Adding Pilates to Your Training Can Make You a Better Runner

What you earn on the mat carries over to your performance on the road.

pilates workouts for runners
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You might think of it as a cushy celeb workout or a relaxing flow akin to yoga. But if you haven’t tried Pilates, you’re missing out on some major strength, speed, and endurance gains.

“Though it has many overlaps with yoga, Pilates is different in that it focuses on core engagement with every movement,” says Susie Crossland-Dwyer, ultramarathoner, Pilates instructor, and founder of Studio S in Cincinnati.

Whether you practice it on high-tech equipment at a studio or on the floor in your basement, you’ll strengthen the muscles that support your posture—and that makes you a stronger runner. “When your core is more stable, it creates a stronger kinetic chain, meaning the lower half of your body can move in the way it’s designed to, and you’ll run more efficiently,” Crossland-Dwyer explains.

Potentially a lot more efficiently: Runners who did mat Pilates twice a week for 12 weeks earned faster 5K finish times, according to a PLoS One study. Those runners took more than two minutes off their time, while the group who only ran during training improved their times by less than a minute, on average.

Pilates also supports you on the run by staving off injuries. Another study from the International Journal of Sports Medicine found that just six weeks of clinical Pilates can improve mobility and address muscle imbalances in recreational runners, helping to keep you off the sidelines.

Not convinced to sign up for a class yet? Let this list of Pilates benefits for runners lead you to the mat. Plus, find expert tips on getting started right where you are, zero gear required.

5 Benefits of Pilates Workouts for Runners

● It centers on your core

The key to Pilates’ cross-training power: It’s all about your midsection. And the reason that’s so key for hitting (and maintaining) a strong stride? “Many runners believe that they run primarily with their legs, but all movement in the extremities is powered and supported from the center of the body,” says Crossland-Dwyer. “How well your core stays in neutral alignment influences leg positioning in each stride, foot strike, and arm swing.” So, to have strong running mechanics, you need a strong core.

On the flip side, when you’re several miles into a run and your middle gets fatigued, you probably start slumping and putting greater load on your legs, which not only makes the miles harder, but it also increases your risk of injury. A stronger core can help you counteract that break in form.

When it comes to the payoffs Pilates has for your core, think beyond the six-pack. It targets everything from your obliques to lats to glutes, explains Adefemi Betiku, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., instructor at Club Pilates in Westchester, New York. Many Pilates moves also specifically target the transverse abdominus, a.k.a. the deep abdominal muscles that support your spine, keeping you upright and stable.

● It boosts your breathing

Because Pilates reinforces deep breathing from your diaphragm during tough movements (like planks that make you shake), it can help you learn to maintain even breathing on your runs, too, says Andrea Speir, instructor and founder of Los Angeles–based SPEIR Pilates. Learning to control your breath comes in handy on any run, but especially during long runs, where deep inhales and exhales support you from mile to mile.

● It works your lower half, too

Many common running injuries (think: IT-band syndrome, runner’s knee, or plantar fasciitis) stem from weakness or imbalance in the hips. Increasing strength and mobility in your hips through moves like side planks with hip abduction (lifting the top leg up toward the ceiling) is a huge component of Pilates, Crossland-Dwyer says. The practice also pumps up the power of your quads and glutes with exercises such as forearm planks with leg extensions (lifting your leg straight up and back behind you in a plank), says Betiku, which can help stave off knee aches. And it focuses on calf muscles and the arch of your feet, helping you sidestep injuries below the knee, as you work through exercises like controlled heel raises.

● It helps you get in line

Unless someone’s recording your run, chances are you don’t give a lot of thought to your running gait. But you should. Leaning forward excessively can shorten your stride and put you at greater risk for injury, according to a study from the University of Colorado Denver. Pilates helps bring more awareness to your posture and also strengthens the muscles that help you maintain good body alignment as you run.

“Throughout a Pilates class, we’re focusing on what your spine is doing and maintaining joint alignment through your shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles,” says Betiku.

● It enhances muscular endurance

Pilates classes generally call for high reps, typically 15 or more, which trains the muscles of your core and legs to stay strong for longer, Betiku says. That easily translates to your runs, considering you need your muscles to maintain their stamina through long miles.

Digital Pilates Workouts to Try At Home

pilates workouts for runners
Trevor Raab

Do Pilates in your living room, hotel room, or wherever you want to sweat with virtual classes like those from Peloton, Apple Fitness+, or these digital platforms—all of which will help you reap major running rewards.

»Glo: This platform boasts big names in wellness, like Kristin McGee and Kit Rich. Plus it provides both traditional mat classes and fusion sessions that blend Pilates with more targeted strength training. ($18/month or $162/year; glo.com.)

»Pilatesology: Come to this site for its encyclopedia of moves for newbies and plenty of options to find a teacher who fits your personality. Stay for the workouts designed specifically for runners. ($20/month or $179/year; pilatesology.com)

»Pilates Anytime: With more than 3,400 videos, classes on the mat or reformer, options for props, and more, you’ll never get bored. Search by level and preferences like “Pilates for back pain” or “stress” to find your match. ($18/month; pilatesanytime.com)

The Best Pilates Exercises to Get You Started

If you can swing classes on a reformer machine, you’ll gain the most strength benefits, says Betiku. But hitting the mat a few times a week (in a studio or at home) is still highly effective. Zero in on the muscles that keep you stable on the run by doing these three moves, three times a week.

»The Hundred: Lie faceup, legs extended. Lift head, shoulders, and legs, keeping knees straight (bend to modify). Extend arms down by sides, off floor. Pump arms up and down, breathing in for a 5 count, and out for a 5 count. Repeat 10 times.

»Reverse Plank: Sit with legs extended. Place hands behind you, fingertips facing your butt. (Turn them slightly out if that feels better.) Press hands and heels into mat and lift hips to form a straight diagonal line from shoulders to heels, keeping shoulders down. Hold for 30 seconds.

»The Quadruped: Start on all fours, wrists under shoulders, knees under hips. Keep shoulders and hips square to the floor, and extend right arm and left leg straight out. Place them back down. Repeat with left arm and right leg. Continue alternating for 15 reps per side.

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