Pilates for Runners

Sprinter vs Marathon Runner

Running is one of the most popular ways of keeping in shape. It increases cardiovascular fitness and can be done anywhere, so it is a very accessible form of exercise. As running grows in popularity, so do the number of “fun runs” and competitive races of varying distances to challenge the runner.

As a high intensity form of exercise, running places a great deal of strain on the body, particularly for half or full marathon runners. Add to this poor technique, poor posture, misalignments or asymmetries in the body, and certain muscles often become overused. This results in muscle fatigue and commonly leads to painful strains and tears. Common injuries experienced by runners are those to the knee, hip, lower back, calf and ankle.

Pilates can help with both rehabilitating existing injuries and preventing future ones.
Pilates’ holistic approach to movement focuses on breathing, alignment, core stability, coordination, good body awareness and concentration. Let’s consider each of these in more detail…

Good breathing is essential for runners because it increases lung capacity, resulting in better muscle endurance while running. The heart is a muscle too of course, so cardiovascular fitness is improved by breathing effectively.

Muybridge locomotion man-running-1887-photo-researchers

Proper alignment has the benefit of promoting good posture, which in turn facilitates effective breathing. With good alignment, the muscles work in a much more balanced way, allowing optimal and efficient movement patterns, which help improve performance and prevent injuries.

Pilates exercises generally focus on strengthening the muscles eccentrically, i.e. the muscles contract whilst at the same time lengthening. This improves elasticity in the surrounding connective tissue. For runners this is essential as the leg muscles need to be both strong and flexible to allow for the dynamic movement in the leg swing, landing and push off phase. A good sense of balance too is essential. Good balance plus body awareness starts with the feet, our platform for standing, walking and running. Strong awareness of the feet, particularly if a runner has a tendency to pronate, i.e. roll in or out at the ankle, is essential to avoid instability in this joint and potential injuries. Pilates is a great way of reintroducing a runner to their feet, how they are placed and the way the weight is distributed on them.

Artistic foot diagram

Pilates can also help achieve better pelvic alignment and improved core stability. Effective engagement of the deep abdominals enables the body to run in a much more balanced way. Exercises such as the Pilates sit-up and the clam are excellent for strengthening those muscles responsible for stabilising the pelvis and supporting the lower back.

Runners often have dominant quadriceps and tight hip flexors. If not addressed, over time this can result in the pelvis tilting forward, which in turn produces weak abdominals, tight lumbar extensors, and weak and tight hamstrings. The spine curl or “wheel” is a highly effective Pilates exercise to address this issue because it focuses on activating the deep abdominal muscles and sequentially articulating the pelvis and spine into and off the mat. The hamstrings are also activated to assist with hip extension. The hamstrings and abdominals work together helping to rotate the top of the pelvis backward, therefore countering the effects of an anterior tilting pelvis.

The head is often pecked forward in runners, causing the upper trapezius muscles to be “held” tight. Pilates exercises in a semi-supine position with the head supported on a special ball, help release tension in the neck and upper back muscles. It also teaches the runner where their head is in relation to the spine.

When these areas of tension are released, it is easier to activate the serratus anterior, a muscle which not only helps to stabilize the shoulder blades, but also moves the ribcage during breathing. This in turn has the effect of activating the deep abdominals. Arm exercises can then be introduced such as “Hug a Tree”, single and double arm pullovers, circles and arm openings, to help give increased power/momentum to the running action. Tension-free alignment in the upper body allows the legs to develop full power. If the shoulder and neck are relaxed (but not slumped), the thrust of the legs is directed through the most efficient pathway. A lower centre of gravity is another benefit, which improves balance.

Bodyworld runner

Pilates, like running, can generally be done anywhere. Not only is it a great form of body conditioning, waking up muscles essential for effective running, it also promotes well-being and relaxation. As such then, it is a great complement to running. Running is fast and often has a set time goal. Pilates is slower with the pace of movement dictated by the breathing. This allows for both precision and fluidity, two skills that demand concentration and mindfulness while moving. Once mastered, these skills can help the runner run with greater ease and pace.  Many professional athletes have come to see the great benefits Pilates can bring to their performance on the track and have incorporated it into their training programme.

This news article was developed from a piece by Julia Dalby, which appeared on the Pilates Foundation website.


The Art of the Body – Gesine Marwedel

Human Flamingo by Gesine Marwedel4

There are a number of exercises in Pilates where we create the shapes and movements of other living things: the starfish, the seal, the swan dive, the clam to name just a few. This week I discovered the German artist, Gesine Marwedel.  She specialises in creating beautiful body paintings that transform people into animals and plants.

Human Swan by Gesine Marwedel3

Using live human skin as a canvas for her work, Marwedel’s pieces have a strange illusory quality, obscuring certain parts of the body, or making them seem like something they’re not.

Human Locust by Gesine Marwedel

And her art goes beyond just pleasing the eye. Marwedel has published a book exploring the therapeutic benefits of bodypainting.

Human Sea Horse by Gesine Marwedel




Exercising When You Feel Under the Weather – Help or Hindrance?

Strength training for runners

Everybody feels unwell at some point in their life. The key question is, should you rest until you feel better, or would exercising help your body get back to full health quicker? This news piece, based on an article by Ryans Andrews at Precision Nutrition, aims to answer that question. If you want to skip the science bit and cut to the chase, scroll down to the conclusion section at the bottom of the piece.

The Immune System

Every day we’re confronted by bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. The most common are the upper respiratory tract invaders, or URTI’s, i.e. colds, coughs, flu, sinusitis, tonsillitis, throat infections and middle ear infections.

When faced with these invaders the immune system works hard to defend the body. Immune cells originating in the bone marrow and thymus, interact with invaders through the lymph nodes, spleen and the mucus membranes in the mouth, gut, lungs and urinary tract.

The Innate and Adaptive Immune Response

Our innate or natural immune system is our first line of defence. It includes:

• physical/structural barriers like the mucus lining in the nasal passages,
• chemical barriers e.g. stomach acids, and
• protective cells like the natural killer or NK cells, i.e. white blood cells that destroy harmful invaders.

Women tend to have a stronger overall innate immune response, which is probably why they often suffer less than men when it comes to colds.

The adaptive immune system is a more sophisticated system, composed of highly specialized cells and processes, which kick in when the innate immune system is overcome. The adaptive immune system helps us fight infections by destroying bacteria and viruses and preventing them from colonizing.

T and B cells are specialized white blood cells, which have a kind of memory. This enables them to “recognize” a specific disease, and mobilize effectively to fight against it. This is what we mean when we talk about “building immunity.” The reason children catch viruses more often than adults is because they haven’t had as much exposure to diseases so their adaptive immune system is less mature.


How Exercise Affects the Immune System

A structured workout routine – one where you’re breathing heavily, sweating, working hard and feeling some discomfort – awakens a stress response in the body. When we’re healthy, our bodies can easily adapt to this stress. Over time, this progressive adaptation is precisely what makes us fitter and stronger. However, when we’re ill, the stress of a vigorous workout can be more than our immune system can handle.

For those in good shape, non-strenuous exercise with minimal heart rate elevation, e.g. Pilates, walking, going for a leisurely bike ride, gardening and T’ai Chi, isn’t intense enough to create serious immune-compromising stress on the body. In fact it’s been shown to boost immunity.

Scientific research on exercise habits and influenza found:

• People who never exercised got ill quite often.
• People who exercised between once a month and three times a week did the best.
• People who exercised more than four times a week got sick most often.

In other words, being sedentary or exercising too much can lower immunity, whereas somewhere in the middle can actually improve immunity.

La Promessa by Matteo Pugliese

The Role of Stress

Exercise isn’t the only factor affecting the immune system. Stress plays a big role too. Here are the different stressors a person might face on any given day:

• Physical stress – playing sport, physical labour, infection, etc.
• Psychological stress – relationships, career, financial, etc.
• Environmental stress – hot, cold, dark, light, pollution, noise, altitude, etc.
• Lifestyle stress – diet, alcohol, smoking, hygiene, etc.

Stress affects hormone levels, which can result in chronic changes to the immune system. So, if you’re angry, worried, or scared every day for weeks, months or even years at a time, your immunity is being compromised and you’re more likely to become ill.

If you’re unwell and fighting an infection, your immune system is under stress. If you then include the additional stress of prolonged vigorous exercise, you might overload yourself, which is likely to make you even more unwell.

Sudden increases in exercise volume and/or intensity may also create additional stress, potentially allowing another virus or bacteria to take hold, resulting in further ill health. This seems to work the opposite way too, with chronic infections potentially being a sign of overtraining.

Other Factors Affecting Immunity

Besides stress, there are a number of other factors that can affect our immunity, and these combined with excessive exercise may increase the likelihood of us falling ill:

• Age: Our innate immune response works progressively less well as we get older. However, staying physically active and eating a nutritious diet can offset many of these changes.

• Gender: Menstrual phase and oral contraceptive use may influence how the immune system responds to exercise. Oestrogens generally enhance immunity while androgens can suppress it. This may explain why women tend to do better with colds than men.

• Sleep: Poor quality sleep and/or prolonged sleep deprivation jeopardize immune function.



Based on the above findings, potentially helpful activities to do when you’re under the weather are walking, Pilates, jogging, swimming, cycling, Qi gong, T’ai Chi and yoga. All of these activities are low intensity and involve minimal heart rate elevation. Ideally they should be done outdoors in mild temperatures and fresh air. Inside is fine though if you can’t get outside.

Activities to avoid when you’re feeling unwell are heavy strength training, endurance training, high intensity interval training, sprinting or power activities, team sports and exercise in extreme temperatures.

If you feel healthy and want to avoid becoming ill, try and stay moderately active most days of the week. If you take part in high intensity workouts, be sure to allow enough time to rest and recover. In addition, try to manage extreme variations in stress levels, get plenty of sleep, and wash your hands.

If you are already feeling unwell, let the symptoms be your guide as to how much to exercise. With a cold or sore throat (no fever or body aches and pains), low intensity exercise should help your recovery. Vigorous activity, no matter how long in duration is best avoided. If you have a systemic illness with a fever, elevated heart rate, fatigue, vomiting, diarrhoea, muscle and joint pain or weakness, and enlarged lymph nodes, you’re advised to just rest.

When you start to feel better, ease back into exercise in proportion to the length of time you were unwell, i.e. if you were sick for three days, take three days to ease back in.

New Specialist Pilates Classes Starting 6th September


This Saturday 6th September sees the launch of two new specialist classes.

Melissa will be running a series of five Pilates for Cyclists classes at Roll for the Soul, the veggie bike cafe and workshop on Quay Street in Bristol.  The 90-minute session starts at 16.00.  This short news article highlights the benefits of Pilates for regular cyclists. There are just a couple of places left to fill.  To secure one of them, please get in touch via the contact form.  The cost is £12 per 90 minute session, or £50 if you pay upfront for all five sessions.  The class is suitable for all ages and abilities.  Mats and blocks are provided for use in class.

Also starting this Saturday, Melissa will be running a new Piloga class at Strode Leisure Centre in Clevedon.  This is in addition to the Piloga and Pilates classes she runs at Strode on Thursday morning at 10.30 and Wednesday evening at 18.00 respectively.  90 minutes long, the new Piloga class starts at 11.30 on Saturdays.  Piloga is a fusion class using the Pilates approach to breathing and pelvic floor engagement.  It combines the best of both Pilates and yoga to create a workout that is low impact and focussed on core stability and controlled flowing movements. The aim of Piloga is to strengthen and improve the flexibility of the body.

This class is now a permanent feature on the timetable, available on a drop-in basis and open to all ages, abilities and fitness levels.  The cost is £7.40 per session, or free to full members of Strode Leisure Centre.