In my last post, I discussed the many benefits of incorporating Pilates into your weekly workouts to improve overall strength and running performance. Perhaps you’re curious to explore this movement practice, but are unsure where to start. This week’s post is designed to help with that, serving as an introductory guide for what to expect in a Pilates mat or apparatus class, how to find a class in your area, and my top five mat exercises that help all runners perform at their best!
Pilates mat and apparatus classes are typically one hour in length and combine a variety of whole body movements all focusing on deep core activation. In a mat class you’ll primarily be working against your own body weight, and often find props (i.e. resistance bands, foam rollers, small ball, or magic circle) being used to help challenge your body further, and bring awareness to important muscle groups. Such classes are often offered at gyms/rec centers and Pilates studios with usually 10-30 students per instructor. Most people’s first exposure to Pilates is through a mat class, but don’t be fooled by the simplicity of the environment and deceivingly friendly props. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how challenging these exercises actually are! Joseph Pilates created the mat repertoire first, and realized through his work with clients that not everyone was strong enough to do these movements right away. This is what lead him to develop the accompanying apparatus equipment, which provides an equally challenging workout, but can also help support and modify movements to meet people’s bodies where they are, enabling them to build the strength and coordination to eventually participate in a mat class.
There are six main pieces of Pilates apparatus equipment: reformer, cadillac, tower, chair, ladder barrel and spine corrector. For small group classes, the most commonly utilized piece of equipment is the reformer (pictured below). This versatile machine incorporates the use of various tensioned springs to challenge your core and provide a whole body workout. These movements are done in standing, sitting, and lying down just like mat classes. However, apparatus classes are usually only 4-8 people per instructor due to the space required for the equipment, and provide a wonderful environment to receive more individualized instruction. Such classes are found in Pilates studios and some gym settings, and typically run $25-35/class. In my personal opinion, I highly recommend beginning your Pilates practice with a reformer class. It’s an incredible workout, and being on the machines gives the Pilates repertoire an entirely different feel than the mat.
How do you find a studio near you? Google, Yelp, and the Mindbody App are great ways to locate studios near you. You might even ask your friends and fellow runners if they have a studio they like, too. Plus, going to class with a friend is always more fun and helps with accountability.
Perhaps you don’t have access to Pilates classes through a gym or studio near you. Or maybe you still feel a little intimated by going to a class? No worries! There’s a wonderful online resource, PilatesAnytime, where you can take classes with some of the best instructors from around the world all while staying within the comfort of your own home. This is a great resource and alternative to help incorporate Pilates into your weekly routine for just $18/mo. They also offer a free two week trial for all new customers – how awesome is that?!
As promised, I said I would include my top five mat exercises that I recommend to keep my runners performing at their best. For runners, the most important muscle groups to focus on include core, gluts, torso rotation, and shoulder strength. Yes you need your arms for running – think about how helpful it is when you pump those arms actively – they help propel us forward faster with the help of our lower body.
Double Leg Stretch – 3sec hold x 10 reps
Side Lying Banana – 5 sec hold x 10 reps each side
Leg Pull – 5 sec hold 2×10 reps with each leg
Kneeling Side Kicks – 2×10 reps each leg
Side Bend Twist – 2×10 reps each side
Performs this series 2x through, 2-3x/week, and enjoy the benefits of feeling stronger and more efficient when you’re out pounding the pavement!