I talk frequently about Pilates here on the blog, especially in my weekly workout recaps. While I certainly enjoy yoga, Pilates is my first fitness love (even before running!) and my preferred flexibility and core workout. I started doing Pilates when I was 16 and taught Pilates at my undergrad’s fitness center for two years. While Pilates sometimes slips from my routine, I try to practice it at least weekly because of the benefits of Pilates for runners and because I find it to be genuinely enjoyable workout.
What is Pilates?
Pilates emerged in its earliest form during World War I (source). Joseph Pilates, a German gymnast working as a self-defense instructor for Scotland Yard, developed a series of mat-based exercises, which allowed injured soldiers to rehabilitate while bedridden, during his time in an English internment camp. From there, Pilates attracted dancers and other athletes and the practice itself expanded to include the use of equipment such as the reformer, toning rings, and exercise balls.
Pilates relies upon six essential principles: concentration, centering, control, breathing, precision, and flow. Pilates is not an exercise which you mindlessly whip through while watching Netflix. You concentrate on each movement, you use your center (your core, which in Pilates is referred to as our powerhouse) to drive every movement, each repetition is executed slowly with control and precise movement, you practice controlled breathing that corresponds to your movement, and you flow smoothly through the movements. While Pilates does not feature any meditation as yoga does, it fosters a mind-body connection through the concentration and precision demanded by each exercise.
The Benefits of Pilates for Runners
I swear (knock on wood) that Pilates has contributed to the fact that I’ve only been injured once in my eight years of running. A regular practice of Pilates strengthens your core and stabilizes your hips. For women, hip instability is a leading cause of running-related injuries, since weak hips can cause IT band syndrome, runner’s knee, and piriformis syndrome. Many of the exercises in Pilates, such as the single leg circles and side-lying leg lifts, emphasize alignment of the hips, thus strengthening your hip stabilizers.
Pilates also improves your posture and flexibility, which will in turn lead to better running form. While so much attention about running form focuses on foot strike and cadence, your posture and arm swing significantly affect your running form. Relaxed shoulders and a straight posture will help you maintain proper running form. As Pilates improves your posture with regular practice, you’ll notice that you run taller and with better form—and therefore will be likely to run faster and farther as well.
The principles of concentration, control, and breathing foster a mind-body connection when you practice Pilates. As we all know, running demands as much mental strength as it does physical endurance. The attuning to your movements and efforts that you gain from Pilates will transfer over to your ability to breathe efficient and monitor your effort while running.
If you’re injured, Pilates can help you build a base of strength and stability so that you can return to running with ease. Since Pilates is a non-impact exercise, it’s ideal for runners who are injured!
How to Fit Pilates into Your Running
Just as with strength training and yoga, you want to be deliberate about planning your Pilates practice around your running, especially if you are training for a race and including hard workouts and long runs each week. Trust my experience: you do not want to do Pilates the day before a long run, as it leaves too much fatigue in your abs! Instead, use Pilates as an opportunity to stretch and strengthen on your hard workout days, so that you abide by the principle of keeping your hard days hard and your easy days easy. Plus, I find that Pilates realigns me and gives me a good stretch after a hard workout, leaving me feeling fresh for the next day’s run.
Most Pilates workouts only take 25-30 minutes, so they are easy to do on rest days or after a run. All you need is a mat (you’re best using a thicker yoga mat, such as thisHigh Density Yoga Mat), although you can add affordable accessories for extra resistance, such as a Pilates toning ring (also called a magic circle) or a Pilates ball. If you’re new to Pilates and don’t regularly do yoga or core work, begin with just one session a week. If you’re familiar with yoga and do core work regularly, you can aim for a total of two sessions per week. As you progress, aim to include 1-3 sessions of Pilates per week on nonconsecutive days for most benefits.
Great Pilates Workouts
While you can join a studio and access equipment such as a reformer, you can also practice Pilates on your own schedule from the comfort of your own home. While the guidance of an instructor is invaluable, it is often less intimidating to get started with a new type of exercise in the comfort of your own home. These Pilates video provide clear instruction and effective workouts so you can make the most of your Pilates practice; best of all, most of them cost $15 or less!
For the yoga and barre lover: Exhale: Core Fusion Pilates Plus
For the beginner: Gaiam Pilates – Beginning Mat Workout
For the six-pack seeker: Gaiam Abs Pilates Workout
For the marathoner: STOTT PILATES Strength and Endurance: Matwork with Props
For the injury-prone: STOTT PILATES Extreme Pilates – Strength and Agility on the Mat DVD
For the time-crunched: Mari Winsor: Cardio Pilates
Disclaimer: I am not a certified Pilates instructor, although I did teach Pilates for two years. This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which do not cost you any additional fee but do support This Runner’s Recipes. Thank you!)
Have you done Pilates before?
What supplemental exercise has most benefited your running?
What job did you work in college?