Pilates for Runners: APPI Wimbledon

I’ve always been more of a Yoga girl, rather than Pilates- even though the two are really quite different. However, Pilates has become of more interest to me recently in building up my core and lower body strength and stability, and hopefully avoiding any further running injuries!

I’ve been taking regular Beginners Reformer classes at Bootcamp Pilates in Fulham – after I was lucky enough to win a 10-class pass in the Zero Calorie Advent Calendar– and I went along to a mat class at Sweaty Betty in collaboration with Elle to kickstart the year. The instructor who took the Wimbledon Sweaty Betty class was Megan from APPI Health, and she invited me along to try out their studio too. 
Pilates for Runners: APPI Wimbledon
Me and Eleah, my instructor for the morning
I’m still very much of a novice when it comes to working on the reformer machines, which can be a little intimidating and resemble torture devices! Due to my schedule I could only make it along to the Saturday 9am class which was an Improvers Circuits class, and definitely a lot more challenging than I was used to!
The instructor Eleah was very friendly and encouraging though, and as it was a really small group (6 people) she was able to give me pointers on form and make sure that I always knew what I was doing- or should be doing, even if my muscles wouldn’t play ball! I tried a lot of moves I’d never done before, and loved the variety of the class. We worked on one machine or piece of equipment for 2minutes, before moving round the circuit onto the next one. 
Pilates for Runners: APPI Wimbledon

I could really feel my muscles working, even with the small controlled movements, and I can definitely see how this would be hugely beneficial for improving fitness and well-being as well as those recovering from injury. In fact I spoke to one of the girls in the class who told me she broke her back 4 years ago, and she was flying round the circuit with no problem- she said that she credits Pilates with giving her her life back!
Another of the instructors at APPI, Hayley, has very kindly put together some information below on the benefits of Pilates for runners, as well as some exercises you can try at home!

The Background to Pilates

Pilates is an exercise technique that focuses the mind and body. It targets the deep postural muscles of the abdomen and spine to improve overall central core stability and posture. It was created by German-born Joseph Pilates in the early 1900’s. Joseph suffered many health conditions as a young child and dedicated his entire life to improving his physical strength. He studied body-building, yoga, and gymnastics. Through trialling various different ways of exercising Joseph devised a series of exercises and training techniques, which form our basis for Pilates today. These have been modified and adapted to suit everyone.
Pilates suits all ages and fitness levels and is particularly beneficial for those with back pain, scoliosis, neurological conditions, mental health conditions, sports injuries, arthritis, osteoporosis, and before and after pregnancy.

Pilates for Runners: APPI Wimbledon
Thanks Hayley!

Is there a difference between Mat and Reformer based Pilates?

Pilates as most of us know it, is mainly carried out on mats. Certainly if you attend your local gym or village hall to participate in the classes then you may be given a mat, and if you are lucky perhaps a head cushion. It is only when you venture into a specialist Pilates studio that you may come across some interesting looking machines. The most well-known and traditional piece of Pilates equipment is the Reformer. This looks like a bed with springs. It has a sliding carriage and various ropes, pulleys and other bits of equipment that can be added to it. The origins of the Pilates reformer date back to the original Pilates studio in New York in the 1920’s, and it was designed by Joseph Pilates himself.

Pilates for Runners: APPI Wimbledon
The reformer

Reformer Pilates uses the same mat-based exercises but adds a bit of variety. The springs can add more resistance to an exercise, and the muscles can be worked through a wide range of motion which can help with toning. Reformer pilates can also be used as a sports-specific cross training tool. It is also fantastic for rehabilitation as it can allow the client to exercise in a horizontal plane of motion and not be vertically loaded. For example if we are treating a lower limb condition and the client’s goal is to get back to running then we can introduce them to low impact exercise fairly early on. This can help to jog muscle memory and enhance the strengthening process to prepare them for the stage when they are ready to fully load their limbs.

What does a typical class involve?

A class is lead by one instructor who will be situated at the front. Numbers can vary depending on where you attend your Pilates, but ideally you would not want more than 10 – 12 people in a class. The class usually starts with mind-based exercise, focusing on posture, breathing, centering and engaging your core muscles. Usually a warm-up in standing is carried out which can last anything from 5 – 20 minutes. The exercises are then brought down to the mats. There may be a theme each week depending on the instructor. The focus may be on control; lower limb strengthening; abdominal toning, or even balance and coordination.

Pilates for Runners: APPI Wimbledon

Exercises will tend to flow and different levels of each exercise will be offered so that they are suited to each individual depending on their level of experience. Stretches and spinal mobility work will usually be incorporated throughout the class, and the class will generally finish with a period of stretching and relaxation bringing the focus back to posture and breathing. The class instructor will walk around the room between exercises to check on technique and ensure that everyone is confident with the movements. A class usually lasts between 45 minutes to one hour.

How does Pilates benefit Runners?

The beauty of Pilates is that it can be adapted to any sport. Perhaps your goal may simply be to improve your overall flexibility, or your upper body strength, or perhaps your balance to enable you to improve your golf technique. Whatever your goal may be, Pilates is your answer. 
  • Just like stretching, Pilates can help runners focus on their breathing. By warming up the core and by focusing on the way in which we breathe when exercising, it can help runners breathe more efficiently, using their available lung capacity. 
  • The repetitive impact that a runner has to endure is huge. The force from each step will travel up from the lower legs and will dissipate through the pelvis to the lower back. By developing core strength, your lumbar spine and pelvis are able to absorb the impact more efficiently
  • Pilates can target specific muscles within a specific movement pattern. For example a lot of repetitive strain type injuries in running occur due to poor lower limb biomechanics. By strengthening the core and feeding in correct movement patterns through the repetitive nature of Pilates, the body becomes able to recognise these correct movement patterns until they become subconscious. It is hoped that these movement patterns will then be transferred across to running.

Pilates for Runners: APPI Wimbledon
Pilates to make you STRONG for running

Pilates Moves for Runners

1. Standing scooter with resistance band
This exercise is great as the movements are very specific to running. The stabilising leg works hard to support the trunk and the resistance band adds a challenge to the glutes.

Start without the band first to familiarise yourself with the movement pattern and then try to add the resistance band. Aim to do sets of 10 – 15 repetitions
2. Leg extensions in four point kneeling
Another exercise to get those glutes firing! Start on the floor and then progress to the edge of a bed / plinth to enable you to work through a greater range of hip movement.
This will target the gluteus maximus of the moving leg, and the gluteus medius on the stabilising leg – both key muscles required for running. Aim to do 10 – 15 reps on each side
Are you a fan of Pilates? Have you tried a Mat class, a Group Reformer class or a Reformer Circuit class? Who knew there were so many options! In fact APPI are starting a new Cardio Pilates class from 25th Feb (Weds 6pm) – this high energy class is aimed at runners or those training for an event, and who want to push themselves to the next level- check it out!

Beki x
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1 Comment

  • Reply Maria

    I can see the benefits but I am never motivated to do this sort of thing. Lots of the exercises look like the ones I did for the Kinetic Revolution prog- I really need to start doing those again.

    February 19, 2015 at 7:45 pm
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