Pilates and how it can aid your running

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Ever wondered what Pilates is? I certainly have. The Running Shops very own Marie, a fully qualified Pilates instructor, gives us some insight into what Pilates is, and how it can be an incredibly beneficial and complementary form of exercise to our running.  Marie will be offering classes and one to one sessions in the New Year, so stay tuned for further details or feel free to stop in by the shop for more information.


 

As your passion for running develops and maybe a few injury niggles appear most of us realise that some complementary training would be beneficial to keep body and soul together.  There are many options available, however for me Pilates has helped me to rehab and manage lumbar disc damage and return to running albeit not to run very fast, but I wasn’t very fast before either!

What is Pilates though, I hear you say and how does it differ from Yoga?  

Pilates is a series of exercises developed and taught by Joseph Pilates, born in Germany 1883.  A sickly child, he worked on improving his own physical conditioning and was ahead of his time in stating that  “the "modern" life-style, bad posture, and inefficient breathing lay at the roots of poor health.”  In about 1925, Pilates migrated to the United States.  Along with his wife he founded a studio in New York City and directly taught and supervised students well into the 1960s. His “Contrology" philosophy, related to encouraging the use of the mind to control muscles, focusing attention on core postural muscles that help keep the body balanced and provide support for the spine. In particular, Pilates exercises teach awareness of breath and of alignment of the spine, and strengthen the deep torso and abdominal muscles.

Pilates methods were initially embraced mainly by dancers and found to be beneficial in developing and maintaining flexibility, strength and stamina.  With developing knowledge of bio-mechanics and the spread of Pilates into the general population some of his more advanced moves have been adapted to make them suitable for those who are not blessed with a dancers flexibility.

The aim of the method is to rebalance the muscles and recruit deep postural muscles resulting in improved alignment of pelvis, spine and shoulders.  In turn improving bio mechanical function.

The pelvis is the foundation of our posture, providing a stable base to support the upper body and affecting the efficiency of our walking & running mechanics.  As runners we tend to have well developed or over developed quadriceps (quads) and often this is accompanied by tight hamstrings.  There are many muscles in the pelvic girdle but the biggies are the quads and hamstrings locked in a battle to hold the pelvis in position.  

If you think of an old fashioned tent pole with 2 guy ropes holding it up, if the guy ropes aren’t balanced properly the tent pole will tilt one way or the other.  This is a bit like the quads and the hamstrings, if the quads are too tight then the hamstrings are constantly fighting against them to maintain the pelvis in balance.  Once the pelvis is out of alignment then lower back (lumbar) muscles kick in to compensate and before you know it lower back pain is part of your life.

Pilates works to release the tight muscles within the pelvic girdle and hip joints to improve spinal mobility and then strengthen the deep postural muscles at the front and rear which will then help to improve and maintain the pelvic alignment.

Combine your tight quads and hamstrings with sitting at a desk or computer screen most of the day.  Even with the best chair and desk set up it’s hard to avoid rounded shoulders and tilting your head forward.  At the front of the body this tightens the pectorals (pecs) and stretches/weakens the muscles between and around your shoulder blades (rhomboids) along with the weight of your head tilted forward which causes the trapezius (among others) to be continually stretched and under tension.  Pilates focuses on shoulder placement, working on releasing the tight muscles and strengthening the weakened ones to allow rebalancing of the shoulder muscles and upper back muscles opening up the chest which also improves breathing function .

Many of the conventional training programs focus on the front of the body, not so surprising I suppose, that’s the bit we see mostly when looking in the mirror.  However the muscles at the rear of the body benefit from targeted exercises too and who doesn’t want their rear to be in better shape!

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  • Marie Law