The best thing about running is that it gives us the ability to just turn off our minds, tune in to our music, and hit the road. But if we want to be strong, healthy runners for our entire lives, form is key. Running involves full-body muscular engagement and movement in every joint, so strong stabilizers, proper mobility, and good biomechanics are key to running pain- and injury-free as well as to maximizing both speed and endurance.
This Pilates-based workout has a three-pronged approach to improving running performance: It teaches proper core engagement and builds strength in the core, it focuses on strengthening the stabilizing muscles of the hips and shoulders, and it teaches the joints to move well. You can do this workout pre-run or on a non-running day up to six days a week.
1. Prone leg lifts.
Lie on your stomach and place your hands under your forehead with your palms facing down and your elbows out to the side. Ground the front of your hip bones down into the mat to find a neutral pelvis. Pull your abs in, and engage the back right thigh as you lift the right leg long and up. Only lift the leg as high as you can to keep your hips even. Lower the leg with control and repeat the lift for 10 reps. Repeat on the other side.
2. Side leg lifts.
Begin lying on your right side, making one long line from your head to your heels. Pull your abdominal muscles in, and lengthen and lift the top leg up in parallel. Lift only as high as you can while keeping your pelvis stable. With control, return the leg back down. Repeat for 15 reps before switching to the other side.
3. Toe taps.
Lie on your back with a neutral spine (there should be a small, natural gap between your lower back and the mat) and your knees bent, feet flat on the mat, and heels in line with your sitz bones. Exhale to wrap your low, deep abdominals around your waist like a corset, and float your legs up one at a time to tabletop position. On each exhale, alternate tapping one toe to the mat, going as low as you can while maintaining a neutral spine. Inhale to float the leg back to a tabletop position. Alternate the legs for 10 repetitions each.
4. Opposition reach.
Begin on your hands and knees in an all-fours position with your knees under your hips and your hands under your shoulders. Extend your right arm forward and your left leg back, focusing on keeping your pelvis and torso even and still. Inhale and reach your fingertips away from your toes until your spine lengthens. Exhale and engage your deep abdominals as you return your arm and leg to the start position. Focus on maintaining a neutral spine and a stable pelvis. Repeat with your left arm and leg, and continue alternating sides for 10 reps on each side.
5. Chair twist.
Begin lying on your back with your legs in tabletop and your arms out in a T. Twist your lower body to one side, bringing your legs to about 45 degrees off center while maintaining tabletop position. Keep your shoulders wide and open against the mat. Keep the range small so that it does not feel like a stretch for the back but rather that you are maintaining control in your core. Return your legs to center and twist to the other side. Repeat eight times on each side.
6. Side bicycle.
Begin lying on your right side and create one long line from your head to your heels. Float your leg up to hip height. Flex your left foot as you reach the leg forward. Bend the left leg to bring the toes through to brush your high knee and extend the leg back with a pointed foot. Flex to brush forward again with a straight leg to repeat. Bicycle in this direction eight times. Then reverse the bicycle. Switch sides to repeat both directions on the opposite leg.
7. Marching bridge.
Begin lying on your back with both feet flat on the mat. Press into your feet to lift up into a bridge position. Push down into your right foot as you float your left knee into a tabletop. Place the left foot back down, staying in a bridge. Then float your right knee into a tabletop and return the leg down, staying in a bridge. Alternate as if you are marching while maintaining a stable, even pelvis. Complete 10 reps and then roll down through your spine.
Love Erika's advice? Find out how Pilates healed her lifelong injury.