Running is a high-impact sport that can put a lot of pressure on your body – just consider the phrase “pounding pavement”. Even if you love to run, your body might not like hitting the pavement (literally) for miles every week.
Our bodies thrive under new conditions that break through our routines. Cross-training is a fantastic way for runners to strengthen their body, protect it from injury, improve their time, increase mobility, and practice breath control.
And we’re not just saying that – it’s science.
In 2018, a randomized controlled trial found that runners who participated in a 12-week Pilates course (attending two classes per week) significantly improved their 5K time.
Need more motivation for class? Here are 5 reasons why runners love Pilates.
1. Improved core strength
Most runners only work out the superficial ab muscles, like the obliques or rectus abdominals. But your core is comprised of a series of interconnected muscles that all contribute to a strong core. It’s not just your abs – it’s also the stabilizing muscles in your back and neck.
A strong core is essential to improving performance and decreasing pain during physical exercise. Your core is the foundation of movement for your back, arms, and legs, and a weak core can cause discomfort in other parts of the body.
Research published in the Journal of Biomechanics found that weak deep core muscles can lead to “abnormal spinal loading, muscle strain, or injury to spinal structures, all of which have been associated with increased low back pain (LBP) risk.”
In other words – if your core isn’t strong, then the rest of your body will try to overcompensate, which leads to increased pain and risk of injuries.
This is why so many runners turn to Pilates to cross-train.
“Pilates really helps with cardio as it builds up muscles in a very low impact way, and most importantly, helps with core strength.” – RTR Instructor Jenna
Pilates focuses on building core strength, stability, and flexibility. By strengthening the core and lower back, a regular Pilates routine can build foundational muscle groups that are instrumental in supporting a runner’s body. Over time, these exercises can improve posture and alignment and prevent common aches and pains.
2. Injury Prevention
In any type of sport with repetitive movement, you’re going to experience wear and tear on certain parts of your body more than others. For runners, that long-term repetition can cause serious injuries that may sideline you from the race.
In particular, runners often experience pain and injuries related to the :
- Lower back
- Ankles and feet
While injury prevention isn’t the most exciting part of a training regimen, it’s critical to maintaining the long-term health of your body.
As a low-impact exercise, Pilates strengthens the muscles and joints to build a stronger system. For example, knee pain is often a result of underdeveloped muscles, which put undue pressure on the knee joint. Exercise series like footwork, side lying, bridges, and assisted lunges strengthen muscles that are often underdeveloped in runners, like the hamstrings and IT band.
3. Better Mobility
Whether you run on a treadmill or through Capital Crescent Trail, your running gait is essential to your comfort and endurance. Part of an optimal running gait is adequate joint mobility, especially around the hips. Tight hip flexors are a common issue for runners, and inhibit stride length (and probably cause a bit of pain, too).
Pilates exercises improve the joint by working the entire length of muscle groups, not just the middle of the muscle you work in weightlifting. By working muscle groups through their full range in a low-impact environment, Pilates targets these joints to increase mobility and flexibility for better performance on the treadmill or the trail.
4. Stronger breath control
In Pilates, we focus on controlling our body and our mind. We focus on staying present through our breath, and synchronizing our breath to movement. But what does that have do with running?
Every runner knows that controlling your breath is critical to long runs and endurance. But surprisingly, research indicates that most of the impact from your breathing rate is mental.
A review of evidence-based breathing strategy studies found that your breath rate has significant psychological benefits.
“Since breath rate (BR) reflects the physiological response to cognitive and environmental stress at rest, slowing BR during exercise may improve mental performance and calmness. As slow BR is known to positively impact autonomic nervous system balance and vagal tone at rest, it is possible that there is a similarly “optimal” BR during running that enhances the pleasant feelings of exercise. One study that manipulated BR during cycling found lower RPE, suppressed sympathetic and increased parasympathetic activity when breathing at very low BR of 10 bpm vs. unconstrained BR.” – Harbour et. al, Breath Tools: A Synthesis of Evidence-Based Breathing Strategies to Enhance Human Running
5. Enhanced Performance
In addition to all the wonderful injury prevention and mobility, Pilates also enhances performance for athletes. From runners to football players, many professional athletes cross-train with Pilates for improved performance at game time.
For runners especially, improved core strength alongside pelvic support and stability helps individuals run more efficiently, with a more balanced and even stride. Pilates’ focus on improving posture helps runners maintain form for better time, even miles into a long run.
As an added bonus, because Pilates is a low-impact activity, runners can fit it into their schedule whenever they have time, without worrying about how it will impact their run the next day.
Hit your stride with RTR Pilates
Pilates is a fantastic exercise for runners, so why not work towards your new PR in a fun and welcoming environment?
RTR Pilates offers more than 300 classes/week varying from 6:15am – 7:15pm, across our 5 DMV locations. So no matter your schedule or workout routine, there’s a class for you!