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.