Runners are a funny breed of people. Most runners rationally know that in order to be the best runner they can be -- the fastest, the strongest, the most efficient, the most injury-proof -- it doesn’t actually behoove them to run, exclusively, to gain fitness. Rationally, they know that they should also spend deliberate amounts of time each week focusing on flexibility and strength work, paying particular attention to their core strength.
However, the reality is that most times, runners simply aren’t rational people; I can say this because I am one! The reality is that runners are often so hell-bent on accumulating as much mileage as they can that they’d rather spend all their exercising hours logging miles than doing the ancillary stuff, like strength work and core work.
It’s not until runners get injured and sidelined for a period of time -- often due to overuse injuries or muscle imbalances that result from only running miles -- that they begin to realize how important it is to effectively cross-train on a regular basis.
Pilates is one such activity that is an absolutely good idea for runners to do regularly. With Pilates’ emphasis on core strength, it’s a natural fit for runners (athletes who depend on their core strength to carry them through their training and racing) particularly when they begin to get tired and their running form and economy both begin to falter and suffer.
Core strength doesn’t mean having a six-pack or washboard abs, and to be honest, most runners -- especially the everyday, amateur runners -- don’t have that. What’s more important is that runners focus on strengthening their trunk, their back, and their “deep core” muscles, as well as their hip flexors, iliotibial bands, and hamstrings, all areas that are often implicated in running-related overuse and imbalance injuries.
Here’s a quick list that delineates some additional cross-training benefits that a Pilates practice can confer to runners. The benefits include the following:
Pilates can emphasize range of motion. Runners often only run in one plane of motion, so as a result, they’re often not getting access to the full range of motion that their bodies crave. A consequence of this, then, is that some muscles become very strong from overuse -- such as quads -- and other muscles become very weak or no longer fire properly -- such as the hamstrings or glutes -- and they become reliant on other muscles to overcompensate. This set-up can spell quick injury for runners. Supplementing mileage with a Pilates practice will ensure that runners get a full range of motion out of their muscles, even the ones they aren’t using regularly when logging miles.
Pilates can help to correct muscular imbalances. Closely related to my above point, a Pilates practice can help to correct muscular imbalances that often result from running in one plane of motion. Most runners’ quads are extremely strong, for example, but their hamstrings leave something to be desired, and their glute muscles often don’t support the body how they should. Pilates can help to correct these imbalances. Pilates often moves more slowly than running, which can allow for runners to really get in and work all their supporting muscles effectively. This will teach the muscles how they should be working when they’re running.
Pilates can do a number for runners’ core strength, which is often sorely lacking. Finally, Pilates has a huge emphasis on core strength, and that’s an enormous component to running. It’s also an area where many runners aren’t as strong as they could or should be. Many people mistakenly think that core strength means focusing on planks or getting a six-pack, and this type of thinking limits their understanding of building core strength in their backs, hips, trunk, and deep ab muscles. Pilates can do a huge number on runners’ core strength which, in turn, can help runners stay stronger, longer.
There are so many cross-training benefits of Pilates for runners that it’s honestly a bit of a small wonder that more runners don’t do Pilates regularly. After all, they have nothing to lose and literally everything to gain from incorporating Pilates into their training and mileage. Get started with a class and kick off your Pilates practice today.
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AUTHOR’S BIO: JANE GRATES
Runner, fitness enthusiast and a mother of two gorgeous kids. Acting at the fulcrum of simplicity and purpose. I usually do random things with my family.