The Benefits of Pilates for Runners and How to Get Started

The Benefits of Pilates for Runners (and How to Get Started)

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.

The Benefits of Pilates for Runners (and How to Get Started)

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!

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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

For the DIY-er: The Women’s Health Big Book of Pilates: The Essential Guide to Total Body Fitness

[Tweet “Want to Add #pilates to your #running routine? Here’s how to get started via @thisrunrecipes #fitfluential”]

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? 

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27 Responses

  1. The timing of this was spot on! I am planning to start doing some pilates (I find it really challenging, which tells me I need to do it more). I just signed up for a 10 day free trial of pilatesology, but I will definitely check out your links too! Planning to do a class this morning!

    1. Thank you! I’m interested to hear about how Pilatesology works for you – I’ve eyed that a couple times but haven’t tried it out yet, and it is nice to have a streaming library – I used to subscribe to Gaiam to stream all their Pilates and yoga. I hope you enjoyed your Pilates this morning!

  2. Pilates is no joke and a great workout! I love the focus on mind-body connection while still getting in a great workout. I am looking forward to incorporating some Pilates and yoga this winter to change things up and help my running!

    1. I remember when some guys came to my Pilates class, and they thought it would be an easy workout, but they had to stop and rest partway through! It really is a challenging and effective workout. I hope you get to add some in this winter – it is such a great workout to do on snowy days!

  3. I have neverrrrrrr tried Pilates. Always wanted to, though! I worked at a sports store and a coffee shop when I was in University, and I also painted apartments.

    1. You should try it! I love it because it can be done from home, no equipment need, in 25 minutes. Painting apartments is hard work! I did that a couple times for a service project in college and it was demanding!

  4. Thanks so much for this post! It was after reading one of your weekly recaps that I got inspired to try the Pilates DVD and magic ring that I’d gotten as a gift last year. Unfortunately, my DVD player isn’t working, but I found an abs video online to do with the ring–it’s awesome! My DVD comes with lower body and upper body workouts for 30 minutes each and a 10 minute abs workout. I wouldn’t normally have time to combine the upper and lower for an hour workout…would you recommend a full-body routine instead? Or, maybe I would do the upper once a week and lower once a week. I need to figure it out, but I do plan on continuing Pilates!

    1. Thank you for reading! That’s great that you are enjoying the Pilates ring! I would recommend splitting the DVD you have to do upper one day and lower another day (and on nonconsecutive days if possible) – form is key in Pilates and it’s easy to lose that form after an hour, no matter how long you’ve been doing Pilates. Honestly, it’s what works best for you and what will fit best into your schedule, and I find it’s always better to split workouts than struggle to fit in a long workout. Hope this helps and please let me know if you have any other questions!

  5. Love this! Thank you for the link options!! I took a true pilates class only once back when I was in college and it was so hard for me then! Killer workout. Pure Barre incorporates Pilates so I am curious how I would handle one of the actual classes now. I may try a video to see!

    1. Thank you! I’m glad you find it useful! I did Barre 3 for a summer after college and found that it helped me significantly in doing Pilates, so I bet you would handle a Pilates class really well!

    1. It’s funny because I’m the opposite – I do yoga during peak training but I really prefer Pilates. Yoga and Pilates are very similar – yoga really does have a much more present mind-body connection. Both help so much with injury – and stretch out those achy muscles so well.

  6. I used to do Pilates, but it was too much for my body during half marathon training and actually triggered my hip injury in the first place 🙁 I’m hoping that once I get back to running I can do a few easier Pilates workouts because I do need to slowly get my hips stronger without overdoing it.

    1. Oh no – a hip injury is no goo! 🙁 I’d definitely recommend easier Pilates – there are some really good easy Pilates videos from Gaiam that are very gentle on the hips.

  7. My wife has been having some trouble paying attention at work. She just keeps getting distracted and she has no idea why. This being said, I really appreciate you letting me know that pilates is a great way to help someone stay focused and concentrated on something. I definitely think that my wife would really love to try something like this. I’ll be sure to show this to my wife right away so she can find a class to go to. Thanks a ton for the help.

  8. I’ve watched a pilates class before and that’s probably why I haven’t joined. They’re so flexible and fit and I wouldn’t be able to keep up. However, I do need to start pulling myself into shape. It might be worth it to do some of my own workouts until I find a class to join. Thanks for workouts to try out. I don’t know any of those exercises, but I’ll look up videos.

    1. I’m not a flexible person either, but what’s nice about Pilates is that you don’t need that high level of flexibility to do it. While classes are great for learning form, at home works well because it’s more comfortable and you can pause the video or rewind. Gaiam and Pilatesology both offer high-quality and helpful beginner’s Pilates videos that help you learn the movies and modify as needed (although most of the overly flexible moves are not used in the beginner/intermediate videos). Good luck!

  9. It was really nice how you said that pilates will help improve a runners flexibility and posture, thus resulting in a better running form. My sister is a runner; she usually joins marathons and other activities related to running, however, recently I have been hearing her complain about getting a lot slower. It might be a good idea to suggest pilates to her just so we can see if it will really help her out. Thank you for sharing.

  10. Pilates sounds like it’s pretty beneficial! I like the fact that it can help with posture. My posture has been bad for years, and my neck and back are feeling that pain now! I’ll have to try pilates out.

  11. I like that you mentioned that you can have an alignment of the hips with pilates. I like to run a lot, and I should look into having more exercise. I will need to find a place where I can start training.

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