I was a runner long before I found Pilates. I wish I knew about Pilates when I was competing in track and cross country for my college or later running marathons. I know Pilates would have been a great asset to my running and recovery. It is now, so I can only imagine how much better, I would have felt back when I was really pounding the pavement and racking up the miles.
My first Pilates reformer class was bewildering, intimidating, and at times disappointing. Yeap – I said it – there were aspects of Pilates I found to be kinda of pointless at first. I see it now with runners who are in good running shape and trying Pilates for the first time. It requires a completely different mindset. In running, getting the heart rate up, breaking a sweat, pushing yourself to exhaustion are all part of the game. Not so much in Pilates! If you are used to wearing a heart rate monitor or clocking your mile pace … Pilates may be a bit perplexing for you! It’s definitely worth it, though, and your running will thank you. You just may need some patience in the beginning. Trust and keep trying!
For your amusement – here’s my take on how the first reformer class feels and goes for a runner based on my experience and what I see with other runners:
For starters the equipment is a bit intimidating. If you are used to gym equipment, there is an expectation of lifting and pushing heavy weights. “Will I be strong enough to move this machine around? My legs are pretty strong, though … maybe my instructor will be super impressed with me?”
And then the double leg work begins with two red springs and maybe a yellow or blue to get the core working! “Does she know how strong I am? Is this for real? I don’t think this is doing anything and if this is all we are going to do for an hour this is a waste of a workout! I’m definitely not burning any calories!” Let’s be clear … there is a good chance as a runner your big quads and strong hamstrings are trying to compensate and do all the work with little core engagement at this point!
Single leg work on two red springs! “Oh ouch my hamstrings are tight – does she seriously expect me to be able to stretch and straighten my leg like that over and over again? Wow – that’s humbling.”
Lats and Abs work! “I run so upper body is not really important to me but if my arms end up looking toned, that’s a bonus! Why does if feel like this is only arm pit work? Who needs toned arm pits?? What’s with table top and how long are we going to hold that? My quads are shaking!” At this point as a runner, once again we try to use our quads in place of our low abs to maintain table top and they fatigue quickly!
Roll downs on the long box. “I think I need another spring – the straps aren’t tight enough to support me. Isn’t this just a glorified situp? I can get back up no problem – just need to throw my shoulders into it – a little momentum to the rescue!” Roll downs can be a hard concept to grasp when you are used to powering through workouts.
Spine articulation with three red springs. “The instructor said to articulate vertebrae by vertebrae – I think I’ve identified 4 vertebrae – that seems about right. Ouch – hamstring seizing up on me! Make it stop!”
Legs in straps with 2 reds or a red and blue spring. “I seriously think I may be auditioning for cirque du soleil and failing miserably! How I am I supposed to get both legs moving together smoothly? It’s a wonder I can walk with how little control I feel over my legs at this point!” This is the part of class that strong running muscles just can’t take over for a lack of stabilizing muscles and it becomes obvious.
Seated arm work with hand straps and 1 red spring. “I wonder how much weight I am lifting. It feels like a lot.”
Chest expansion facing the rear of the reformer with 1 red spring. “This is really light. Not sure why we are waving our arms like this – it’s not doing anything.” Runners are used to swinging their arms and try to turn this exercise into just that – missing the pectoral work and actual chest expansion.
Skating with one red spring! “I can get the carriage out but how am I supposed to get it back in … I may inadvertently end up doing the splits here!” Runners often lack strong abductor or adductor muscles because of so much linear work. Skating can be a real eye opening! “This hurts and I’m never going to need this – I run forward – I hope this doesn’t mess up my running!” Yes you do need this to stay injury-free – avoid IT band issues, knee issues, hip issues and more!
Pulling straps with 1 red spring. “Once again we are waving our arms. This doesn’t seem too hard but I could use something to prop my legs up! The instructor keeps talking about lifting my chest up …pretty sure that’s impossible.” For many – extension is lacking in the body and oh so necessary to keep the spine healthy and able to endure the miles.
Elephant with 2 red springs. “I got this – just pull the carriage in with my shoulders. Wow this is stretching my hamstrings and calves. The instructor keeps saying use my abdominals but I don’t think I need them here!” Elephant can be tricky for runners to ‘get’ – with other more dominate muscles they can move the carriage and bypass the abs if not careful and attentive.
Runner’s Lunge with 1 red spring. “Okay this is reason enough to come back. This is Nirvana. Maybe Pilates is not a complete waste!” Nothing feels as good as a runner’s lunge for tight or tired legs from running.
This is not meant to be a list or order of exercises for your class, just some of the exercises and how they feel to a runner who is a trying Pilates for the first time! If you are a runner … be patient, trust your instructor and pay attention to what you feel in your body. Often in running we try to dismiss aches and pains and ignore what our body tells us so we can go the distance. In Pilates – tune in! And if you are an instructor teaching a runner for the first time, remember this is very different for them and try to equate the work with how it will help with running.
I hope you enjoyed my runner’s take on Pilates.