Top 5 Pilates Exercises For Runners

Increasing muscular endurance of the core and lower extremities is essential to maintain proper form with running. Traditional strength training focuses on larger muscle groups needed for running but often neglects the smaller endurance muscles (local stabilizers) that help stabilize the joints to help support the large muscle movement of carrying the body through space. A proper balance of strength, endurance and stability is needed. Adding these simple yet effective pilates based exercises to your current routine or alone, will address endurance and stability to maintain form while helping to prevent injury. A balanced, stable body moves more efficiently. All the following exercises are done without shoes.

Half kneeling lunge to knee up with flexband:
Why do it?

  • Challenges core stablility with a unilateral load. Your body has to work to stabilize against torso and hip rotation.
  • Hip strength challenge – starting in the half kneel position, you need to work hip extensor strength and power on one side (glutes) and hip flexor strength on the other. This simulates the oppositional power needed for hills and sprints.
  • Balance – running is a series of quick balances on one foot then the other. Slowing down, working controlled balance helps improve ankle/foot strength and stability.
  • Doing this in bare feet is essential to maximize foot strength and balance.

The exercise:

Start position:
Half kneeling holding flex band or sport cord in hand of the knee that is up. Foot of knee that is down is dorsiflexed (toes curled under, this works on great toe extension, the movement needed for push off)

Movement:

Press arm with flex band forward as you come to stand position drawing opposite knee up, foot dorsiflexed. Return to start with control. Try to hold the top position for a second or two to work balance and stability at end range then return to start position.

Start with repetitions 10-15 then work your way up to doing it for 1 minute.

Pointers/modifications:

  • Make sure when you come back to start position your bottom foot is dorsiflexed with toes curled under to lengthen/stretch the bottom of the foot.
  • Increase or decrease the speed to change the challenge but always have a controlled movement.
  • Increase or decrease the resistance to make it challenging but to also be successful and the movement.
  • Keep spine long and neutral with a slight lean forward
  • Keep pelvis as level as possible and not let your hips drop on the stance leg.

Supine runners obliques:
Why do it?

  • Core and hip flexor strengthening
  • Simulates high knee warm up exercise taken to the floor; working proper arm position, high knees, dorsiflexed foot with added core work
  • Dorsiflexed foot helps to strengthen anterior lower leg musculature and lengthens calf

The exercise:

Start position:

On your back, elbows bent to 90 degrees, legs long, feet dorsiflexed

Movement:

Roll up through spine reaching one elbow to opposite knee as you breathe out. Roll back down with control as you inhale. Alternate sides 15-20 reps

Pointers/modifications:

  • Roll through the spine as you come up, don’t hinge at your hips, this will overactivate the hips flexors and low back musculature.
  • Keep the movement controlled to articulate through the spine helping to lengthen the low back

Standing Bend and stretch:
Why do it?

  • Increases pelvic/hip stability and balance on the standing leg.
  • Hip extensor strengthening on gesture side with good patterning of movement
  • Teaches torso stability while allowing proper hip mobility
  • Working in a forward lean addresses postural muscles to support position with running

The exercise:

Start position:

Mini squat position: hip and knees slightly bend with slight torso lean forward. Keep weight centered through midfoot throughout movement.

Movement:
In mini squat position:

  • Lift one foot, dorsiflexing foot.
  • Extend hip back tapping toes to floor, extending knee fully.
  • Return to start by dorsiflexing foot and folding at hip and knee.
  • 10-15 reps or working up to 1 minute

Pointers/modifications:

  • Place band around lower thigh to add resistence.
  • Vary speed of movement to challenge stability and endurance
  • Place balance pad under foot
  • Keep spine long throughout the exercise, don’t slouch!

Standing swimming with band:

Why do it?

  • Hip extension and postural work
  • Endurance and stability work of stabilizing leg
  • Proper patterning of hip extension

The exercise:

Start position:

Mini squat position: hip and knees slightly bend with slight torso lean forward. Keep weight centered through midfoot throughout movement. Loop band around lower thighs above knee joint for added resistence. Then, extend one leg back, knee straight.

Arms long and reaching over head, shoulder girdle stabilized (don’t let your shoulders hike up towards your ears)

Movement:

  • Reach back leg and opposite arm up as you exhale, inhale switch arms and tap back toe down.
  • Continue to alternate arm and leg movement for 1 minute

Pointers/modifications:

  • Keep spine long and neutral throughout
  • Move from your hip to left the back leg, keep knee straight
  • Keep shoulder girdle stable, don’t let shoulders creep up. Think about gliding your shoulder blades down as you lengthen through the crown of your head.
  • Abs engaged
  • Add pulses of back leg while keeping arms still
  • Add circles of back let while keeping arms still
  • Omit band

100 in stand:

Why do it?

The 100 is a classic pilates exercise that works on core endurance and spinal stability. Usually done on the floor, this standing version addresses the runners need for hip/core strength while also teaching the hip how to move with a stable core. The movement of the arms challenges the body to stabilize while allowin hip mobility.

The exercise:

Movement:

Standing, spine long and neutral, arms long by side.
Reach one le back into extension and hinge torso forward. Pump arms forward and back at shoulders while inhaling for a count of 5.
Exhale: continue to move arms as you come to standing pulling the leg that was reaching back to 90 degrees of hip and knee flexion. Repeat for 5 sets on one leg, then complete 5 sets with the other leg.

Pointers/modifications:

  • Add loop band around lower thighs for added resistence
  • Stand on foam cushion for an added balance challenge.

Your core is your fitness foundation. Adding these simple yet effective pilates based exercises to your fitness routine can help improve balance, strength and stability to help carry you further faster. A balanced body move better and is more efficient.

Cheryl C Alden, PT is a lead Instructor Trainer for Merrithew Health and fitness and owner of Symmetry Pilates Center in Bedford, NH. As a PT and endurance athlete, she understands the need for core strength and stability as a solid foundation to athletic performance.

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