy if you can keep them out on the road, track or treadmill.

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