8 Weeks of Running – Running Journal, Cross-Training, and Nutrition: Week 2
Week 2: Pilates for Running
Pilates is a functional method of exercise, meaning it does more for the body than just toning, slimming, and lengthening it. Pilates uniquely incorporates components of physical therapy and strength training into its breadth of work, which evenly trains the body’s muscular system to be strong, flexible, and agile, all while exercising mind-body engagement and controlled movements. These fundamental benefits of Pilates can directly impact your form and stamina while running.
When you run, you move unilaterally, meaning that you are only being trained to move in one direction, straight forward. Training unilaterally can create imbalances in the body (especially in long-distance running), which can then put stress on certain parts of the body, affecting your performance and even causing pain and injuries. Pilates on the other hand, trains the body multi-dimensionally, strengthening the body to help offset the compensations we make due to body imbalances when we run.
Balance, mobility, breath, and learning to “work from the core,” are basic fundamentals we work on in Pilates, and which are also essential fundamentals to runners as well. A runner’s breathing patterns, gait, and posture can improve efficiency and performance while running. Utilizing breath patterns and good body mechanics are key to performing Pilates movements correctly, and when practiced, can benefit runners too.
From personal experience, Pilates has directly enhanced my body awareness and has made me a much more efficient mover in every aspect of my daily life, not just when I am doing Pilates. When I run, my breath, hip alignment, and core control are major components to completing runs successfully, and doing Pilates on a regular basis enhances all these aspects.
At mile 8 of the Rock N’ Roll Marathon I completed last April, I could feel that my breathing and pelvic alignment were off because I was getting fatigued. I focused on taking longer, fuller lateral breaths, getting more oxygen in my body than quicker, short breaths, which helped keep my muscles going. Additionally, I pulled my core in tighter so I was not putting extra pressure on my low back. This awareness, change in breath, and alignment adjustment, significantly helped me make it through the last leg of the race.
My favorite 3 Pilates mat movements for running:
How to perform: Lie on your back, arms long to the side of your body, with the knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Find a neutral spine on your inhale breath, then as you exhale, imprint the spine, dial the pubic bone up, and begin to articulate through the spine as you lift your hips. Make sure to not over arch your back and pop your ribcage up as you come to the top of the pelvic curl. You want to stay connected through your core and long through the hip flexors. Exhale as you fully articulate back down the spine to the starting position. Perform this movement 10-12 times.
Benefits: This movement simultaneously aids in creating movement and stability in both the spine and the hips. It also helps to engage the back line of the body (hamstrings, glutes, and low back extensors) that can often times be neglected when running. It is also a nice hip opener that stretches tight hip flexors and quad muscles.
How to perform: Lie on your back with legs in tabletop position (knees over hips and shins parallel to the floor) and spine in a neutral position. Curl head and chest up and interlace fingers at the base of the skull. On the exhale, extend your right leg out long to a 45-degree angle, then rotate the upper torso towards your left knee. On the inhale breath, rotate back through center.
Elbows should stay at your peripheral vision through the whole movement and you should not try to over use your arms to get more rotation. Imagine the rotation starting from your ribcage, which will help you fire the appropriate abdominal and oblique muscles. Keep head, neck, and chest lifted and switch from side to side. Perform 8-10 on each side.
Benefits: The abdominal muscles get fully worked when performing this movement (obliques, transverse abdominals, and the rectus abdominal) and the muscles that support your spine are also gaining strength by helping to stabilize and maintain a neutral position. The rotational component is also beneficial as it helps open up the chest and create more mobility through the upper torso and thoracic spine.
How to perform: Lie face down in a prone position. Lengthen your spine and draw your tailbone toward the floor; imagine lifting your bellybutton to your spine in efforts to support the low back during the movement. Arms should be long by your side with the palms facing down and pinky fingers pressed into the thighs. This alignment of the arms helps to facilitate the external rotation of your shoulders and opening of the chest. On your inhale breath, lift your head and chest off the floor while keeping your gaze down. As you lift, imagine trying to reach your fingers towards your feet. This will help you keep your shoulder blades down your back as well as maintain the proper extension of the spine. On the exhale breath, lower to the starting position.
Benefits: As mentioned above, running is a unilateral method of exercise. Because it is so forward-focused, it is good to counterbalance this with extension work that helps to open up the chest and shoulders that get tight during runs, as well as strengthen the back line of the body (upper back, spine extensors, glutes and hamstrings). This movement also targets the arms and the supporting muscle group of the shoulders.