Running is an excellent cardiovascular workout that is often thought of as a great all round way to exercise. However running can often lead to an imbalance within the body which can result in injury.
If we break down the mechanism of running we can see that it involves the hip flexors to propel the leg forward, the quadriceps to extend the knee and the tibialis anterior to flex the ankle and place the forward foot. The gluteals and hamstrings are then responsible for pulling the leg back into hip extension.
All of these movements happen in the sagittal plane (forwards and backwards movements) and therefore those muscles that support movement in the transverse plane (circular motions such as rotation of the trunk) and frontal plane (movements side to side) are not specifically trained. This can lead to dysfunction within the body and can cause musculoskeletal problems including tightness of the hip flexors, pelvic instability and low back pain.
Pilates is a mind body conditioning exercise program that targets the deep postural muscles of the abdomen and spine to improve overall central core stability and posture (APPI). Core stability is characterised by hip and trunk muscle strength and endurance and the ability to maintain pelvic and spinal alignment (Wilson et al 2005). Core stability encompasses the muscle strength and endurance level necessary to control movement of the lumbar-pelvic-hip region (Jae-Ho Yua & Gyu-Chang Lee 2012). A stable base is therefore provided for movement of the upper and lower limbs as is required in everyday movements and very important in running (Wilson et al 2005).
Pilates focuses on the activities of the trunk, pelvis, and hips. It can improve ﬂexibility and muscle strength by correcting poor posture and increasing body awareness (Klobec et al 2010).
There is a vast range of scientific evidence available into the benefit of Pilates for runners. A study by Leetun et al (2004) showed that decreased core stability increased the likelihood of a lower limb injury. A well know injury of the long distance runner is iliotibial band friction syndrome which results in decreased abductor strength on the injured side (Fredricson et al 2000).
In a study by Fredricson et al (2000) hip abductor strength training through the Pilates method resulted in decreased pain and a faster recovery time with a return to the previous level of activity after a 6 week programme.
A very recent study by Jae-Ho Yua & Gyu-Chang Lee in 2012 showed how an 8 week programme of core stability training using Pilates has a significant effect on lower limb muscle strength and postural stability in healthy people. Enhanced core stability will therefore help to prevent musculoskeletal injuries when running by increasing muscle strength and postural stability (Jae-Ho Yua & Gyu-Chang Lee 2012).
Taking into account the continuously growing pool of research available into the benefits of Pilates for runners, we at TX Mount Merrion continue to provide an 8 week programme of mat work Pilates ranging from beginners to advanced beginners/intermediate.
The addition of a Pilates element to your training regime can help you to enhance your running technique and reduce the likelihood of injury.
By Paula Morgan
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Akuthota V, Nadler SF (2004) Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabiliation
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Fredericson M, Cookingham CL, Chaudhari AM, Dowdell
BC, Oestreicher N, Sahrmann SA (2000). Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine Hip abductor weakness in distance runners with iliotibial band syndrome. 10:169-175.
Leetun DT, Ireland ML, Willson JD, Ballantyne BT, Davis IM 2004.Medical Science and Sports Exercice. Core stability measures as risk factors for lower extremity injury in athletes36:926-934.
Kloubec JA. (2010) Journal of Strength Conditioning Research. Pilates for improvement of muscle endurance flexibility, balance, and posture.24:661-667.