Joseph Pilates was ahead of his time. That's right, an entire exercise theory was named after the man. Pilates was originally developed to help the sick and injured get healthy. In the 1910's-1920's boxers and dancers began to use it. The first Pilates studios were opened right here in NYC and was used by all the top athletes to strength and prevent injury. Sounds a lot like PT to me.
Pilates is usually clumped in the same category as yoga which gets a bad reputation for being "easy" or "boring" but it is actually a very dynamic exercise. What makes Pilates so great for runners is that it works on strengthening your "core" as well as your extremities while in multiple planes. Now, let's discuss your core. If you google “core” exercises you are going to get a bunch of varieties of crunches; however, this is only hitting one part of the core muscles, which include not only those 6 pack abs but also your obliques, transverse abdominals, paraspinals, hip flexors, gluts, hamstring and even your diaphragm! Because runners are only running in one plane, (except when you are dipping and dodging after the gun goes off) the rotational components of the core muscles can get very weak.
A study was done on a 48 year old female runner who had a 25 year history of runner injuries. She was a competitive high school runner and remained recreationally competitive as an adult. She had multiple injuries over the years (patellofemoral, ITB, peroneals tendinitis, SI joint dysfunction etc.) that affected both legs at different times. The pain got so bad that it prevented her from running. A gait analysis as well as imaging was done and she was found to have muscle imbalances, hip weakness and core instability. She was started on a progressive Pilates program 2 days a week 60-90 minutes each day. After one year of this program she was able to return to running and worked up her endurance. This was the first time in 25 years she was able to run without pain. One unique thing about Pilates is that it focuses on your breathing, as it is incorporated into every pose. Another study found that 8 weeks of a standard Pilates routine done 2x/week for 60 minutes results in a significant increase in respiratory strength and performance. The abdominal wall musculature actually got thicker!
Some form of Pilates should be incorporated into every runner’s strength routine. It is a low impact exercise and it can be done without a gym membership or any equipment (however there are equipment options). Keep an eye out for a Pilates workshop at NY Custom PT in the near future!
Giacomini M, Vargas de Silva A, Weber L, Monteiro M. The Pilates method increases respiratory muscle strength and performance as well as abdominal muscle thickness. Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies. 2016(20)258-264.
Lugg-Larchereque N, Pescatello L, Dugdale T, Velti D, Roberts W. Management of LE Malalignment During Running with Neuromuscular Retraining of the Proximale Stabilizers. Current sports medicine reposts. 2006(5)137-140.
Kathleen Leninger, PT, DPT, NY Custom PT & Performance