Pilates improves 5k times

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Pilates doesn’t typically make the list of training drills for runners. However, a new study may help to change that. The study found that runners who completed five specific Pilates exercises 4 times per week as part of their training routine over 6 weeks reduced their 5km running times by 47 seconds. Those runners in the control group who completed the same training regime but without the Pilates exercises only improved their times by 17 seconds. For a reasonable runner who clocks the 5k at 5min per km, 47 seconds is a sizeable reduction in time.

So what were these Pilates exercises and why might they have a benefit for runners or indeed anyone?

1. Abdominal crunch on a stability ball to target abdominal muscles.

2. Back extension on a stability ball to target back extensor muscles

3. Supine opposite 1-arm/1-leg raise to target back/hip extensor muscles

4. Hip raise on a stability ball to target back/hip extensor muscles

5. Russian twist on a stability ball to target abdominal muscles.

Why these five exercises are good for runners

Our core muscles are made up of The Pelvic Floor, Transversus Abdominus (TVA or lower abs), Diaphragm,Internal Obliques and Multifidus (Back muscle). When we refer to strengthening the core all these five muscles need to be worked in harmony to achieve balance.

A strong core is the key to a strong back. This combination is so vital for a runner. When running as with any exercises regime you want to feel the whole body is working well as one and not feel you are placing undue strain on any particular area of your body.

If you only focus on working your upper abdominals which are known as Rectus Abdominus or the six pack muscle, it does very little to help your back muscles get stronger or your butt (Glutes)muscles.

A good core program need to focus on getting the lower abs working and that is why Pilates is the ultimate when it comes to core strength and core stability training. Lower abs are the most important that when they fire well it holds you up and supports the back muscles and promotes breathing which in turn oxygenates the blood.

The reason the five exercises below are good for runners is that a strong core helps the rest of the body to function well. The abdominals are important when it comes to exhaling and in turn helps with posture and balance. This is so important to run well and avoid injury.

Exercise 1: Abdominal crunch on the stability ball

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How to do it

Sit on the stability ball with your feet flat on the floor. Walk your feet forward and allow your tail to tuck under (posteriorly tilt the pelvis). Lower the spine on to the ball and allow the shoulders, back and tailbone to rest on the ball and allow the mid back to rest on the ball.

Feet need to be parallel and shoulder width apart and knees bent at 90 degrees.

Have your finger tips on the outside of your ears or interlace your fingers and cradle the neck. Check in the side vision that your elbows are still visible. Aim to keep your head aligned with your spine. Make sure the chin is slightly tucked under.

Inhale to prepare. Exhale engage your lower abdominals and curl your torso toward your thighs. Imagine your ribs are moving towards your pelvis. Keep your neck relaxed. Lower back and tail bone should remain in contact with the ball at all times. Inhale and slowly uncurl ,lowering your soine towards the ball with control.

As a modification move your feet to be wider to increase the base of support if balance is a challenge to progress bring your feet closer to increase the balance challenge.

Aim to perform 8-12- reps.

Exercise 2: Back extension on Stability ball to target back extensor muscles

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How to do it

Kneel next to the ball and aim to get your torso on the ball. Have your feet shoulder width apart on the floor with feet flat or resting against a wall for support. Straighten your legs so the weight is evenly distributed. Cross your arms and hands in front of the shoulders.

Inhale to prepare. Exhale raise torso off the ball. Hold at the top for 2-3 counts. Inhale and lower torso back to the ball.

Modify by having feet wider, having hands behind hips, hips placed lower on the ball. To challenge the exercise place ball lower towards hips or hands behind head.

Aim to perform 8-12- reps.

Exercise 3: Supine opposite arm and leg raise to target hip and back extensor muscles

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    Modification below

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 How to do it

Lie on your back and have your feet flat on the floor. Inhale and raise one leg to table top position (knee bent at 90 degrees). Exhale and raise the other leg. Engage your abdominals to stay in this position.

Then exhale and raise both arms straight up to the ceiling.

Inhale prepare and exhale extend right arm to the back of the room and left leg to the front of the room. Then alternate to the opposite side.

Keep your chin tucked in, shoulders and neck relaxed. Eye gaze is towards the knees or towards your belly button, avoid looking up to the ceiling.

To modify leave one knee bent and foot on floor or one leg only in table top. Once a repetition is performed alternate by bringing the other leg in to table top.

To advance lift the head neck shoulders off the mat and stay in an abdominal prep as you perform the exercise.

Aim to perform 8-12 reps.

Exercise 4: Hip raise on stability ball to target hip and back extensor muscles

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How to do it

Lie on your back with your calves on top of the ball. Keep your shoulders relaxed and chin tucked in. Arms open out to a T. Inhale to prepare. As you exhale squeeze the glutes and lift your hips us. Bend your knees

Bend your knees to roll the ball toward you. Straighten your legs to roll the ball back, then lower your body to the floor.

As a modification only lift your hips up and lower to the floor. To progress lift the hips up and roll the ball in and out for 5x times then lower body to the floor.

Aim to perform 8-12 reps.

Exercise 5: Russian twist on a stability ball to target abdominal muscles

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How to do it

Sit on the ball with your feet flat on the floor. Walk your feet away from the ball until your head, shoulders and upper back are resting on the ball. Knees should be bent to 90 degrees and hip width apart with feet facing forward. Weight distributed evenly through both feet.

Ensure the shoulders are in contact with the ball. Remember to have the shoulders in contact with the ball throughout the exercise. Lift the arms up towards the ceiling and keep the palms touching each other. Press your hands together to maintain stability and control during the movement.

Inhale to prepare. Exhale and rotate your torso to one side. Make sure your shoulders are on the ball and feet firmly planted on the floor. Keep your hips and torso parallel with the floor. Inhale and hold this position briefly before rotating to the opposite side. Avoid using hips to initiate the rotation.

As a modification keep the feet wider as this will give base of support. To challenge the exercise bring the feet in closer and hold a medicine ball or a weigh plate.

Aim to perform 8-12 reps.

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