Pilates for Runners

On the list of accessible forms of exercise, running is definitely up there: it requires no equipment (aside from a good pair of shoes), you can do it anywhere, and you can tailor it to your physical ability. And with our stunning surroundings here in Colorado, it’s no surprise that running is a favorite pastime of many clients at The Pilates Collective Denver.

Unfortunately, running can come with baggage in the form of tight calves, low back pain, and tendonitis. If you’re an avid runner, adequate stretching and cross-training is imperative. One of the best ways to balance your body between runs is—you guessed it—Pilates.

1) Balance out linear movement with rotation

Let’s break down the movement that happens when you run: Your leg swings from front to back at the hip, your knee bends back and extends forward, your ankle flexes as you hit the ground and extends as you press off. While there is certainly a lot going on, nearly all the movement in the lower body is happening in one plane (the sagittal plane). If you practice these movements without adding in the complementary ones, your lower body will be imbalanced and more prone to injury.

The Pilates Collective Denver - Pilates for Runners

We practice movement in every plane in Pilates, meaning we’ll round out your legs with rotation, full flexion, and full extension. Leg work on the Reformer (legs in loops) is particularly great for runners. While keeping your spine in a neutral alignment, we’ll work the legs in internal and external rotation from the hip, strengthening the muscles that surround the hip joint and offering movement that rounds out the linear patterns in running.

2) Rehab ankles, knees, and hips from high impact

One reason why running isn’t suited for everyone is the high impact it causes on the lower body. We have anatomical shock absorbers to ease this kind of stress, but it can still take a toll.

The Pilates Collective Denver - Pilates for Runners

The brilliant machines we use in Pilates allow us to strengthen with low or no impact. Footwork on the Reformer, for example, is done lying down. The springs add resistance so your leg muscles are working, but your joints get a break from the impact. Plus you have the added bonus of being able to look down and see your alignment to make sure your hips, knees, and ankles are in line.

3) Actively stretch tight muscles

It’s common for runners to experience tight IT bands (the thick band of fascia on the outside of your thighs), hamstrings, quads, and calves. With so much contraction, these muscles are bound to tighten and shorten.

The Pilates Collective Denver Pilates for Runners

Balance out these muscles (and all your other ones) with the active stretches we do in Pilates. Eve’s Lunge, for example, stretches the hamstrings, hip flexors, and calves, but also requires that you keep your abdominals and legs engaged so you’re supported as you stretch.

4) Open up the feet

We often see runners with very tight feet. It may seem like a strange place to experience tightness, but there’s a lot going on down there: each foot has 26 bones and more than 100 ligaments, tendons, and muscles! With so many body parts packed into such a small piece of real estate, you can imagine how teeny tiny they can get, meaning you need precise ways of opening up all of those joints.

The Pilates Collective Denver - Pilates for Runners, footwork on chair

One of our personal favorite ways to open up the feet is with a spiky half dome or a foot roller. Transfer your weight on and off the prop while shifting which part of the foot is taking the weight. It should feel like the joints of your feet are spreading out and taking space to breathe. We sell mini foot rollers at the studio—check ‘em out next time you’re there.

We also engage the feet in Footwork (as you might have guessed from the name). The Footwork series on the Chair is particularly great for runners. It strengthens the Achilles tendon (the tendon on the back of the ankle) and activates each muscle of the foot and lower leg. A typical series of Footwork on the Chair will take you through external rotation and parallel, and have you shifting weight between the ball, arch, and heel of the foot so every box is checked.

5) Balance out lower body work with upper body work

Running is obviously a great cardio and lower body workout, but if that’s all you do, your upper body won’t get the attention it needs. The abdominal, back, and arm work we do in Pilates is excellent for making sure you maintain a balanced body overall.

Ann is doing back extension on the chair, which is similar to using the long box on the Reformer

Ann is doing back extension on the chair, which is similar to using the long box on the Reformer

Arm work on the long box is a great example. Lying on your belly with your hands in the straps, you can work all the muscles of your torso and practice strengthening the abdominals in neutral spine. While you’re there, you can also do some upper back extension to counteract all the forward bending we do in our daily lives.

Next time you’re in the studio, ask your instructor if she can incorporate some of these concepts into class. See you on the running path!

Ali Weeks