While many runners use weight-training, yoga, or swimming as cross-training exercises, pilates offers a lot of benefits that often go overlooked.
What is Pilates?
While Pilates for runners has become quite popular over the last few years, it’s been around for a very long time. Originally created by George Pilates in the 1920s, he used the regimen to help English World War I veterans recover from their injuries. Similar to yoga, it’s a low-impact exercise that improves flexibility, posture, breathing control, and aids in mobility. While considered a full-body exercise, those who engage in pilates noticed major gains in their core strength. Workouts last around 45 minutes to an hour–making it a perfect cross-training exercise. Of course, if you’re interested, the question becomes: What type of pilates is right for me? Good news is, there are only two types–mat and reformer–so you won’t lose yourself in complicated minutiae.
The Benefits of Pilates for Runners
The most obvious answer is that pilates offers a full-body workout at a low-impact level.
However, it also provides you with a way of working out while injured. These exercises aid in the healing process and still allow you to maintain your health while you recover thanks to the increased focus on joint mobility.
As a cross-training exercise, it can help build your speed and endurance. Pilates relies heavily on cardiovascular exercises, allowing for more oxygen circulation in your muscles, which are developing at a greater rate because you’re engaging while they’re still at their most flexible and ready for growth. By focusing on proper movement, your body becomes more efficient and graceful in its strides. You’re not only working out, but you’re also allowing your body the chance to rebalance itself and learn to move correctly.
You probably noticed a real emphasis on the neck, shoulders, and back. These areas are often troublesome. Pilates will keep these areas from tightening up. The focus on the spine and back allows the sciatic area to become more balanced, making it less likely to tighten and hurt during your runs.
However, Pilates’ greatest contribution is that it can also decrease the likelihood of getting injured again. Focusing on the spine and its posture allows for greater balance, ensuring that your movements are the most efficient for your body. The exercises that pilates emphasizes will show you where you’re least flexible and allow you to build those areas up, decreasing the chance of injury.
Let’s go over what some of these exercises are.
Mat Pilates for Runners
These don’t require machinery. Just–you guessed it–a mat. Buy a more cushioned mat than the average yoga version. You’ll need the extra protection on your pressure points. Neither version is particularly strenuous but is low-impact enough that injured exercisers can do them without further risk of damage. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Pilates is very similar to yoga and that’s not an accident. George Pilates actually took inspiration from it, along with dance, and calisthenics to create a regimen that can be both healing and physically beneficial all at once. Both yoga and pilates increase your flexibility. However, yoga focuses more on flexibility. Pilates is used for healing and for relieving tense muscles while strengthening others.
Mat Pilates is the basic form of Pilates, using exercises and methods originally implemented by George Pilates himself. The Pilates Reformer is a bit more involved, but we’ll deal with that in a little while.
For right now, we’re going to cover some basic Mat Pilates workouts to give you an idea of its form and function.
Mat Pilates Workouts for Runners
This is the common pilates warm-up. Obviously, you’ll begin by lying with your back on the mat. Draw your stomach in, so that your navel moves down toward your spine. Keep your arms down at your hips. Your fingers should be straight, pointed ahead. Keep your legs together and lift them toward the ceiling. Then lower them until you’re at a 45-degree angle with the floor. Next, raise your head and neck along with the back of your shoulders off the floor. Do the same with your arms. Inhale deeply through your nose and out your mouth. Now, pump your arms in sync with your breathing.
Do 100 reps.
Half Roll Down
Lay down on the mat, facing up. Feet on the floor together bent upward at a 45-degree angle. Hold the back of your thighs with your hands. With your chin aimed at your chest, roll up into a seated position. Pay close attention to your posture. Don’t slouch. Your spine should be straight and aligned with your shoulders. Hold this position for a few seconds. Then, aim your chin toward your chest again, and while maintaining the grip on your thighs, tuck your tailbone, and allow your chest to sink in a little bit while your spine moves back toward the mat. When your body from your head to your tailbone looks like the letter “C,” hold the position. Keep your abs contracted. Inhale, and move slightly toward the mat again, as if laying down. Hold the position once your arms go straight. Then exhale and bring your body back up into the C position. Repeat–inhale as you move back, exhale as you return forward.
Lie back in a resting position. When you’re ready, extend your legs in front of you but don’t raise them. Keep them on the floor, pressed together. Raise your arms to the ceiling like a classic zombie about to rise. Inhale slowly to prepare. When you exhale, curl your chin toward your chest and use your head, neck, and shoulders to roll up off the mat. Nothing too fast or sudden, just slowly move into it. Flex your abs and continue to roll your body until you’re sitting up. Continue to lean forward, as if you’re folding yourself forward, essentially making your body into the letter “C.” Your arms should be right over your thighs and legs. You’ll feel some pull in your shoulders. Your legs should remain together and on the mat. Hold this position for several breaths. Then, slowly, lay back down on the mat. You’ll feel articulation in the lower, middle, and upper back as you return to a supine position.
And there you have some basic Mat Pilate exercises to get you started.
But there’s more.
Reformer Pilates for Runners
Reformer Pilates requires equipment–appropriately called a Reformer. The machine was created, of course, by George Pilates himself and has changed little since its invention. It’s highly versatile, allowing for exercises to be done from a variety of positions using straps, springs, the footbar, and shoulder blocks. Where Reformer Pilates differs from Mat Pilates is not only the need for equipment but in the way it goes about challenging you. While all pilates offer benefits in the form of strength, flexibility, graceful movement coordination, and balance, the Reformer uses resistance to develop your strength and flexibility.
For this section, we’ll presume that you have a Reformer or are considering purchasing one. Here are a few basic exercises:
For resistance, attach two or three springs to the Reformer platform. Lie down on your back, shoulders against the shoulder blocks. With your toes on the footbar, lift your heels and open your knees. Your hands should be at your sides, resting on the machine. Straighten your knees. Hold the pose, then bend them back into the starting position. Do 3 sets of 15 reps.
Add two springs for resistance. Lie down with your knees bent. One foot in each strap loop. The straps need to stay between your knees, which should be shoulder-width apart. Hands remain at your sides, back is straight. When you’re ready, straighten your legs. When you do, the Reformer will slide you up. It’s an odd feeling at first, but you’ll get used to it. You’ll slide down again when you return your legs to the starting position. Do 3 sets of 12 reps.
Yep, you can run stationary on the Reformer. Again, it’s a little strange at first, but it’ll scratch the itch, especially if you’re still recovering from an injury and can’t quite run normally yet. Lie down–toes on the foobar, hands at your sides. Extend your legs to slide up. Drop your right heel, then bend your left knee, which will make you slide down. Extend the left leg and raise your right heel to go back up again. Repeat. If you’re recovering from injury, do 1 set of 15 reps. If you’re not injured and using this as a part of your cross-training, do 2 sets of 25.
Whether you’re recovering from an injury or need a cross-training regimen to boost your gains, pilates has what you’re looking for, and without the risk of overexertion.