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Pilates for Runners

by Christy Stevenson on Dec 13, 2012

Running has long been a favorite fitness activity for millions of people. However, as more people catch the running bug, more also succumb to overuse injuries. Running tends to be high impact, it’s repetitive, and it occurs mostly in the sagittal plane. No wonder, then, that many runners fall prey to injury or imbalance.

Pilates-based moves can be invaluable when incorporated into runners’ fitness regimens. The six principles of Pilates—concentration, centering, control, breathing, precision and flow—all apply to running. Most important, if a runner can learn how to engage his powerhouse and allow motion to originate from it, he will run faster, more efficiently, with control and with less risk of injury.

Common running injuries stem from tight, weak hips; an overworked but weak gluteal complex; weak, improperly trained abdominals; and weak leg stabilizers. The following Pilates-based exercises address these issues.

Standing Side Leg-Lifts With Leg Circles

This standing variation of the Pilates side kick helps strengthen the entire leg complex—especially the stabilizers—while increasing hip mobility and challenging the core. It also gets runners out of the sagittal plane.

Begin in standing Pilates stance, hamstrings engaged, inner thighs squeezed together, knees soft but strong, and abdominals “zipped up.” Exhale: Bring shoulders up, back and down. Inhale: Keep arms parallel to sides. Inhale: Lift left leg straight out to side, leading with outer thigh. Knee faces forward without hyperextending. Exhale: Tap toe to floor, keeping leg long. Repeat 6–8 times; hold leg up and balance. Circle extended leg 8 times clockwise and 8 times counterclockwise, making small, smooth circles. Exhale: Release to center Pilates stance. Repeat on opposite leg. Keep abdominal muscles engaged throughout. Lift tall through spine and stay strong in standing leg without locking knee.

Modified Pilates Hip Circles With Zigzags

Strong abdominals are critical to good form, especially when running downhill. This exercise challenges the abdominals while targeting the abductors, adductors and hip flexors. It also stretches the top of the foot, which helps alleviate shin splints.

Begin supine, propped on elbows. Rise out of shoulders, and lift and open chest, keeping neck long and lifted through crown. Inhale: Extend both legs at 45-degree angle (or higher to modify). If this position is too difficult, do the hundred instead. Begin with classic hip circles, legs glued together in Pilates stance, circling 3 times clockwise and 3 times counterclockwise. Rest if necessary, and then add zigzags.

While still propped on elbows, with abdominals scooped and spine lengthened, exhale and gently cross extended right leg over left leg. Inhale: Move legs apart about 1–2 feet and switch, traveling legs upward for two sets, and then downward for 2 sets. Do this at controlled pace, keeping legs long and strong, toes pointed. Perform 2–4 sets slowly, and then 2–4 sets at faster pace. Gently roll down onto spine, stretch arms overhead and reach long through toes, elongating abdominals for a deep stretch.

For another great exercise for runners, please see “3 Pilates-Inspired Moves for Runners” in the online IDEA Library or in the November 2012 issue of IDEA Pilates Today.

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About the Author

Christy Stevenson

Christy Stevenson IDEA Author/Presenter

Christy Stevenson, fitness writer/presenter and owner of the YouTube channel Real Fit for Real Life, has been teaching group fitness classes for 17 years and has certified with AFAA, ACE, and FiTOUR in Group Exercise, Yoga, Pilates, Kickboxing, Stability Ball Training, Group Barbell Conditioning, Core & Functional Training, and Personal Training. She has also certified with Reebok University in Coreboard Training & Body Training Systems RPM, a pre-choreographed cycling program, as well as Zumba® & TRX. She has taught virtually every land aerobics class format that exists, including specialty classes such as Go-Go Robics, Teen Sports Conditioning, Strollercize, Shakti Running, and Senior Strength and Stretch. Prior to moving to CT, Christy served as the land aerobics supervisor at American Fork Fitness Center in UT for over 4 years, designing a new schedule to meet the needs of expansion, doubling class sizes, and growing strong Yoga & Indoor Cycling programs. She tries to inspire the world to fitness by voluntarily teaching church & school groups, planning and promoting fundraising fitness campaigns, designing a personal training program for overweight children, and teaching yoga in schools. Christy has run 10 Ragnar relays, several half marathons, 7 marathons, and one sprint-distance triathlon. Christy graduated from BYU in 1998 with an English Teaching major and Theatre Arts minor & has taught 7th, 8th, and 11th grade. Her education background lends to her dynamic ability to lead instructor workshops, as well as her ability to bring fitness to youth ages. She is a freelance editor and writer and contributes to the prestigious IDEA Fitness Professional Journal & American Fitness. Christy is married to a wonderful husband and is the mother of 3 awesome and fit kids.