Every runner I know, including myself, is always looking to improve, whether they outwardly admit it or not. Everyone wants to feel better, faster, stronger (cue Daft Punk music here), and reduce his or her risk of injury. If you’ve read any of my posts so far, you know I’m a firm believer in incorporating regular strength training and mobility work into your weekly routine, just as much as your running workouts, in order to optimize your running performance. Simply running for longer periods of time, greater distances, or faster speeds won’t get you there. The good news is there are a plethora of strength and flexibility training options to choose from (ex: HIIT, kickboxing, spin, barre, etc…). However, one of my favorite cross-training options for improving running economy and efficiency is Pilates. Yes, full disclosure, I am a Pilates instructor so I’m a bit biased, but it isn’t just me who’s saying so; the research also backs my endorsement.
Now you may be wondering, “What is Pilates, exactly?” I get this question a lot. Many have head of Pilates, but many aren’t clear on what it is. The second most common question I get asked is, “how is it different from yoga?” While these two questions alone could fill an entire blog post, I’ll provide a simple explanation to these important questions. Pilates is a movement practice developed by Joseph Pilates in the early 1920s focusing on full body integration by way of emphasizing deep core training in order to achieve balanced strength, flexibility, and movement efficiency throughout the entire body (1). This is different from yoga in that Pilates can be performed on a mat or with specialized apparatus equipment, and while Pilates does improve flexibility overtime, its focus is on utilizing intentional breath work to improve deep core activation patterns, which improves spinal alignment and pelvic stability (1, 2). When optimal spinal alignment and pelvic stability are achieved, our movement patterns greatly improve, which simultaneously increases performance and reduces the development of injuries (2-6). This is especially important for achieving optimal running economy (5, 6).
While Pilates fans have known and felt its positive effects over numerous decades, it’s only been in the last few years that research findings have supported such claims. Professional athletes like LeBron James (NBA), Jake Arrieta (MLB), Antonio Brown (NFL), and Shalane Flanagan (Olympic marathoner), just to name a few, have helped highlight how Pilates has played a critical role in their ability to perform at such elite levels, giving them an edge over their competitors. The research confirms that Pilates enhances core stability, optimizes walking and running patterns, improves balance strategies, and is a leading intervention for addressing low back pain pathologies (2-6). Research has also confirmed in as little as two 1hr sessions a week for 6-8weeks significant gains in muscle strength, coordination, balance and flexibility can be achieved; and that’s not just felt while in Pilates class, but carries over into all activities of daily living (2-6).
And the best part? These studies only looked at mat Pilates. So you don’t even have to go to a Pilates studio, or use the fancy apparatus equipment, to reap the benefits of this incredible movement practice. I share this because many people often think Pilates is too expensive for them to fit into their daily routine. This is simply not true. Pilates doesn’t have to be pricey to be effective or accessible. Most gyms and YMCAs offer Pilates mat classes, and there are wonderful online streaming options like PilatesAnytime, which allows you to take a Pilates class from the comfort of your own living room with an Internet connection.
Curious about trying Pilates, but still not sure if you’ll like it or unsure where to start? Stay tuned for my next post, which will help break down what to expect in a Pilates mat or apparatus class, and how to find them in your area. I’ll also highlight my favorite Pilates mat exercises that I use to keep my runners performing at their best! All you’ll need is some floor space, a mat or towel, and your breath.