Does pilates really help with running? Everyone has his or her own “style” when it comes to running. Look at footage of any great race; each athlete runs a little differently from the others. One common denominator, however, is good posture.
Why is posture important for runners? We live in a sedentary culture. Even those of us who exercise every day for one hour sit on average of six hours per day. And if you are like most people, you sit with your shoulders tight and rounded, back hunched, neck bent toward your screen or paper. Running requires good posture because it’s all about efficiency. Healthy posture maximizes the power of global muscles (glutes, obliques) and allows your lungs to work better. Try this: slump over and take a deep breath. Then, sit up tall and lift your body upright. Take another deep breath. Better, right?
Good posture also helps you run injury free; conversely, if you are plagued by injuries, you may have an inefficient stride caused by poor muscle balance. For example, runners tend to have super strong quads but weaker hamstrings and glutes, creating an imbalance that over time can open you up to injury. Addressing muscular imbalances and improving posture can ward off injury.
So, how do you get better running posture? With exercises that focus on elongation, core control and stability, and muscle balance, Pilates benefits runners by developing all of the components needed for good running posture. Specifically, Pilates helps with running in the following elements:
Head position: Learning to keep your head and neck in a neutral position will help you improve upper body movement and reduce fatigue. Pilates instructors are trained to be aware and mindful of alignment.
Upper Back Extension and Rotation: Doing movements that help open up and mobilize your thoracic spine (upper/mid back) will help keep you upright. Think about all that sitting, hunched and rounded over. Extension and rotation of the thoracic spine help by loosening tight muscles and increasing your range of motion. Your spine needs to be able to rotate well to counter balance your stride. A comprehensive Pilates workout always includes spinal mobility.
Chest Expansion: Remember those lungs? By opening up your chest, not only are you giving your body a shot at more efficient respiration, but you are also increasing your arm swing range of motion. Efficient breathing is a key component of a Pilates practice, and you will learn to use your breath as a tool with movement.
Shoulder Rotation and Mobility: A powerful stride is not only leg driven. You need your arms to drive back with your elbows, forcing your center of gravity forward. Organization of your shoulders, head and neck is essential to a successful Pilates session.
Hip Extension: Sitting can shorten and tighten hip flexors, which are essential to a runner’s stride. Ideally, as runners, we want our pull through just as smooth as our forward stride. Plus, the tightness of hip flexors throws the pelvis off balance by tilting it forward, throwing your stride off balance. Efficient hip mobility can improve your cadence. Pilates helps hip mobility and length of hip flexors with hip-specific exercises and proper stretching technique.
Glute Engagement: The glutes are our biggest muscles and the most powerful allies for runners. Frequently, however, glutes are not used as much by runners as they could be. That is when muscle imbalance occurs: a runner starts using their quads or other front leg muscles to compensate. Glutes also can be hard to “fire” (as in: use them). If you doubt you know how to use your glutes effectively in running, a Pilates instructor can help you.
Footwork: We run on our feet. It makes sense to address alignment and foot flexibility. Tight and inflexible feet can be a contributor to plantar fasciitis. Learning correct alignment and proper stretching technique for your feet can ward off injury. Each Pilates session begins with an emphasis on foot alignment.
If you’d like to improve your efficiency as a runner, Pilates can help you identify and correct your individual muscular imbalances. By adding a Pilates practice to your training, you can improve your running posture and learn how to engage the muscles that help you keep that upright posture and maintain it through a run.