Pilates for runners – a beginner walks the plank

How many planks does it take to build a wooden powerhouse? (Photo: myyogaonline via photopin cc)

How many planks does it take to build a wooden powerhouse? (Photo: myyogaonline via photopin cc)

I had my first-ever Pilates class today. I see now why they named it after the guy who put Jesus to death on two planks.

Why am I doing Pilates? Well, my physio suggested that it would help strengthen my core muscles and lengthen my running life. A convenient Pilates opportunity arose, and so I decided to give it a go today.

Last night, though, I did the 18-mile long run originally scheduled for next Sunday. (I’ve had to rejig this week’s running due to my glamorous jet-set lifestyle, though right now I feel less like jet-set and more like jetsam.) And I have a 5-mile recovery run lined up for tonight.

You can imagine my sinking feeling when the instructor told us that, after busting a few general moves to begin with, today we would be focusing on working the leg muscles. Oh great.

Parts of Pilates were familiar to me from running. One of the central tenets is that the navel – or ‘powerhouse’ as Pilates people call it – is kept engaged during the work-out, as if you’re trying to zip up a tight pair of trousers. Anyone who has done a ChiRunning course will recognize that. Also, both Pilates and ChiRunning urge you to relax and drop your shoulders.

Where I had trouble was with the exercises that required me to hold up the weight of one leg or of my whole body. This pretty much describes all the exercises in Pilates, of course. I’ve never done weights and I try to run by leaning my centre of gravity forward from the ankles like a ski-jumper rather than pumping my muscles like a sprinter. This means that I have good cardiovascular fitness but I’ve never needed to be particularly strong in my arms or even in my legs.

If you’ve done Pilates then you’ll know the kind of shapes we were throwing. The dreaded plank comes into it – the plank we did had us holding ourselves up on our hands rather than resting on our forearms. Today’s leg-exercise show-stopper involved lying down with the spine flat on the mat, or alternatively on one side, while raising or moving one leg.

During all these exercises I fought hard to keep steady but my arms and legs always quickly lapsed into quivering wrecks, more wobble-board than plank.

After that 45-minute class today, my legs felt like jelly but that’s probably as much to do with the combination of Pilates and long run than the Pilates alone. On a more positive note, my abdominal area felt like it had a good hard workout.

I’ll go back for more in next week’s class, and I’ll be more attentive to how my marathon training can dovetail with Pilates without leaving me exhausted or crocked. If it all goes well I should be doing sub-3 hour marathons well into my 80s and 90s – you read it here first.

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8 Responses to Pilates for runners – a beginner walks the plank

  1. Emma says:

    Started Pilates a year ago, I’m definitely better at running than Pilates but wouldn’t give it up-I’ve become much more body-aware since doing it-it’s excellent in terms of injury prevention. Keep it up , definitely worth it.

  2. Really like Pilates. It’s quite relaxing but you’re still working out and sometimes just a couple of cm can make a huge difference if it’s easy or difficult.
    Unfortunately my gym isn’t offering pilates so I’m doing yoga/tai chi instead now. Some of the poses we do in the class I’m using in my post run stretches since they’re quite nice after a number of miles…

    • Run and Jump says:

      That’s true, Pilates seems to give you a good, intense workout quite simply. Today, the day after my first class, I still feel like a small child has been jumping up and down on my abdomen. (This is a good thing.)

  3. pauldezardain@gmail.com says:

    Hey Aidan, if you kvetch about pilates, what will be your verdict on bikram yoga (90 minutes, 26 positions)? I tried that in DC and it was really good discipline, both mental and physical. I read your piece about running in Meudon. Any tips for Rueil Malmaison, where I am now?
    Paul

    • Run and Jump says:

      Paul, if I remember correctly, the summer heat of DC would be ideal for hot n’ steamy bikram yoga. (Isn’t “90 minutes, 26 positions” a Prince lyric?)

      For good running in Rueil, you might have to go past Chatou-Croissy RER station to run along the river, or else take the RER out to the Foret de Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Have a good run in the 92, all the best from Dublin.

  4. pauldezardain@gmail.com says:

    Go raibh maith agat, Aidan. It’s been raining for two days now in Paris, so I’ll have to keep my runs to the Mt Valérien nearby. But thanks for the tip on the trails at St German en Laye–didn’t know about that! Best, -Paul.

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