Pilates for Runners17 April, 2012 0 comments
By Caroline Sandry
Pilates is a perfect complimentary exercise for runners. Performed correctly it will strengthen your core and the stabilising muscles around the pelvis whilst increasing flexibility and range of motion. In fact Joseph Pilates said “in ten sessions you will feel the difference, in twenty you will see the difference and in thirty you’ll have a whole new body” Well I can’t guarantee that, but I can guarantee that it will improve your body and your performance for life.
Running is perhaps one of the most natural and instinctive sports. Yet it also creates huge potential for injury due to its repetitive nature and any weaknesses in your body will sooner or later become apparent. Runners tend to be dedicated to clocking up the miles or working on speed, but very often will fail to pay attention to conditioning work such as Pilates. So with this in mind, I have put together just 6 key Pilates exercises to add into your training regime which will improve your core strength and help to balance your body. Try to perform these exercises at least three times per week.
The Side Bend
Strengthens the deep core muscles and obliques. Also strengthens shoulder stabilisers.
- Sit on the floor supported on your right hip and right hand . Your right leg is bent and your left foot is in front of it with your knees open.
- Place your left hand onto your left knee.
- Inhale to prepare as you draw your torso away from the floor, lengthening your arm and neck.
- Exhale to lift your hips upwards (imagine your hips are being lifted in a sling) as shown in photo, squeezing inner thighs together and reaching top arm overhead.
- Inhale to bend the knees and return hip back to the floor, hand back to the knee.
- Repeat x 5-8 on each side.
- To increase the intensity you could hold a toning ball in the top hand.
Training tips – keep the hips stacked throughout - one hip on top of the other. Imagine a sheet of glass in front of the hips and keep both hip bones touching the glass. Keep your abs gently engaged (navel to spine) and stay lifted in the ribs and waist. Keep ‘lifted’ in the supporting shoulder.
Side Lying Legs series
Strengthens the gluteals and pelvic stabilisers which are particularly important for runners.
- Lie on your left side resting on your elbow with your left leg slightly bent and your right leg out straight
- Draw your ribs away from the floor and lengthen your waist
- Exhale to open lift the top leg up, inhale down x 12
- Then circle your top leg around x 12 in each direction
- Repeat on the other side
Training tip –keep your navel drawn in towards your spine and do not let hips roll back as you lift the leg. Keep lengthening your leg away from you as you work.
Single straight leg stretch
Strengthens the core and hip flexors, whilst lengthening the hamstrings
- Lie on your back with your knees up
- Exhale and flex head and shoulders up off the floor
- Straighten both legs, and exhale to scissor one leg towards the floor, the other in towards your shoulder
- Switch legs in a controlled but swift movement, exhaling with each leg lower
- Keep head and shoulders lifted and abdominals flat
- Advanced exercisers can try with the hands behind the head for added challenge
- Repeat 16 (8 each leg).
Training tips – The challenge is to keep neutral spine and flat abdominals throughout so pay attention to your spine and ensure it stays still as you move your lower leg towards the floor. Stretch your legs out long as you move. Your hands simply touch your leg rather than assisting the abs. If you are not able to keep your back still, perform exercise with bent knees.
The Pilates Criss Cross
A great exercise for working the obliques and abs and pelvic stabilisers
- Lie on your back and bring your knees up above your hips bent to a right angle
- Place your hands behind your head, keeping elbows wide and lift head from the floor
- Exhale and peel left shoulder across towards right hip as you extend the left leg out – (as low as you can whilst keeping stomach flat and spine in neutral)
- Inhale back to centre and exhale in opposite direction.
- Repeat 12 slow repetitions followed by 12 fast, but controlled repetitions.
Training tips – Try to keep your stomach flattened throughout, and move in a controlled manor – don’t let hips rock as you move. Imagine you are folding your shoulder towards the opposite hip.
Works on core strength whilst increasing flexibility of hamstrings and the spine.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent above your hips
- Straighten legs and inhale to draw them in towards your chest
- Exhale and flex the spine up off the mat, one vertebra at a time until legs are overhead and parallel to the mat (as photo)
- Inhale and separate legs slightly wider than shoulder width apart with feet flexed (as shown)
- Exhale to articulate spine down to the mat from your upper back through to your tailbone, slowly and with control. Lower the legs as low as possible whilst keeping the head and spine on the floor
- Inhale to re-start the process
- Repeat 3 to 4 with legs separate and 3 to 4 with legs together.
Training tips – keep your weight off your head and neck and on your shoulder blade area. You’re your abs engaged throughout the movement. Try to keep shoulder blades down and away from your ears. Do not attempt this if you have any back or disc issues.
Downward facing dog pose
The downward dog is a wonderful calming inversion which balances upper & lower body. Particularly good for runners as it stretches the entire back of the body from fingertip to sitting bones and from sitting bones to the Achilles heel.
Although calming, this posture also removes fatigue and can restore lost energy, bringing internal balance.
- Kneel on the floor with your bottom resting on your heels, feet and knees hip width apart
- Inhale and lift onto all fours, hands shoulder width apart and palms pressed flat into the floor. Tuck your toes under
- Exhale and lift your hips up towards the ceiling, keeping your knees softly bent to begin with.
- Keep lifting up through your hips, and lengthen your heels towards the floor. Slide shoulder blades away from your ears towards your hips and relax your neck.
- Stay here and breathe evenly. If your shoulders are tight you may take your hands forward or your feet backwards to lengthen your spine.
- You may gently bend and straighten one leg at a time, easing the heels towards the floor in a running motion
- Stay, breathing deeply for up to a minute.
Watch points – keep the shoulder blades down away from your ears and spread the fingers pressing your whole hand into the floor. Relax the neck so you are looking back through your legs. If you have sciatica then keep the knees bent.
These exercises were taken from the DVD ‘Pilates by Caroline Sandry’ which has two half hour workouts plus a 15 minute flex band routine. Perfect for runners!
Available from www.carolinesandry.com