If you’re the type of runner who’s always looking for sneaky hacks that’ll increase your speed, refine your form, and just generally make the whole “running-for-extended-periods-of-time-without-stopping” thing a teensy bit easier (so, every runner), sometimes stepping away from your standard, pavement pounding routine is just what you need. Yep, Cross-training might be the key to achieving all of the above. It could even help you shave serious time off your race pace like it did for this woman who dropped 20 minutes from her marathon PR.
But you don’t have to hit the box or gym, necessarily. Pilates is actually an ideal supplement to your running routine, and its mat-based moves can be mastered pretty much anywhere. “[It’s] stretch with strength and control, [and] thus the perfect pairing for a runner,” explains Julie Erickson, an elite-level Pilates instructor, personal trainer, and 23-time (!) marathon runner. The workout helps stabilize your torso and teaches you to control your mobility, meaning you’ll lock in your frame (à la Dirty Dancing) and not waste any energy on small, unnecessary movements throughout the course of your runs. Totally a win, right?
Keep on scrolling for 8 Pilates moves that’ll help you go the distance, whatever that might be.
Why this move will up your running game: Engages your legs for stability and your abs and back muscles for increased mobility.
How to do it: Start seated with your legs straight in front of you and arms extended at shoulder height. Slightly concave your core to create a C shape with your spine. Pull the lower abs in and move the pelvis back to roll the upper body toward the mat. The spine remains in the long C curve until the bottom ribs touch the mat, then place the rest of the vertebrae down one at a time like you’re painting a line on the floor. To reverse, lift one bone at a time off the mat using your core to return to your C curve, seated position. Make sure you’re not using your hip flexors or momentum to lift you up from the mat. Instead, Erickson says to use your rhomboids (the muscles around your scapula) and abs to flex the spine up and over the legs. Repeat 10 times.
2. Single straight-leg stretch
Why this move will up your running game: Engages the torso for stability and improves your running gait by challenging control and mobility of the legs via the abs and hips.
How to do it: From a seated position, roll your body backward onto the bottom tips of the shoulder blades with control. Pull the knees into the chest and send the legs straight up to the ceiling, inner thighs sealed together. Reach one leg to hover over the mat, while simultaneously pulling the other into the chest (gently), holding the leg closest to the body at either the calf or hamstring to stretch it, then switch. Make sure your head never moves, your shoulders stay pulled back, and your pelvis remains absolutely still. The abs should be able to counterbalance the weight of the leg as they reach outward. Repeat 10 times on each side.
3. Crisscross counterbalance
Why this move will up your running game: Engages the middle torso for stability; improves your running gait by challenging control and mobility of the legs via the abs and hips.
How to do it: From a seated position, roll your body backward onto the bottom tips of the shoulder blades with control. Pull the knees into the chest. Reach the hands behind the head, supporting the base of the skull. Cross your palms (not your fingers—this will help stretch the chest and utilize the upper back). Rotate the upper body from the ribcage up and over to the right, grounding the left hip and stretching the left leg out in opposition to counterbalance. Lift your upper body higher to rotate through the center and switch sides. Like the last move, make sure the lower abs and torso muscles stabilize the hips while the legs reach out and in and the upper body rotates in and out. Repeat 10 times on each side.
4. Reformer front split 3 on the mat
Why this move will up your running game: Helps improve posture and form of upper body while stretching lower body muscles for greater range of motion and mobility.
How to do it: Come to a lunge with your forward leg bent at 90 degrees and back leg extended behind you with your knee on the ground. Pause at the deepest level of the stretch and hold for a moment. Make sure the hips stay facing forward and the extension is happening at the hip flexor and quad via the engagement of the glutes and lower abs, and not by arching the back or letting the ribcage pop. Repeat 10 times on each side.
5. Thigh stretch
Why this move will up your running game: Stretches and strengthens lower body for greater mobility and flexibility.
How to do it: Kneel with your hips extended, abs engaged, and arms reaching straight forward at shoulder height. Lengthen the spine to get longer and taller, engage the glutes, and keep a straight line from the knee to the crown of the head. Begin to grow taller as you look slightly toward your chest and lean back in one straight line to stretch the front of the legs and deeply engage the back of the legs. The hamstrings, glutes, and abs should remain strong and engaged throughout to increase the range of motion at the front of the legs. Make sure the hip extension is happening at the hip flexor and quad via the engagement of the glutes and lower abdominals—not by arching the back and letting the ribcage pop. Repeat five times.
6. Side kicks
Why this move will up your running game: Strengthens core for better posture and stability, while increasing mobility of lower body.
How to do it: Start by lying down on your right side. Bring the bottom hand behind head for support and the front arm in front of the belly button. Keep your lower ribs tucked into your chest and hips stacked on top of one another. Lift the top leg up to the sky, ensuring that the box between the hips and the ribs remain as square as possible. Engage the inner thighs to pull the top leg back to the bottom. Repeat five times on each side. You can also repeat this move by sweeping you top leg forward in line with your hip, then returning to the start position for five reps on each leg.
Why this move will up your running game: Strengthens core, plus inner thighs for more power and stability.
How to do it: Start lying on your back with your arms extended overhead and legs zipped together and stretched in front of you. Engage the abs and legs, then reach the arms up to the sky. In one motion, using your core, lift your upper and lower body up simultaneously to roll up to a V-seat position, balancing on the pelvis, slightly behind the sitz bones. Your arms and legs should be parallel to each other at the top of the movement. Hold for a moment and then return with control to the mat. Slowly reverse the movement to return to your start position. Repeat 5–10 times.
8. Pilates push-ups
Why this move will up your running game: Increases total-body stability, strength, and endurance.
How to do it: This move is more of a tricep push-up than a chest push-up because the elbows frame the ribcage. Start in a high plank, biceps facing forward. Hinge at the elbows keeping them close to the ribcage and facing straight back. Repeat five times.
Finally, here’s some clarity on the eternal question: Which is better for *you*—Pilates or yoga? Also, this is the Pilates move Vanessa Hudgens uses to start her week off strong.
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