Pilates for runners can be an incredible way to strengthen your core and hip stabilizers for injury-free runs!
It uses small and controlled movements to target the core while simultaneously working to increase flexibility, mind-body connection, and even posture.
With almost 20 years of running under my fuel belt, it’s really easy to skip over the important FOUNDATIONAL components of training. Or more accurately it’s easy to do until we’re injured then we start looking at options to keep us running pain-free.
In fact, as little as 20 minutes, a few times a week on base building work will ensure you not only run better, but stronger and longer.
Base building includes things like:
- Doing running drills
- Running uphill workouts
- Foam rolling for runners and stretching
- Consistent full-core workouts
- Serious attention to fueling properly
Today we’re focusing on one of those areas…CORE. Which as you know is about so much more than just getting a six-pack.
If you’ve been wondering what more Pilates can do for you as a runner, this is the perfect article for you!
Not only will we touch upon what Pilates is, but we’ll deep dive into the benefits for runners, some top Pilates moves, and how to incorporate it into your running routine.
Is Pilates Good for Runners?
I think this quote says a lot about why we want to utilize something like Pilates no matter what sport we choose to play.
‘The cure for the wrong kind of core movement isn’t to stop all movement, it’s to learn the right kind of movement.’
Pilates is a tool to help runners better learn to use their bodies and prevent injury. It can be done in place of a traditional ab workout or as part of a strength training day.
Pilates can be done via a mat class (i.e. at home or in a group setting) or via a machine called the Reformer. I happen to really love the reformer, but those classes often get very pricey, and thus I’m pretty content to rock the benefits at home for free.
What is Pilates?
Pilates (pronounced puh-lah-teez and not pie-lates) is a type of exercise that emphasizes small, deliberate movements that work to strengthen your core, create a better mind-body connection, and increase strength and flexibility.
It is similar to yoga but the emphasis is on your body’s core — the abdomen, obliques, lower back, inner and outer thigh, butt, and so on.
Pilates concentrates on proper postural alignment, core strength, and muscle balance that can work together to do wonders for runners.
It was started by Joseph Pilates in 1923 when he moved to New York City from Germany. Mr. Pilates was originally a self-defense instructor working for Scotland Yard during World War I and created Pilates as a way to help soldiers rehabilitate from their injuries during the war.
From there, it started to gain popularity amongst the general population, including dancers and other athletes, and the practice grew to include Pilates equipment such as the reformer.
He originally named it Contrology, which better describes what you’re doing; through a series of movements, you are engaging your muscles to control the movements.
For this reason, Pilates develops much of what exercisers need — strength, flexibility, muscular endurance, coordination, balance, and good posture — with a much lower chance of injury than with other forms of exercise. The discipline emphasizes correct form instead of going for the burn.
It emphasizes six essential principles, which are concentration, control, center, flow, precision, and breathing. Combining them all means that Pilates is an exercise that you do with concentration and precision which truly helps to create that mind-body connection.
What are the Benefits of Pilates for Runners?
Let’s go over some of the top benefits of Pilates for runners before looking at some at-home exercises you can try today.
Personally I truly love a good Pilates instructor and a reformer class to really get better control of my core. BUT doing it at home is fabulous and easy. I love that this is yet another way to learn body awareness for runners, so that you have better form and know when stop because something feels off.
Works Deep Core Muscles
One of the best advantages of Pilates is that it works to build a strong core. Unfortunately, many people, including runners, tend to do exercises that only target superficial core muscles such as the rectus abdominis and obliques.
Pilates, on the other hand, works the deep core muscles, such as the transverse abdominis, that help stabilize the spine and even improve breathing mechanics. It also provides trunk support and gives your lower body and pelvis stability.
Reduces Lower Back Pain
Since Pilates works deep core muscles, these muscles help to stabilize the spine and lower back pain. Low back pain usually occurs when you have a weak core and your deep core muscles lack the strength and stability necessary to stabilize the spine.
And so doing Pilates can not only help lower back pain, but it can also help prevent sciatica and piriformis syndrome in runners.
Improves Running Form
These core strengthening benefits also lead to better running form and help to maintain a good posture even when fatigue starts to set in after a long run. In fact, Pilates has also been demonstrated to improve running economy.
By regularly doing Pilates, you’ll improve your posture and start running taller with better form even during hard days as it encourages proper movement patterns and teaches you correct posture.
Helps Prevent Injuries
Regularly doing Pilates helps not only strengthen your core muscles, but also your hip stabilizers. This works to improve alignment in your lower limbs and can prevent common running injuries such as IT band syndrome and even runner’s knee.
Your strong core muscles and hip stabilizers also help make sure you don’t injure yourself through compensation.
Other Benefits of Pilates for Runners
- Provides more muscle endurance for better form as we run longer
- Helps us to run faster by working muscles that are often neglected
- Teaches us how to control the motions of our body
- Makes us more aware of good posture, which helps with breathing
- Identifies where you have weaknesses in the body that inhibit your gait
- Teaches you muscular cues to help energize your workouts
- Better recovery time thanks to stronger muscles and moving through stiffness
- Improves joint mobility in lower limbs, hips, and back while strengthening them as well to allow you to have a fluid, long stride
- Works tendons and ligaments in ways to make them stronger and more stability to support joints
My friend Jessica over at Pace of Me became a Pilates teacher after seeing the massive benefits it brought about in her training. I think what she shares here will resonate with many marathon runners and convince you to add some Pilates to your runner cross training.
I wanted to be more fit and strong and I loved to run, but I found that when I would run long distances and get further into my training, my body would tire and my form would collapse resulting in injury and chronic pain.
My core was not strong enough and as I got tired it all just felt apart.
I would slump over and my back and shoulders would ache. With my shoulders hunched and my chest caved in, my breathing was then compromised and everything felt like such hard work.
My pace would slow often to a walk and I just felt like giving up and often did. It was not fun. Something had to change if I wanted to keep running and if I wanted to improve as a runner. I needed to commit myself to having a stronger core, to being more self aware.A #Pilates inspired core workout to make you a better runner! Click To Tweet
7 Best Pilates Exercises for Runners to Build a Strong Core
Here are some great Pilates exercises that you can try at home. All you need is a mat and you’re good to go!
Pilates can be a strenuous workout! Just like running, you need to ease in to the practice and feel free to modify or reduce reps until your body adjusts to the movement.
1. Shoulder Bridges with Kicks
This is a great exercise for runners as it helps strengthen your deep core muscles, pelvis, as well as glutes, and hamstrings. And you may feel a stretch in your quads.
To do it, start by laying on your back with your knees bent and hip-width apart. Keep your arms rested by your side with your palms down.
Take a deep breath in and as you exhale, lift your pelvis and hips to create a diagonal line from your knees to your shoulders. Extend one leg straight out and then bend the extended knee.
Return to the starting position, alternating sides.
This is a great Pilates exercise to target your core muscles, obliques, and even hamstrings.
To do it, begin by laying on your back with one leg extended just above the floor. The other leg should be extended towards the ceiling and hold it with your hands for support.
Take a deep breath in, and as you exhale draw your belly into your spine and pulse the leg you’re holding with your hands into your body twice.
Inhale to switch legs and repeat the steps above.
3. Side Kicks
This exercise is great at working your core muscles, as well as your glutes and quads.
To do it, start by laying on your side. Line your ears, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles. Prop your head into your bottom hand and then place your other arm in front for stability.
Use your core to engage the leg on top and raise it till it’s at hip level and parallel to the floor. Press the leg forward and away from the body then draw it back in slowly. Make sure to not let your knees touch.
Do 10 reps before switching sides.
4. Leg Circles
This exercise is incredible at targeting your core muscles, hips, glutes, quads, and even hamstrings.
To do it, start by laying on your back with your legs straight out. Keep your arms at your side.
Engage your core and draw one knee in towards your chest and then extend it straight towards the ceiling.
Take a deep breath in with your leg up towards the ceiling, and as you exhale bring your leg out to one side, sweep it down towards the ground and across your body, and back to the starting position.
Keep your hips completely still as you do this. Repeat 10 reps before switching sides.
5. Pilates One Hundred
This is a great dynamic exercise that targets your abdominals and lungs! In true Pilates fashion, it’s all about coordinating your breath with movement.
To do it, start by lying flat on your back and with your feet on the ground. Keep a slight curve underneath your neck and your back.
Bring your legs up to a tabletop position with your knees over your legs and shins parallel to the ground. Hover your hands an inch off the mat.
Take a deep breath in, and as you exhale raise your head up towards your chest and lift your shoulder blades up off the mat. Keep a deep breath in again and as you exhale start to pump your arms up and down.
Keep doing this for 5 inhales and 5 exhales.
6. Single-Leg Stretch
This exercise helps to stretch your hamstrings and you may also feel a stretch in your upper back.
To do it, lay on your back and bring both knees in towards your chest. Place your hands on your shins and lift your head up off the floor.
Take a deep breath in and as you exhale extend one leg out. Keep alternating sides. Make sure to keep your lower back flush against the floor and your core engaged at all times.
This is a great exercise that trains your obliques.
To do it, lay on your back with your arms extended out to the sides. Bend your knees and lift them up at a 90-degree angle with your shins parallel to the floor.
Let both knees fall to the right while keeping your lower back on the floor. Return to the starting position and take it to the left side.
If you’re looking for more Pilates exercises to do at home, check out this video:
If you’re looking for some outfit ideas, my friend Teri has a great guide for Pilates outfit ideas that I’m sure you’re going to love!
Tips on How to Add Pilates to Your Routine as a Runner
Here are some quick tips that can help you learn how to incorporate Pilates into your current running and workout routine:
- Make sure to do Pilates on days with hard workouts so that your body has time to recover with rest days and easy days
- Doing Pilates on days with long runs or harder runs can help stretch your muscles for great recovery
- Don’t do Pilates the day before a long run as it can leave your core feeling fatigued which can lead to poor form
- Start with Pilates once a week and work it up to 3 days at most. Make sure to not do it on consecutive days to allow your core muscles to rest and recover
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