While running is one of the most natural and instinctive exercises, it’s also one of the most injury prone. According to www.corerunning.com, “Research shows that if you run regularly, you have a 37 – 56% of getting injured. The majority of these injuries (50 – 70%) are overuse injuries to the musculoskeletal system (comprised of the muscles, tendons, joint tissues, ligaments and bones). What’s even worse, researchers estimate that up to 70% of injuries are likely to re-occur!” So what if there was an exercise program that reduces the risk of injury and allows you to improve speed at the same time? Intrigued?
Enter Pilates, the perfect compliment to running. Where running is high impact, Pilates is low impact; where running creates muscle imbalance, Pilates promotes balance; and where running creates tightness, Pilates promotes mobility. Performed correctly, Pilates will strengthen muscles, ligaments, and tendons to guard against impact, improve form, and create a consistent gait. This strong and efficient running body will allow you to run faster for longer while minimizing the chance of injury. Here are three ways that Pilates can improve running.
Running’s repetitive nature creates huge potential for injury. Any weaknesses in your body will eventually become apparent. Eric Orton, a running coach featured in Born to Run explains that “if one stabilizer isn’t strong enough or isn’t recruited, other muscle groups get over-worked and the entire chain of movement is disrupted.” And the truth is that most runners lack strength in at least one muscle group. For example, many runners suffer from tight IT bands as a result of running’s high-impact during foot strike. This tightness brings tension to the outside portion of the quads and the tracking of the knee begins to move away from the midpoint of the body. As the body then tries to correct the problem, tension builds in the knee joint around the medial ACL. The right Pilates program brings balance to the quadriceps by strengthening the hamstrings, inner thighs, and gluteals to take pressure off the front of the leg and activate the lateral muscles that get neglected during a run. Sample exercises include the Single and Double Leg Kick, the Side Leg Series, and the Heel Squeeze Prone.
“When my core strength is at its peak, I can run more efficiently and maintain that extra edge.”
—Lola Jones, US Olympic Hurdler and World Champion
To achieve and maintain that lucrative, efficient running form, many runners focus on the work happening in their legs and to a lesser extent their arms. Unfortunately, they overlook the importance of how a strong and stable core can positively impact their running. Pilates emphasizes initiating and controlling each and every movement through the central core muscles. Consistent Pilates practice can retrain the body to function more efficiently and effectively while running by placing the source of energy in the core. Improved balance, posture, alignment, and muscle control are just some of the positive outcomes of this practice.
True core stability is achieved through a balanced strengthening of the central core abdominal and back muscles – the Rectus Abdominus, the inner and outer Obliques, the Tranverse Abdominus, the Quadratus Lumborum, and the spinal erectors. This stable torso prevents excess rotation and side-to-side movement in the torso, which wastes forward energy and momentum. This is essential especially toward the end of a race when the body is tired and injury is most likely. Sample exercises include The Hundred, the Side Kick, and Breast Stroke.
Most runners know the positive correlation between flexibility and the rate of injury. However, passive stretching, like reaching your fingers toward your toes and holding, can actually cause more harm than good. Pilates offers the opportunity to build functional strength through a wide range of motion. The key to this practice is eccentric muscle activation, or activating a muscle while you continue to lengthen it. This type of activation and muscle work is what originally drew the dance community to the work of Joseph Pilates in the 1940’s. Dancers realized that they didn’t need to give up strength for flexibility or flexibility for strength. The same holds true for runners who want to develop both strong and flexible muscles. Sample exercises include The Roll-up, Leg Circles, and Hip Rotation.
If you like this information and would like access to the full Pilates for Runners program, please visit the Pilates for Runners store.