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Trail Tips

Pilates Exercises for Better Running Posture

If you’ve ever been a spectator at a race you will probably have seen all sorts of interesting running postures cross the finish line: rounded shoulders, chins poking forwards, knocking knees, twisting torsos, flailing arms – you name it, they’re usually all there. And how often do you finish a race or run with a sore lower back, screaming hamstrings or tense shoulders? Hopefully not that often, but if you do, then by practicing Pilates you will strengthen the muscles that cause these problems, and quite quickly you’ll feel an improvement in your running form.

Postural alignment

With a good, healthy, upright posture you will easily become a better runner. You’ll finish with more energy in the tank because you can run taller, breathe more deeply, be lighter on your feet. Take a look at some of the elite runners’ postures, how graceful and upright they are. Poor posture really does place stress on your body and sap energy. If left uncorrected this can lead to injury.

By observing your own or someone else’s posture and movement you can often tell a lot about their personality or lifestyle. If you work in front of a computer, day in, day out, then maybe you have a tendency to rounded shoulders and you’ll find you probably have tight hip flexors as well. If you cross your legs; if your computer isn’t at eye level; if you always carry your baby only on your right hip; if you feel unhappy or in pain; if you wear high heels – everything can affect your posture. In addition, anxieties can turn into tension and unresolved emotions manifest in stress-related injuries, so it’s not surprising that we end up with a body that compensates and then starts complaining.

It can also affect our well-being and reflect our emotions: standing upright, lengthening through the spine with an open chest and relaxed shoulders immediately feels better than being slouched and scrunched up in a ‘miserable,’ collapsed stance.

As we age, our posture changes too, so it’s important to start looking after it and being body aware as early as possible. With good posture all your vital organs will be held in the right place, everything will function well and you will move so much more easily as you run to that finish line. And Pilates will start sorting it out right away.

SWIMMING INTO BACK EXTENSION (ALL LEVELS)

Running benefits
Swimming encourages torso and spinal stability while moving the arms and legs. Your core muscles have to constantly stabilize your pelvis when running, even more so on uneven trail routes. This exercise teaches the core muscles to work together and provide enough strength for us to stay upright, stable and strong when running. It also, like most Pilates exercises, lengthens the back, arm and leg muscles, especially those hip flexors and hamstrings which are notorious for becoming tight.

Photo by Grant Pritchard Photography

Method
Lie on your front with your arms above your head as if you’re about to dive into a swimming pool.

Engage your abdominal/pelvic floor muscles. Pull your abdominal muscles in, lifting up off the floor. Try to keep them there.

Breathe in to prepare.

Breathe out, raise and lengthen both your arms and legs, keeping them parallel to the floor.

Lift your head, keeping your neck and spine aligned.

Breathe in for 5 counts while you gently pulse your arms and legs up and down dynamically as if paddling/swimming.

Breathe out through your mouth for 5 counts, still paddling your arms and legs.

Complete 4 sets of 10 paddles and then relax for a moment before continuing on to the Back Extension.

Back Extension
Breathe in to prepare.

Breathe out.

Lift and extend both arms, both legs and your head.

Hold for 5 seconds but remember to breathe naturally.

Photo by Grant Pritchard Photography.

Note
Keep your abdominal muscles lifted off the floor and engaged.

Make sure you don’t overextend your back.

Concentrate and keep focused on your breathing and alignment.

To make the exercise easier, perform fewer repetitions or just raise the opposite arm to leg.

Progress
Increase the repetitions.

Use ankle weights – but if you do, make sure you can keep your body aligned. Don’t let the ankle weights change the position of your body.

LEG PULL FRONT/PLANK (INTERMEDIATE/ADVANCED)

Running benefits
This is a version of the well-known Plank exercise which encourages pelvic and shoulder stabilization while strengthening all the core muscles and of course your arms. Not only that, but it also stretches the front of the hips and calf muscles. Leg Pull exercises are very powerful and will improve your running endurance, stability and power.

Note: if you have weak wrists, a shoulder injury or find your abdominal muscles aren’t quite strong enough to perform this exercise yet, modify and adapt accordingly.

Photo by Grant Pritchard Photography

Method
Start the exercise on your hands and knees.

Make sure your hands are aligned under your shoulders.

Slide one leg directly behind you and come on to the ball of the foot.

Repeat on the other side until you are in the Leg Pull position.

Engage your abdominal muscles/pelvic floor muscles.

Breathe in to prepare.

Photo by Grant Pritchard Photography.

Modify 1 (beginner)

Lie on your front and come up on to your forearms – elbows directly below your shoulders.

Engage your abdominal/pelvic floor muscles.

Breathe in to prepare.

Breathe out as you lift your pelvis a little way and come on to your knees, feeling your abdominal muscles contract as you do so.

Breathe into your rib cage and then out through your mouth – continue using your lateral thoracic breathing to help you concentrate and stay put.

Make sure you keep the neck and spine aligned and that your abdominal/pelvic floor muscles stay engaged.

If you start to feel tension in your back, then stop, come down on to the floor, rest for a second or two and try again – you should feel the abdominal muscles working.

Hold for up to 30 seconds – or longer if you can!

Modify 2 (intermediate)
Lie on your front and come up on to your forearms – elbows placed directly below your shoulders.

Engage your abdominal/pelvic floor muscles.

Breathe in to prepare.

Breathe out and lift yourself up into a straight line and on to the balls of your feet.

Stabilize in that position and concentrate on breathing – in through your nose and into your rib cage and then out through your mouth, for a total of 5 breaths.

Keep your legs lengthened and feet on the floor.

Maintain your neck and spine alignment throughout – don’t drop your head down or tilt it upwards.

ROTATIONAL CAT (ALL LEVELS)

Running benefits
The Rotational Cat exercise will strengthen your core muscles and challenge your balance. It will also increase flexibility throughout the whole of your back as it rotates your spine and will open out and stretch your chest muscles. The thoracic spine can become stiff and rounded on a long run, and this exercise will encourage good posture and over time will prevent this from happening. This is also a great exercise for the day after a long run if you tend to suffer from post-run back ache; or if you sit slouched over a desk all day, you’ll find the rotational movement of the exercise relieves the postural tension that this can cause.

 Note: if it’s uncomfortable to kneel on the floor, place a rolled-up towel underneath each knee for more comfort. If you have wrist or elbow problems you might want to omit this exercise.

Photo provided by Grant Pritchard Photography.

Method
Start the exercise on your hands and knees.

Place your hands directly under your shoulders, knees under your hips.

Keep your head and spine aligned.

Engage your abdominal/pelvic floor muscles.

Breathe in to prepare.

Breathe out, take your right arm off the ground and thread it between your left arm and left leg.

Bend your left elbow.

Lower your head and right shoulder down to the mat for a deeper rotation as long as you are comfortable to do so.

Breathe in and hold the rotational stretch.

Breathe out and rotate back the other way, taking your right arm up in the air, this time following it with your head and neck.

Breathe in at the top as you hold the position.

Breathe out as you return to the mat.

Continue rotating, keeping the exercise flowing from side to side.

Repeat 6 times, and then come down into Extended Child’s pose to give your wrist a rest before changing sides.

Photo provided byGrant Pritchard Photography.

Note

Don’t force the rotation; only go as far as you are comfortable.

Keep your abdominal muscles engaged throughout.

Let the exercise flow and concentrate on your breathing.

Mat Pilates exercises for runners
Breathe out and lift one leg off the floor, at the same time pushing the heel of the other foot down towards the floor.

Breathe in and hold.

Breathe out and lower the leg back down into the start position.

Repeat on the other side.

Repeat the leg movement, alternating 6 times.

At the end of the exercise come into the Extended Child’s Pose.

Excerpted from Pilates for Runners: Everything you need to start using Pilates to improve your running – get stronger, more flexible, avoid injury and improve your performance by Harri Angell. Copyright © Harri Angell 2017. Published by Bloomsbury Sport, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing. Reprinted with permission.

For more tips on building a stronger core, check out this article on 5 Exercises for a Stronger Core.