Can Pilates improve your running?
Pilates is often seen as a rehab exercise, or something that you do when you are “getting older” – and there is no doubt, there is merit in that. All this week in classes, I have been working around a theme of hip stability, with the emphasis on stride length and the ability to maintain good core strength when striking the floor with one foot only. I love this kind of exercise, because it is suitable for all ages, but it got me thinking about how running can be improved with a similar set of exercises.
Luckily, I don’t have to rely on my own belief that what I am teaching works, as there is a raft of research out there to back it up. For example, runners at a 5k distance improved performance by changing the “metabolic cost” and muscle activity after following a 12-week Pilates training programme as shown by Finatto (2018) – and this was noted by the strength adaptations in both postural and locomotor muscles. Using the “Pilates Powerhouse” they worked on the muscles of the spine, hip, and core for improved stabilisation of hip and trunk. They followed a progressive programme, including the standard Pilates exercises such as Single Leg Stretch, rolling like a ball and the hundred etc, leading from 8 starting exercises to 20 at the end of the 3-month period. Each session also included some relaxation which enhances the mind body and mastery connection of Pilates.
Although the above study was done on experienced runners, Laws (2017) did a 6 week Pilates programme for recreational runners and found significant improvement in functional movement – improving not only technique, but also looking at reducing the risk of injury. This is of course one of the main reasons that beginners to running often quit – they want to run, they start a running programme, only to find some weeks in that a knee or ankle niggle stop the new habit. Pilates is easy to do at home and basic functional movements can be done in short bursts to help knee, hip, and ankle stability. I have found that the standing Pilates sessions really do a great job at this and it is something that all runners should consider.
Hamstrings are notorious for getting a “ping” when running, and a study on footballers by Chinnavan (2015) found that the group that did the Pilates method, compared to standard stretching protocols showed greater improvement in both flexibility and joint stability. Strength, fluidity, and the breadth of the movement were cited as reasons for the improvements, and I quite agree. When you move with the Pilates “flow” and multi-dimensional movement patterning, you gain greater stability and range of movement around the joints – and with all the joints working together to stabilise that hip and trunk connection – or in this case, to reduce injury to the hamstrings.
So, it does not matter if you are a beginner to running or an experienced sports person, regular Pilates’s training improves both your skill at running, and reduces the chance of injury.
Happy Café Hapus offers a range of 20-, 30- and 45-minute sessions of Pilates each week. The sessions run for 6 weeks and are progressive. You can watch and re-watch sessions as you like. See link in bio.