We rarely give our core enough credit, but the group of muscles that make up your core are constantly working overtime to stabilize your spine, which in turn keeps you steady and upright. Plus, nearly all movements originate from the core, from sitting up straight, to bending over, to—you guessed it—even running.
But if your idea of a core workout is crunches at the end of a run, you’ll wreak havoc on your lower back and, ultimately, your running performance.
That’s why you should consider adding Pilates into your training routine. Every Pilates move targets not just the “six-pack” ab muscles (namely, the rectus abdominis and the obliques), but Pilates is also known for targeting the deep core muscles that support your spine and tapping into other commonly neglected muscles in runners such as the glutes and inner thighs. As a result, you build greater core strength and control, which leads to improved posture and a more efficient running form. In fact, researchers at The Ohio State University found that when runners had weaknesses in the deep core muscles that support the spine, it led to increased risk of lower back pain over time.
A weak core will also cause you to hunch over, leading to inefficient running form and decreased performance. “What [hunching over] does is cut off your breathing, and you’re draining energy reserves trying to fight that bad posture,” explains Sean Vigue, a Colorado-based Pilates instructor and author of Pilates for Athletes. But once you strengthen your core, you’ll have a lot of extra energy because you’re not fighting gravity all day.
As an added bonus: Pilates has been found to be just as effective as massage therapy in improving pain and functional ability in people with chronic lower back pain, according to a review of 14 studies published in PLOS One. To help you get started, we pulled together some of the best Pilates exercises for runners.
To strengthen your deep core muscles, perform each exercise below before you head out for a run—as opposed to after—will prep your body for high-impact exercise. “Pilates is so intense and focused, you can do a lot in five to 10 minutes,” Vigue says.
When you perform the sequence, be sure to listen to your body; don’t try to force yourself beyond a comfortable position. And always lead with the breath, Vigue says. “The deep, rhythmic breathing brings a lot of oxygen into the bloodstream, which really helps with running endurance.”
Begin seated with your legs extended straight out in front of you in a wide “V” position and arms extended straight out to the sides. Inhale to prep, then twist your torso to the right and reach left hand forward to the outside of right foot. Pulse your left hand twice above and outside your right foot, making sure to exhale with each pulse. Inhale as you return to the starting position and repeat on the other side. Do 5 on each side for a total of 10 reps.
Lie faceup on a mat with your legs extended straight out and your feet hip-width apart. Extend your arms overhead and inhale to prepare. Exhale, tuck your chin to chest, and draw arms forward. When wrists are directly above shoulders, slowly peel upper back off the mat one vertebrae at a time by using your core for control. Continue to reach forward as you fold up and over the legs as far as you can without straining. Inhale here, then exhale as you tuck your chin to chest, and round the upper back to roll backward slowly until your shoulders are on the mat. Perform 5 to 10 repetitions.
[Runner’s World 10-Minute Cross-Training, gives you five muscle-building routines that take just 10 minutes to get you stronger.]
Single Straight-Leg Stretch
Lie faceup on the mat with your legs extended straight out in front of you, arms at sides. Extend your right leg to the sky with toes pointed and grab it at the highest point possible. Lift your left leg a few inches off the ground. Peel your head and shoulders off the mat while engaging your abdominals. Then, gently pulse the right leg toward you twice. Exhale with each pulse and try to keep your right leg as straight as possible. Inhale and switch legs. Repeat the two pulses, making sure to exhale with each pulse. Continue to alternate. Perform 5 reps on each side for a total of 10 reps.
Begin lying facedown with your arms at sides palms facing down and legs squeezed together. Keep your chin slightly tucked and neck relaxed throughout the entire movement. Inhale and lift your upper body, arms, and legs a few inches off the ground. Exhale to return to starting position. Perform 5 to 10 reps.
Begin standing with your feet hip-width apart, arms extended overhead, shoulders relaxed. Inhale to prepare. Exhale, tuck your chin to chest, dive hands forward, and bend at the waist to fold over your legs while keeping your knees soft. Bring your fingertips to the mat and continue exhaling as you walk your hands out into high plank position with shoulders over wrists. Inhale to prepare, then lower chest to mat, keeping elbows tucked in close to ribs to perform a Pilates push-up. Press back up and repeat one to three push-ups, exhaling down and inhaling up. From the high plank position, walk hands back toward feet and rise up slowly until you’re back in standing position. Perform 5 to 10 reps.
Plank With Leg Lift
Start in a forearm plank with hands clasped, elbows under shoulders, and core engaged so body forms a straight line from head to heels. Inhale, and lift your right leg as high as possible. Exhale, and slowly lower your leg. Perform 5 to 10 repetitions then repeat with other leg.
Reverse Plank Leg Pull
Begin in a reverse plank position with wrists under the shoulders, hips lifted, and feet flexed. Inhale, and lift your right leg as high as possible without moving your hips. Exhale, and slowly lower your leg. Perform 5 to 10 repetitions then repeat with other leg.
This content was originally published here.