Protecting your body from the impact of running with Pilates can improve your performance, strength and mobility – and help you to run pain-free
We all know that we should be cross-training, but finding time to go to a class or the gym when we’d rather be out running isn’t always easy. Online classes have never been more available and are ideal for us runners – they’re easy to fit in before or after a run and can be done from the comfort of our front room. But what should we be doing? Nicki Philips is the founder of niix, a fitness app for women offering workouts, nutrition and lifestyle advice. She says that Pilates is a must for runners.
“As an athletic discipline, running puts the body under huge amounts of pressure and impact,” says Nicki. “Over time, this can cause our bodies to create irregularities, unbalanced muscle development and irregular postural alignment. This can lead to aches and pains – or worse, injury. Some of us may also find that we are unable to increase speed or performance,” she explains. The good news? Pilates has been shown to help with all of these things.
So, what is Pilates? “Pilates is all about making us move better,” says Nicki. “It helps us to recognise our body as a complete system and create stability for better running technique. It offers increased flexibility and a focus on building the deep stabilising pelvic floor and core muscles, glute strength and joint stability and mobility. This creates a stronger base for athletic activity and balance throughout the body. As a result, athletes can withstand more rigorous training regimes and ultimately improve performance, injury free.”
This all sounds great to us – and there’s more. Nicki shares her 4 fantastic reasons why she thinks that all runners should be practising Pilates:
The key to having a well-functioning and strong body, is to have an aligned and neutral posture. Over time we pick up bad postural habits, create a weak or poorly aligned spine and pelvis. Muscle development is also affected and our body will compensate by favouring certain muscles groups over another. This is often seen with runners having larger quads with compromised glute muscle, tight hip flexors, hamstrings and pectorals, which can lead to low back pain or reduced performance.
Pilates aims to strengthen and mobilise muscles by isolating muscles groups but by identifying that the body works as a whole, with stability coming from scapular stability, pelvic floor and core connection. This means Pilates exercises can help strengthen particular areas, building muscle memory and a more balanced body.
Most of us know the importance of core strength – but this does not just mean the abdominals. Pilates strengthens the whole core; pelvic floor, glutes, back extensors, transverse abdominus, rectus abdominus and obliques, allowing the body to work in harmony. This leads to better alignment, balance and stability through the pelvis and spine, enabling the body to better receive, control and transfer forces during running.
Having an efficient core helps to support the pelvis and torso as you run, allowing movement to come from the hips, knees and feet and by better recruiting power from the legs and glutes.
Glute activation and strength
A weak core, paralleled with poor glute activation, will often lead to compression of the lower back. As impact is transferred through the body, the facete joints in the spine can knock together, which can cause lower back pain over time. The vertebral discs can also be compressed, which again leads to pain – none of which are what we want!
By increasing glute strength and activating the posterior chain through targeted Pilates exercises, not only will help with better postural alignment and reducing lumbar compression but it will increase the transfer of power, improving performance. Women often have weaker glutes thanks to our natural postural positioning (anterior tilt of pelvis is very common), and a weak core or overuse of the quad muscles will only exacerbate things. Focusing on building strength in this area will improve running technique, helping us to use our glute muscles rather than relying on our quads, and subsequently improve performance.
Improves flexibility and range of motion
Pilates is renowned for helping improve flexibility and mobility through a combination of deliberate and controlled movements challenging large and small muscle groups. By strengthening and recruiting core muscles and bettering stability, we can challenge and develop joint mobility and power. Strength alone can leave you tight, stiff and immobile and can lead to injury. By balancing flexibility with strength, movement patterns are improved, correct muscle recruitment is achieved and the body can move more freely without pain.
You can try a 7-day trial of niix and receive a free Pilates workout by downloading the app.