Pilates has become a highly valued training method among athletes from many sports, in the first of a new series we take a look at its application to running

Running is perhaps one of the most natural and instinctive sports. Yet it also creates huge potential for injury due to its repetitive nature and any weaknesses will sooner or later become apparent. Runners tend to be lean, fit, dedicated and slightly mad!

Why else would you go out in the freezing cold rain in a tee shirt, shorts, gloves and hat and push yourself through the pain barrier to shave a couple of seconds off your Pb? Runners also have a tendency to neglect their conditioning in favour of clocking up the miles. As a trainer, I often come across runners with weakness in their glutes and hips, as well as the core muscles of their trunk (weak glutes can potentially create knee problems).

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Many runners also have tight and over dominant hip flexors (muscles at the top of the thighs that are key to pulling the legs ‘through’ on each stride) – so some of the exercises that follow are designed to isolate the abs and remove the contribution of the hip flexors. Do the exercises at least three times per week – they are best performed after a gentle warm up, but can be tagged onto the end of your run provided your muscles are not exhausted.

Single Leg Plank

Strengthens core and the single leg element builds pelvic stability.
* Start on all fours with hands under shoulders and knees under hips
* Draw your abs in, and keep your back and hips still as you extend one leg at a time behind you to rest on your toes
*Hold your body straight like a plank with your weight supported on hands and toes
*Keep your abs tight and lift one foot off the floor keeping hips level
*Hold for two breaths
*Change legs and repeat several times
*Gradually build up to 1 – 2min in total

Training Tips: keep neutral spine throughout – that’s maintaining its natural curves. Keep your shoulders away from your ears and your head in line with your spine. This exercise should be avoided by those with back problems.

Pilates toe taps

Strengthens and stabilises the core.
*Lie on your back and lift one leg at a time until your knees are above your hips and bent to 90-degrees
*Place hands behind your head and flex head and shoulders forwards
*Exhale to lower one foot towards the floor, inhale to return.
*Alternate legs for 20 reps
*Keep head and shoulders lifted forward and maintain neutral spine.

Training Tips: as you progress, straighten the leg out as you lower it, but only lower as far as you can keep a neutral spine and your stomach flat. You can also do the exercise with the head down on the floor – alternate sessions with the head forward variation.

Side Plank with leg raise

“Think about drawing your underneath ribs and hip together as you lift to contract your obliques

Strengthens core upper body & hips, focuses on obliques.
*Lie on ground on left side, propped up on left forearm with shoulder directly over elbow, right arm resting on your side.
*Exhale and lift hips off ground until body forms a straight line from head to feet.
*Inhale and hold
*Exhale and – lift and lower top leg 4 times.Inhale, hold and exhale hips back to the floor.
*Do 5 – 8 reps, then switch sides and repeat.

Training Tips: Think about drawing your underneath ribs and hip together as you lift to contract your obliques. With your toe turned out on the leg lift you should feel your bottom working.

pilates exercises_3

Controlled curls

Isolated abdominal exercise.
*Lie on your back with your left leg bent and your right leg straight on the floor
*Maintain neutral spine
*Place your hands behind your head
*Inhale and slightly tuck chin in
*Exhale and gently draw navel to spine as you curl your head and shoulders up off the floor keeping your pelvis still and your long leg relaxed
*Inhale back to the start
*Repeat 10 – 15 times, then change sides

Training Tips: aim to keep your hip flexors relaxed and your abs flat, so you might not come up very high. Imagine you are trying to fold your body at your bottom ribs. Keep eye line through your knees. Try to maintain neutral spine throughout.

Side Lying Leg Lift

Strengthens muscles of the hip and bottom.
*Lie on your left side, legs outstretched and upper body supported on your forearm (keep your ribs lifted and your shoulder away from your ear)
*Keep your ribs and waist lifted as you lift your right leg
*Exhale to lift the left leg and inhale to return to hip-height

Training Tips: keep your moving leg ‘long’ and your waist/hips still. Maintain ‘navel to spine’ connection throughout.

Side Lying Leg circles

Strengthens muscles of the hip and bottom.
*Come down onto your left side, right leg bent in front for stability, left leg extended out straight at hip-height
*Draw circles in the air with your right foot 8 – 10 times in each direction.

Training Tips: keep hips still and waist lengthened and off the floor throughout.

Side lying double leg lift

“If you wobble, place your hand lightly on the floor until you can perform the exercise without assistance”

Strengthens core (particularly waist) and muscles of pelvis.
*Straighten both legs – with your ankles beneath your hips as if standing
*Inhale to prepare
*Exhale, engage navel to spine and lengthen and lift both legs off the floor.
*Inhale slowly towards the floor
*Exhale back up before legs touch the floor.
*Repeat 10 times and then repeat entire side leg series on other side.

Training Tips: keep your waist long, don’t let it press into the floor. Maintain a neutral spine and keep your abs in tight. If you wobble, place your hand lightly on the floor until you can perform the exercise without assistance.

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