Improve Running by Cross Training with Pilates
Running is a very popular form of exercise worldwide. A national government survey in the UK in 2020 found that approximately 6.8 million people run at least twice in 28 days between November 2018 and November 2019. Running is an inexpensive type of exercise that can be accessible to everyone. Nowadays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people have picked up running as a preferred way of to work out since all gyms and fitness studios are closed. It is a brilliant way to spend more time outdoors in nature getting fresh air and vitamin D.
Walking, running and jumping are movements the human body can naturally do from a very young age. Running is a more difficult version of walking – it is a high impact as it includes jumping from one leg and landing on the other while moving forward. When running, the primary force comes from the legs. A runner needs strength in the quadriceps and hamstrings (thighs), the gluteals and the calf muscles to produce force to propel the body forward. Strong, stable but also supple ankles and feet are very important to support the entire body during running and to absorb the impact when landing on one leg. The torso and the arms assist the legs to move faster as well as more economically and efficiently. When the run is relatively slow the upper body is stable with the arms swinging gently, but when the speed is faster the upper body needs to be utilised more to assist the legs. A runner will need very strong and stable abdominal and back muscles to support the spine upright as well as to create the appropriate rotation in the spine as counter-movement to the legs. The arms can also assist by swinging backwards to reinforce the momentum and countermovement of the spine. Posture plays an important role is running: the better aligned the spine, the more efficiently it stabilises and moves while the legs push the body forward.
There are many types of running: recovery run, base run, progression run, interval run, tempo run, fartlek run, hill repeats, sprints and long run. Each type has different benefits such as increasing aerobic capacity, aerobic endurance, muscle strength, speed benefits, bone health, strengthening the cardiac muscle, and muscle recovery to name a few. Any individual can train gradually to run safely when there are no underlying conditions where running is contraindicated.
Running is also a very popular Olympic sport with many categories: sprints (100m, 200m, 400m), middle distance (800m, 1500m), long distance (3000m steeplechase, 5000m, 10,000m), marathon and others. Professional runners train very specifically for the type of run they compete. They use cross training to increase strength and power, support their running technique, improve specific skills according to their needs and maintain balance between different muscle groups.
Running is also highly repetitive by nature. Sports that have repetitive movements also have an increased risk of injury due to the overuse of the same muscle groups that leads to fatigue. Overuse and chronic injuries are very common in runners. Cross training is very important to prevent injuries. Pilates is considered to be a very good conditioning method for runners because it focuses on posture and core strength as well as good alignment throughout the body. A Pilates-based programme can complement running when it is individually planned for the client. Strength, mobility and stability can be emphasised as necessary.
A runner can practice good posture in standing in all the Pilates apparatus to imitate the posture used during running. Leg, ankle and foot alignment can be reinforced and strengthened on the Reformer using the foot-bar to correct any misalignments throughout the kinetic chain but also to strengthen the thigh muscles while maintaining good alignment. The mobility and strength of the ankle, foot and calf muscles are always addressed during footwork exercises on the Reformer, the Cadillac and the Wunda Chair. Additionally, the Wunda Chair can be used to strengthen the gluteal muscles as well as to challenge balance in order to provide support of the pelvis in a standing position. BASI Systems gives a great variety of resistance in all the equipment as there are more options to increase or decrease the resistance when required with extra gears, attachments or levers for the springs. This is ideal to individualise the programme according to the runner’s level and specific needs.
Abdominal and back extensor exercises are the core of Pilates. The spinal muscles are addressed to either stabilise or mobilise the spine. The repetitive nature of running can potentially increase stiffness in the spine. Runners can strengthen and mobilise the abdominals on the Spine Corrector in all ranges of motion. Rotation is a very important range for the spine for runners and it can be practiced wonderfully on the Cadillac in a standing position.
Shoulder strength can assist runners especially sprinters who need to use their arms intensively to produce extra force. The BASI F2 System can offer strong resistance for arm work in a sitting position where the runner will need to stabilise the torso while exercising the shoulders. The benefits can be applied during running to reinforce more core stability and better momentum from the arm and shoulder complex.
Pilates, being so adaptable, is an ideal form of conditioning for runners. An individualised programme can benefit every runner: from a beginner to increase fitness levels and achieve the first run, to an amateur who enjoys running but needs some muscle maintenance to avoid injuries, to the professional who would like to enhance performance and improve fine motor skills to achieve their personal best.
Markella Kefallonitou holds a BA degree in Dance Education, an MSc in Dance Science and a Certificate of Accomplishment in Cunningham Technique. She is a qualified Pilates instructor through BASI Pilates. Markella works at the Pilates Clinic in Wimbledon where she teaches alongside the BASI Pilates UK team. She is BASI Pilates Faculty member teaching the BASI Global Comprehensive Program and the BASI workshop “The Foot - our base of support” focusing on foot strength and mobility. She is also a dance specialist teaching at the Royal Ballet School in Richmond.