Surprising ways Pilates can improve your running
by Dawn Lefebvre, BScN, BScK
You already know the benefits of Pilates, but did you know that it can help your running? There are obvious benefits, like stronger legs and better leg alignment from doing footwork on the reformer, but there are lots of hidden advantages as well!
In a cardiovascular activity like running, breathing is so important. The oxygen you take in with each breath is what helps the body’s muscles and cells function and generate the energy you need for endurance activities. The more effectively you breathe, the better your oxygen supply and performance will be.
The Pilates focus on breathing into the lungs three-dimensionally helps you utilize the whole lung, instead of just breathing shallowly into the chest. Pilates gives you the opportunity to practice optimal breathing so that you can take that with you on your runs. Exercises like the Hundred use percussive breathing to incrementally expand and release the lungs, stretching the fascia and muscles in the ribcage and torso and preparing you for the greater volumes of air being exchanged with more exertion.
Extension exercises like Swan help undo the rounded postures that daily life pulls us into, and assist in maintaining a neutral spine while running. This helps open the lungs, again helping to maximize oxygenation. Think about what it feels like to run hunched over – could you fill your lungs? Try it right now by rounding your shoulders forward and collapsing your chest, and try to take deep breaths. Then straighten up and try again, noticing how much better you can fill the lungs. Running is hard enough without having to gasp for air because of your posture!
Tight muscles, especially in the back line, are other common challenges that runners face. The quadratus lumborum (QL, the big muscles along the spine in the lower back), hamstring, and calf are often chronically tight. Many Pilates exercises provide dynamic stretching for the legs and back, giving you a chance to stretch without doing a “stretch.” Spine stretches and Saw lengthen the whole back line, from your back down through your legs. Rollups add more core work to a similar stretch, with the whole body working to lengthen the spine as you roll up and down.
See if you can observe these concepts in your running and Pilates workouts, and notice the difference they make. We would love to hear about it! You can also apply this to other activities like walking. Good running starts with good walking, so make sure to check out our Hip & Knee Workshop and Walking Classes this summer!