Pilates for Runners

For several years after having my two oldest children, I was plagued by chronic lower back pain and SI joint dysfunction that would come and go (and sometimes completely stop me in my tracks) and hips that always felt out of whack. Maybe it was from carrying my kids around on my left hip all the time (while simultaneously doing everyday tasks like making meals, carrying laundry or groceries, talking on the phone, emptying the dishwasher, etc.)… Maybe it was just from bad postural habits that took their toll over time.

Whatever the cause, it wasn’t good and it wasn’t heading me in the direction I wanted to be headed in.

I wasn’t mindful at all about how I moved and I didn’t have the self awareness – or the perspective – that I do now.

It was during one of my particularly tough back spasms that my sister Jodi (an awesome runner, coach, Pilates guru and owner of my favorite studio, Reston Pilates) encouraged me to try Pilates. It had helped her tremendously after her back surgery (so much so that despite doctors telling her she would likely never run again, she has since run multiple marathons and ultras!) and she believed it would help me, too. She began to teach me and it didn’t take long for me to begin to realize the amazing benefits. Not long after that I began pursuing a teaching education in Pilates so that I could help others heal and live pain free through this wonderful movement system.

Pilates literally changed my life. It helped me connect with and develop an inner strength that had in fact always been there. I became intentional with how I moved my body and with how I stood, cultivating better habits and healthier movement patterns. With a dedication to regular Pilates and mindful movement, I discovered that I am so much stronger than I ever thought possible.

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As my running and training picked up in intensity over the years, I remained dedicated to a regular Pilates practice. My muscles and joints were able to keep up with the demands that running was putting on them – sometimes as many as 100 miles in a week on the pavement – and I truly believe that this was in large part because of the commitment I had made to my Pilates practice.

Here are my top 5 favorite things about Pilates, and why I think every runner should dedicate time to it every week:

  • Injury Prevention: Pilates is very similar to physical therapy – training proper and efficient movement patterns, encouraging healthy neuromuscular pathways, “waking up” muscles that aren’t getting with the program and doing their job – essentially teaching our bodies optimal ways of moving. The exercises will make you aware of your particular imbalances and give you an opportunity to correct them before you get injured because of them.
  • Two-for-one: Many runners have limited flexibility and mobility, particularly in the hips, ankles and in the rotation of the trunk. We need to work on stretching our muscles and mobilizing our joints so that we have more power when we move and reduce the risk of injury. We also need to dedicate time to our strength work, using muscles that support our running and balance our bodies. One of the most magical things about Pilates is that while it is strengthening you, it is also stretching you! So it’s gentle enough to do every day (unlike other types of strength work where you really need to recover from delayed onset muscle soreness) and gives you the stretching you need so desperately.
  • No more lazy butts: One of the most common issues runners face is that we just aren’t activating our glutes the way we should! Tight hip flexors are common in runners, and when this happens it stretches out our glutes and then makes them less likely to fire how they are designed to. This is made even worse if you sit at a desk for your job all day – shortening your hip flexors and stretching your glutes even more. Our gluteal muscles are the most powerful muscles in our bodies and they aren’t made for just sitting on, though that is what we use them for most of the time. Once you start using your booty in your running, you will not only find that you are MUCH more powerful and faster, but will also discover that your hips and back will feel a whole lot better. Pilates is an amazing way to start working your glutes properly – many of the exercises open the hips and let the booty do what nature intended for it to!
  • Mindfulness: Pilates is a system of exercises that engages the body, the breath and the mind. It teaches us to be self aware and to listen to our bodies, and helps us be more present and able to concentrate on the moment. I take my Pilates practice with me into my running. In the later stages of a long run or a marathon when I feel my posture falling apart, I remember to lift up through my center and breathe. It keeps me calm and connected to my center so I can focus on the task at hand.
  • It’s always there for you: Pilates is something we can do no matter where we are in our running journey – and this is perhaps my favorite thing about it especially at the moment! If you are injured, Pilates is very therapeutic for that. If you are pounding the pavement more than ever and chasing a huge personal best, Pilates will help keep you healthy and connected to yourself. If you are returning from pregnancy or a lay off due to injury, Pilates is fantastic for waking up and nurturing your body. There’s never a bad time to do it, and it’s never too late to start!

A regular Pilates practice teaches you about yourself, and inspires you to believe in yourself. I can’t tell you how many of my students have been amazed by the discoveries they have made about themselves in their lessons – they are so much stronger than they thought they were or than they ever gave themselves credit for. I think we all spend a lot of time criticizing and trying to “fix” our bodies for how they look on the outside, and we don’t necessarily believe it’s possible that there is so much awesomeness waiting to be discovered on the inside. We could all use a little more of that in our lives, right?

At the beginning of 2017 when I set my goals for the year, I decided I would devote 5 minutes a day to my Pilates practice. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but the reason I chose 5 minutes is because I know I can’t excuse my way out of that one! Usually I do more like twice that much, and sometimes I do a whole hour class. My typical routine is a simple mat routine, but sometimes I use my MVE chair (my favorite Pilates apparatus, and the only one I own at home) or small props. It makes a huge difference.

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Runners doing Pilates at Reston Pilates!

Pilates Anytime is a great online resource full of Pilates classes and workshops for any level of experience. Everything is categorized in various ways – so you can look up workouts that focus on specific areas of the body, use particular pieces of equipment, are taught by certain teachers and are different degrees of difficulty or duration. You can access your account on any computer, tablet or even via the app on your phone. There is a wonderful series for runners on there taught by one of my mentors, Myriam Kane. It is fantastic and I think every runner should watch it! Use the code MYRIAM for your first 30 days free, after that it is only $18/month. I encourage you to give it a try!Have you ever tried Pilates? What do you think? What are your favorite exercises? Your favorite things about Pilates? I would love to hear!

I scanned the web and found some other articles on the benefits of Pilates for runners, in case you want to read more!

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