How Can Pilates Aid Runners?
The facts are out there that just about anyone could benefit from Pilates, whether you practice a sport or are recovering from injury.
Runners, in particular, are a group prone to injury, and a little Pilates can help prevent and rehabilitate injuries. Let’s take a look at how the Pilates principles and exercises can aid runners.
Low-Impact to Balance High-Impact
Running is a high impact workout that creates stress in the joints. Pilates, on the other hand, is a low-impact workout that is easy on the joints. If a runner supplements their cross-training with high impact activities, then they are never giving their joints a break and this can increase their risk of injury. The Pilates method develops strength in a gentle way while also improving flexibility.
Additionally, running is a repetitive activity that uses the same movements over and over again. The body has many different ways of moving and is meant to be moved in more than one way or direction to remain in optimum condition. Pilates will gently move the body in all planes of movement- flexion, extension, lateral bending, and rotation.
It’s all about the Core
Pilates not only strengthens and tones your midsection but also teaches you to use your core effectively. Our core, composed of the abdominals, lower back, hips, and pelvic floor, is what propels us through space when we move and helps protect the spine. A strong and healthy core is essential for functional movement.
The reason Pilates is so effective at strengthening the core is that the exercises access the deep abdominal muscles. It goes beyond the superficial six-pack muscles to strengthen the psoas, which is not only an abdominal muscle but also a deep hip flexor. This muscle is unique in that it has two functions. One of the primary movements in running is flexion of the hip, which is done repetitively. So if the psoas is not strong enough to endure this repeated movement, it can lead to hip and lower back pain.
The IT-Band Connection
Many runners also suffer from knee pain from the repeated compounded movement of their feet hitting the pavement. It sends a shockwave through the body, which can cause muscles to seize up and feel stiff. When muscles are tight, they pull on joints, which means they put even more pressure on joints. It increases the risk for the joint to be pulled out alignment, injured, or just plain sore.
The knee joint is another common problem area for runners. One of the primary stabilisers of the knee is the IT band. While not technically a muscle, it is a tight band of fascia that connects the outer side of the hip to the knee. It is used during flexion and extension of the knee joint, which means it is constantly used when running. When it is overused, it will cause inflammation and other muscles to work harder when they don’t need to.
Imbalances in the body are very common for most people, and such repetitive activities as running can manifest as consistent soreness or injury on one side of the body. The Pilates exercises seek to bring the body to a balanced state.
When there is knee pain, the likely culprit is often the hips. When the hips are weak, it will cause the IT band to overreact, pulling on the knee joint. There are several hip strengthening exercises in Pilates to build up muscles such as the gluteals in particular. Specific movements designed to target the gluteus medius (outer hip muscle) and tensor fascia latae (which connects the gluteus to the IT band) will help pull pressure out of the knee joint. Because these muscles are smaller, they are often more difficult to access, which is why big muscle groups take over when they are weak. However, they do need to be involved alongside the bigger muscles of the gluteus maximus, quadriceps, and hamstrings to prevent injury and overuse of those large muscle group. Many of these exercises are seen in the Side Kick series.
Added bonus from all this? Running performance will also improve!
You can help runners learn more about their bodies and how they can proactively address their physical imbalances today through one of our Pilates diploma courses.