I know many runners who love their chosen activity because it is a great cardiovascular exercise that “tones” and is as simple as lacing up sneakers and heading out the door. As a “non-runner,” I am envious of these factors. However, as an orthopedic and sports physical therapist and Pilates exercise trainer, I routinely see the effects of the imbalances in those addicted to running.
Although those hitting the pavement develop significant strength and endurance, running alone is not a well-rounded exercise program and needs regular cross training to prevent imbalances in order to stay healthy and pain free.
How does an injury occur? During each stride, runners fire the hip flexor group to lift the leg, the quadriceps to extend the knee, then the tibialis anterior muscle in the shin to lift the foot and allow the heel to strike the ground. Once the foot is planted, that leg is extends back using the gluteals and hamstrings. The repetition of moving in this flexion/extension pattern (the sagittal plane) creates a bias in the flexibility and strength of particular muscle groups; the muscles that work in the horizontal and frontal planes lose strength and stability and lead to impaired posture and mechanics. For example, tight hip flexors and hamstrings can pull the pelvis out of neutral spine into anterior and posterior tilts, respectively, which leads to low back pain and lumbosacral pathology. Weakened lateral hip stabilizers cause the pelvis to drop on one side and contribute to iliotibial band (ITB) tightness and hip bursitis.
A great solution? Cross training with Pilates! Like running, mat exercises can be completed anywhere at any time without equipment and works the whole body in each plane of motion for uniform muscle development and core strength. A qualified Pilates trainer can assess overall flexibility, strength and balance in individuals and develop a customized program while providing clear and concise cues that enhance hip-knee-ankle-foot alignment and motor control. Guided sessions are integral in the beginning to ensure that the execution of the repertoire is precise and safe for one’s body. Teachers are able to make modifications to the classical exercises to accommodate all levels. Another benefit for the running population is that Pilates exercises teaches breath control, activation of the muscles of respiration, and coordinates breathing into each movement.
One of my favorite mat exercises is exceptional for runners - side kick! It will help to increase the strength in the lateral hip to enhance dynamic alignment during stride:
- Lie on your side and line up head, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles (“body like a pencil”). Ensure shoulders and pelvis/hips are stacked on top of each other and the spine is straight.
- Move legs slightly in front of hips to stabilize your trunk and protect your lower back. Flex both feet (“toes toward your nose”).
- Reach bottom arm along the mat to rest head on, then put top hand behind head (“elbow reaches to ceiling”) so that you are balancing on the bottom side of your body.
Coordinate Breath and Whole Body Movement
- Prepare by inhaling through your nose as you lift your top leg a few inches toward ceiling (“heel should be the same height as your hip”). Continue to flex foot and send energy out through the heel.
- Exhale and kick leg straight forward, creasing at the hip without rounding spine or rolling shoulder backward. Feel lower abdominals lift up and under ribcage (“keep core strong and centered”).
- Inhale, point toes long, and extend leg straight back (“like a pendulum on a clock”). Keep lower abdominals lifted in and up to ensure that back does not arch and shoulder does not roll forward.
Concentrate on precision and only execute the kick as large as you can stabilize your core.
Try to establish a rhythm as you kick front and back.
Perform 5-10 repetitions, then roll onto the other side to balance the body.
If you have any more questions about Pilates exercises, please feel free to contact Kristen at www.kpilatesrehab.com.
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