Whether you are a casual runner who occasionally does a 5k, or if you are running marathons in Death Valley, Pilates can help. Everyone’s body is different, but people doing similar activities generally have similar needs. Here’s how:
1. Pilates Stabilizes your Ankles.
Pilates on a reformer helps create general stability by strengthening and balancing the muscles in your feet, legs, pelvic floor & core, all of which work together to create balance. Footwork on the reformer also specifically targets the smaller stability muscles in your feet and ankles. The exercise is essentially a series of squats in varying ankle positions performed while lying on your back on the moving carriage of the reformer. When working on the balls of your feet with heels partially raised, your feet and ankle muscles learn to stabilize where you need it most. This is a vital area to strengthen, especially for runners hitting that mid-foot strike or running on uneven trails.
2. Pilates Decreases Neck & Shoulder Tension.
Many Pilates exercises focus on stabilizing and mobilizing your shoulder girdle. When running, most people tend to slightly shrug their shoulders and/or roll them forward to protect their necks from the jarring impact of landing. This creates a lot of tension above their shoulders and in their necks.
Training proper functioning of your shoulders will help stabilize them so you do not need to hold them up as you run. Instead, your shoulder blades can be trained to stay attached to your ribcage in a healthy position allowing your arms to swing freely forward and back without tugging on your neck. Of course, improving the levelness (is that even a word?) of your stride and landing on that mid-foot sweet spot will also help decrease the jarring effect of running (Pilates can help with that, too!).
3. Pilates Enlists the use of the Elusive Hamstrings
As with many body challenges, there is more than one factor contributing to a forward-tilting pelvis (arching your low back). One factor is weak hamstrings. Most of us are quad-dominant, especially runners. This creates a stronger downward pull on the front of our pelvises. Without a counterbalance from our hamstrings, our pelvises tilt, causing low back issues, among other things.
Pilates includes many exercises that target the back line of our bodies, most notably bridging and its many variations. This and other exercises work the hamstrings in both lengthened and shortened positions, teaching them how to behave in concert and in balance with the rest of our bodies.
4. Pilates Decreases or Eliminates Low Back Pain.
By teaching our bodies how to find and maintain a neutral pelvis position (one that allows the natural, but not accentuated, curve of the low back), Pilates can eliminate low back pain caused by a forward-tilted pelvis (one that accentuates the curve of the low back). Many exercises focus on pelvic stability – the ability to move our torso, arms and legs without losing anatomical alignment. You might be surprised at how many people tilt their pelvises unnecessarily when they lift their arms overhead or rotate their torsos. Finding this stability involves improving your deep core muscles, training them to keep your pelvis stable, and balancing the muscles in your legs and hip flexors.
5. Pilates can Lengthen your Hip Flexors.
Pilates recognizes and fully utilizes the knowledge that muscles are built and strengthened by both concentric (shortening) and eccentric (lengthening) contractions, and lengthening muscles may even be more effective at strengthening. To that end, mat and reformer Pilates both include exercises that target hip extension. What is hip extension? True extension is when your leg moves behind your pelvis – your femur angles behind your pubic bone. If your pelvis tilts to allow the movement of your leg, you are not actually going into hip extension and are not fully lengthening your hip flexors.
Good running form includes going into extension with every step. If you don’t have this ability, lengthening your hip flexors should be a priority for your cross-training strategy as it will significantly improve your stride and decrease discomfort. As a bonus, lengthening your hip flexors will help you maintain a neutral pelvis and thereby decrease associated low back pain (see above).
If you’ve never given Pilates a try, make an appointment today!
If you would like to learn more, contact me to schedule a free 30 minute consultation.