Let me preference by saying – for most of my life I have been a runner! I began competing in track in 7th grade. By high school, I had added cross country to the mix and held several school records. I was fortunate enough to also run for my college in both track and cross country. I’ve completed 11 marathons including Boston – I think this qualifies me as a runner. If I criticize runners while not my intention – rest assured – I’m criticizing myself!
What I have found, learned and observed after discovering Pilates is that runners tend to be weak in the muscles not directly used for running. While I’ll be one of the first to tell you I think running is one of the most efficient workouts and can build strong legs and hearts – runners could benefit from a little cross training. More times than not what I see and hear is runners turning to biking or spinning to cross train. I did! While this is not bad – it is also the same linear motion as running. A better way to cross train would be to target muscles not used for running. To some that may sound crazy – “If I don’t need them for running and running is all I really want to do – why waste time on those unnecessary muscle groups?”
I’ll tell you why! Because those muscles will help prevent injury, will make you a better runner and will provide the support and strength your running muscles need to work at their maximum capacity. Running gets a bad rap for the number of injuries runners sustain. I would say this is because of overuse of some muscles and under use of others. Finding balance in your muscle groups will prevent injuries.
Let’s take a very simplistic example. Look at a standard child’s swing. Its motion is back and forth – linear like running. One could argue the most important part of the swing for optimal performance is the hinge where the rope attaches to the top bar. As long as the swing is moving back and forth symmetrically – all is good right? Now imagine one rope of the swing is frayed, tied in a knot, stretched or uneven. Our swing will no longer swing evenly and over time one hinge is going to feel the brunt of the work. It may wear out to the point of breaking. Much like our bodies if one facet is out of sync the rest can not function properly and we must compensate.
When I first began doing Pilates, I was shocked at how weak my inner thighs were. I considered myself to be in good shape! Same goes for my core – I struggled to get through the series of 5 and yet I could run a Boston Qualifiying marathon and felt good in a bikini. How was that possible? I was lean – but not necessarily toned in the muscles I didn’t need for running. I was also nervous about working those muscles – would they make me bulkier and slower? NO! Would they impact my running gait? Yes – possibly for the better! While I don’t think my stride drastically changed my pace was strong and my legs didn’t cramp or become fatigued as early.
Getting dedicated runners to venture out and try something new or even take a day off is a challenge. I speak from personal experience! But – I know from personal experience – I day off running and a day of Pilates would yield better results than another day of running. If you don’t believe me – try it and try to prove me wrong! Give it a month or better yet 2 months – replacing one running workout with a Pilates workout and then tell me how your running is going?