Pilates was created by the man himself Joseph Pilates back in the 1920’s and originally gained popularity with ballet dancers who attended the first Pilates studio in New York.
Over recent years its popularity has grown and crossed over into gyms, physio clinics and also within professional sport to help condition athletes. So, what does Pilates involve and why do so many elite runners make it part of their weekly training?
The benefits of Pilates
The main benefit of Pilates is increased core strength. The first thing Pilates teaches you is to find your core and engage those important abdominal wall muscles. A stronger core means that while you are running the forces generated by your legs will propel you forwards more effectively rather than being dissipated into a ‘wobbly’ body.
A strong core and open hips will help to achieve the ideal upright running posture, rather than feeling like you are fighting gravity all through your runs. There has been much talk about where the foot should strike during running and this is still contentious, but what we do know is that ideally it lands directly under the body and not in front. Pilates can help strengthen the postural muscles needed to keep the pelvis light and forward which helps to achieve a good foot strike position and a more fluid, open stride.
A must-add for your training schedule
Regular Pilates will also help to build the muscular endurance to sustain a good running form for longer and is therefore an excellent way to help limit your risk of injuries that can occur once fatigue strikes and our technique goes a bit haywire!
Good breath control is a key part of Pilates, the breathing techniques that are taught can be easily transferred into running to help stop all that breathlessness. It encourages you to open your lungs in a more east/west direction using the larger basal lobes of the lungs rather than the small apices of the lungs that we tend to use when we are panting.
Reduce your risk of injury when training
Pilates has also been shown to improve balance, joint mobility, muscle strength and therefore protect from injury. By practising Pilates and becoming more mindful of how your body is moving it can also help to identify tighter or weaker areas of the body. These issues can then be addressed before they could lead to injury. In this way many professional athletes adopt Pilates for Prehab i.e.: stopping problems before they start as well as for rehabilitating any existing injuries.
Pilates can be practiced at home on a mat or using equipment but both are equally effective. If you have a particular injury, it might be worth finding a physiotherapy-lead class online to ensure you get the most appropriate exercises. After a few sessions you will be able to feel the improvement in your quality of movement and how this helps you to run more freely and also faster!
A recent study found that runners who took part in a 12-week Pilates programme for two hours a week significantly improved both their VO2 max and their 5k time! So, find out if your local Pilates studio is offering classes online or check out apps such as MINDBODY and find out what classes they can offer to help you smash your PB!