Pilates is for Runners!

Recently I was asked to write an article for an online running magazine about Pilates and Running.  Being both an avid runner and pilates enthusiast- this is a subject matter I felt well versed to cover!  I thought you all might enjoy the article – so I’m sharing it below.

I only wish I had known about pilates when I was running competitively in college!

Ragnar Relay Team - The Nashville Running Co. 2011

Pilates and Running- Soul Mates?

By: Lucie Bécus

At first glance – it would appear not!  Runners love competition, challenging, grueling, sweat inducing, heart-pounding workouts.  Pilates by nature is none of these.  You won’t win the race in Pilates, you won’t get a PR and there are no age group awards.  There’s not even a finish line!   So if all the things that you love about running are missing in Pilates- why bother?  Because Pilates may very well make you a better, more efficient runner and prevent you from a side-lining injury.

Let’s breakdown running and the muscles you use.  Running by its nature is a very linear- forward motion activity.  Whether you are a marathon runner, a 5K racer or weekend jogger- you use the same muscles to accomplish your run and propel yourself forward with each stride. The action begins with your hip flexors pulling the upper part of the leg forward, the quadriceps get in the game extending the knee followed by the tibialis anterior used to flex the foot and help with the landing.  Once you strike the ground with the foot, the gluts and hamstrings takeover pulling the leg back to complete the stride.  Repeat this motion times a ridiculous number depending on how many strides you take and how long your run is.  All that sounds good right?  Well the issues begin – because runners are only working in one plane – creating an imbalance in muscle development. Hips, low backs and knees may become tight or strained because there are other muscle that are underdeveloped in comparison and unable to counteract the pulling or strain of the stronger muscles.  There is also the issue of overuse and tightness of the muscles in use – ever had tight hamstrings, throbbing quads or calf cramps??

So why Pilates?  Because Pilates by design works to promote balance throughout the body.  Pilates works to develop the smaller supporting muscles in all planes – not just the linear forward propelling muscles used in running.  Pilates works to lengthen and strengthen and lean out the body.  Translation- more flexibility and strength without building bulky muscles.  By developing the stabilizing muscles, you can protect the knees, hips, and low back – reducing your chance of injury, increasing your range of motion and building a stronger support system in the body.

Pilates also tones the core – including the diaphragm.  Why is this important?  Have you raced to the finished or huffed and puffed to complete speed work?  Have you found yourself winded at the end of a hard workout? What if you could improve your breathing?  Well you can!  Pilates helps you to develop the muscles of the diaphragm and transverse abdominals – the muscles that act as a corset around your core.  Stronger ‘breathing’ muscles means less side cramps and better breath control when you are working your hardest and need your breath the most.  And by the way – the muscles of the core including the transverse abdominals when toned yield those coveted 6-pack abs – which make a nice backdrop for race medals!

By using dynamic or active stretching exercises, Pilates develops a strong core will stretching out hamstrings, gluts, hip flexors, calf muscles – all those muscles that take a pounding every time your run.  All exercises are done in a safe, neutral spine alignment with an emphasis on not over stretching or straining any muscles.  Consider Pilates what you do to undo what you’ve done so you can do it again but even better the next time!

Ok – so now you know the benefits of Pilates and you may be thinking, “If it will make me a better runner and help with my tight hamstrings, I’ll give it a try!”  Before you walk into your first class – here are a few things to note to make your experience better.  Don’t expect a heart-pounding workout out.  Don’t expect to be dripping with sweat when you leave.  Don’t expect Pilates to replace the cardio you get from running.  I believe running is one of the most efficient cardio workouts and Pilates serves a different purpose.  Do expect to really feel your abdominals and to feel muscles in your legs, core, and gluts you haven’t felt in a while.  Focus first on what your core is supposed to be doing – staying contracted. Secondly, focus on your breathing.  A good instructor will be cueing you on when to exhale and inhale, and where you should feel the work in your core.  Worry less about how far you can extend you legs, stretch or what the person next to you can do. Range of motion and flexibility will improve with time.  Don’t expect to be magically ‘fixed’ in one class.  Joseph Pilates believed in 10 sessions you’d feel different, in 20 you’d see changes and in 30 you’d have a whole new body.

So Pilates and Running – perfect soul or ‘sole’ mates – I say yes!  Whether you have a nagging ache or issue now or just want to make sure you never do- Pilates can balance you out and provide the answer to injury free, more efficient running.  Give it a try and see for yourself.  I believe you will see changes you didn’t expect, reap benefits that will make your running more enjoyable and rewarding, and you may just uncover that competitive advantage you are seeking too!

Lucie Bécus is a PMA Certified Pilates Instructor, ACE Certified Personal Trainer and former college Track and Cross Country Athlete.  She owns 12South Pilates & Personal Training- providing private session in Pilates Reformer, Private and Group Sessions in Mat Pilates and also Personal Training sessions.  For more information or to schedule a session contact Lucie at 12SouthPilates@gmail.com or check out 12South Pilates on facebook www.facebook.com/12SouthPilates 

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