Pilates is a very useful practice for all levels of athletes, complimenting various forms of sport and helping to increase speed, agility, power, balance and flexibility. So with the London Marathon on the horizon, we wanted to focus on running to explore how the practice of Pilates can be particularly beneficial for those runners amongst us and offer tips on how to use certain exercises to compliment your training.
Despite being a wonderful stress release and boost to our cardiovascular health, running is a high impact repetitive exercise routine, which can cause stress to our joints and even lead to the development of body asymmetries. This is due to that fact that during a run, if one area of the body or muscle group is weaker, other areas of the body have to work harder to compensate. Over time, the stronger muscles become overused leading to muscular imbalance or even injury.
The core principles of Pilates include balance, flexibility, coordination, control, posture, alignment and core strength, all of which can improve the performance and technique of a runner. In particular, a good posture is critical for runners, which a strong and stable core thoroughly promotes so that when the body is upright, less strain is placed on the rest of the body, allowing for more efficient running. Body alignment is also key and a Pilates instructor should be able to observe and correct the alignment of the hips, knees, ankles and feet, working towards a more balanced running technique and movement patterns for either side of the body. In addition, certain Pilates exercises activate and strengthen muscle groups which may not to be activated during a run, further benefiting your running practice and helping the body to deal with the stress of running. As Joseph Pilates himself said, “When all your muscles are properly developed, you will, as a matter of course, perform your work with minimum effort and maximum pleasure.’
So whether you’re a casual runner or training for the marathon, we’ve put together our top five Pilates exercises that we recommend incorporating 3-4 times a week to compliment your running routine and enhance your performance during a run.
THE HUNDRED (100 counts)
Helps to increase abdominal strength, warm up the body, breathe deeply into the lungs and torso, as well as develop stability of the torso.
Starting position: Lie on the back with your arms by your sides, knees bent, feet flat on the mat and heels in line with sit bones. This exercise can be done in an imprinted, neutral or supported neutral position as long as the pelvis and low back remain completely stable throughout the exercise.
Inhale to prepare.
Exhale and engage the abdominals, lifting the feet off the floor until the knees and hips are at a 90 degree angle (table top/chair position) and the lower back is supported. For beginners, lift one foot off the floor at a time.
Inhale and reach the arms up towards the ceiling.
Exhale and lower the arms down by your sides, lift the head and upper body off the mat to only as far as the bottom of the shoulder blades. Straighten the legs out and lower them down towards the mat, only as far as you can without changing the position of the lower back.
Inhale and pulse the arms for 5 counts, keeping the torso still and arms straight as if splashing water.
Exhale and pulse the arms for 5 counts.
Repeat for up to 100 counts.
Precautions: For neck and shoulder injuries, work the lower body only. For lower back injuries, work with an imprinted spine or supported neutral position of the low back, keeping the knees in table top/chair position to take the stress out of the back.
SINGLE STRAIGHT LEG STRETCH (8-12 sets)
Helps to develop pelvic stability, core control, strengthen the abdominals and increase the flexibility of the hamstrings.
Starting position: Lie on the back with the head and upper body rounded off the mat with one leg reaching towards the ceiling and the other leg reaching towards the wall. Lower the leg only as far as you can without disturbing the stability of the low back and pelvis. Please the hands as far up the leg as they can reach but not directly behind the knee.
Inhale and engage the abdominals, drawing the leg closer to you. Pulse the leg two times with a short inhale.
Exhale and switch the legs, keeping the torso still, the lower back stable and the shoulders down with the elbows wide.
Repeat for 8-12 sets.
Precautions: For neck and shoulder injuries, work the lower body only. For low back injuries, work with an imprinted spine and don’t lower the legs too far.
SAW (4-6 sets)
Helps to increase rotation of the spine, stretch the mid and upper back, increase the mobility of the shoulder girdle and improve pelvic stability.
Starting position: Sit up with the legs straight and open, hip distance apart. Reach the arms out to either side of the body, level with the bottom of the sternum. Sit up tall on the centre of the sit bones.
Inhale and rotate the torso to the left, reaching the right arm towards to left foot.
Exhale and engage the abdominals, round the head and torso forward, reaching the right arm towards the little toe on the left foot. Reach the left arm back behind you, while gently rotating the shoulder so the palm faces behind you.
Inhale and return to the starting position with the weight centred on both sit bones and arms out to either side of the body. Rotate to the opposite side and repeat.
Precautions: For low back and hip injuries, bend the knees in to take the stress out of the lower back and hips. For shoulder problems, bend the elbows and place the palms on the top of the shoulders and don’t reach the arm back behind you as you rotate. Avoid with osteoporosis.
SWAN (3-6 reps)
Helps to improve back extension, improve scapular stability and strengthen back extensors, hamstrings and glutes.
Starting position: Lie prone (on your front) with the palms of the hands on the mat, level with the shoulders and elbows bent. Legs are as close together as is comfortable for the lower back.
Inhale and engage the abdominals drawing the bellybutton in and up. Slide the shoulder blades down the back and lift the upper body into extension using the back extensor muscles as your press the hands down into the mat. Keep the hips pressed into the mat and engage the glutes to take any pressure off the lower back. Keep the shoulders away from the ears and rise up only as far as the lower back is comfortable, whilst keeping the head in line with the spine. For any tight lower backs, place the hands out wide.
Exhale and lower the torso back down to the mat with control.
Precautions: For low back injuries, press the pubic bone into the mat to take any pressure off the back, or lift up on the forearms rather than the hands. Avoid if back extension is not tolerable. Use forearm modification for any shoulder, wrist or elbow injuries.
LEG PULL DOWN (4-6 sets)
Helps to strengthen the entire body including the core, scapular stabilisers, and lumbopelvic stabilisers. Also helps to strengthen the hip extensors including hamstrings and glutes.
Starting position: Plank position with shoulders over wrists, inner thighs together and body in a straight line from head to feet.
Inhale and life one leg up towards the ceiling with the foot pointed. Keep the torso in line and the hips level throughout the exercise.
Exhale and lower the leg back to the mat.
Repeat on the opposite side for 4-6 sets.
Precautions: For any wrist injuries, begin in an all fours position and lift the leg from there or place the forearms on a sitting box or yoga blocks so no weight or pressure is applied to the wrists.