Why is Pilates the best cross training method for runners?
I love running. It wasn’t love from the first sight. I got into running in my late twenties and managed to run Royal Parks half marathon in 2011. Typical racing newbie... I ran too fast at the beginning and hit a wall not even half way through. So despite an OK time,
after that rather painful experience, I haven’t run again for more than 5 years and only got back to running few years ago.
In 2020, courtesy of global pandemic and national lockdowns, my training intensified, and I became faster, could run longer distance and so far, managed to stay injury free (not counting the broken toe which had nothing to do with running, apart from not being able to run for 10 weeks). I’ve never thought of myself as endurance runner, but apparently any distance longer than 5km makes you one and all these weekly miles quickly add up.
Repetitive nature of running puts so much load on runners' bodies that any muscular imbalance or bad movement patterns can increase risk of injury. Pilates with its repertoire of strengthening and stretching through full range of movement is a perfect cross training and rehabilitation option for endurance runners and here is why...
Pilates improves posture and dynamic trunk rotation, both which are important in maximizing efficiency in running. A strong running style relies on upright posture and limited trunk rotation.
Pilates is famous for strengthening the core muscles - from the deepest abdominal muscles which help with stabilising the pelvis, through obliques which help with controlling the excessive rotation, to upper core muscles - deep neck flexors, lower trapezius and serratus anterior. These muscles help with keeping your head upright and shoulders depressed, counteracting the forward head posture, kyphosis of thoracic spine and rounded shoulders.
Strong and stable core is vital for a runner’s form and efficiency of movement. Even though leg muscles are the source of power, the assistant muscles - abdominals and back extensors are the critical foundation from which all movement starts. An optimal core function will improve our spinal alignment and pelvic stability having a direct impact on movement patterns thus reducing the risks of injuries. Better posture when running will protect the lumbar spine from the impact, by avoiding excessive lean that can put extra pressure on lower back.
Pilates strengthens and stretches the stabilising muscles around your key running joints - hips, knees and ankles, improving your motor control and facilitating new neuro-muscular connections.
Pilates improves flexibility in all major muscles groups that are prone to tightness in runners: hip flexors, piriformis, quadriceps, hamstrings, ITB, calf/Achilles.
Pilates trains the use of the diaphragm and lungs effectively by working with breath and control while exercising. Controlling your breath helps with managing heart rate, allowing you to run longer at lower intensity.
The mind-body aspect of Pilates can be of great use for runners too. Concentration, control, increased body awareness are all valuable tools while training and competing.
If you would like to try Pilates session designed specifically with runners in mind, subscribe to my mailing list for a free 30 min Pilates for Runners class video.