by Cara Hazelton
Runners are always in search of ways to improve their performance. As an Authentic Pilates specialist, the one thing I often see missing from regular training regimes is a strong, supple and stable relationship between the pelvis and spine.
In simple terms, a human body is a torso with levers. If the torso is weak, rigid or unstable, the levers will not work properly or with ease. The levers (our arms and legs) are attached to the torso (which contains the spine) by a variety of muscles. The legs are not solely attached to the pelvis, just as the arms are not solely attached to the shoulder blades. Both the arms and the legs are attached to the back, which is why a strong, supple and stable spine allows for healthy movement of the limbs.
Runners often suffer from stiff and sore lower backs. This is due, in part, to overuse and tightness of the hip flexor muscles (which are attached to the spine, pelvis and legs) as well as weakness in the stability muscles of the pelvis (which include the glutes and abdominals). Both cause movement to come from the wrong places while running and participating in other activities.
When you stretch a muscle, your goal is to increase the functional range of that muscle. Flexible muscles that have no strength to support the increased range of motion will become injured. On the other hand, tight muscles with a reduced range of motion will rely on other areas of the body to compensate for the lack of mobility. This causes imbalances and over time will lead to injury or chronic issues.
Consider adding these Authentic Pilates exercises to your regular cross-training routine. Repeat each exercise.
Repeat: 5 times
Purpose: stretches thighs and hips; strengthens glutes and hamstrings.
- Kneel in an upright position and stretch arms forward at shoulder height. Look slightly toward the floor in front of you.
- Keep your body straight, as if you are a steel rod—do not arch your back—and lengthen back from the knees to stretch. Squeeze your tush and keep it pressing forward, even as you lean back. Return to upright.
Tips: Use your glute muscles to get more out of the movement. When you return upright, try to come forward so that you feel as though you may fall on your face. Doing this will engage your hamstrings and allow for a better position.
ONE LEG CIRCLE
Repeat: 5 times
Purpose: teaches stability of the hips and torso, while moving the legs.
- Lie flat on your back. Stretch your legs out long and keep them glued together. Press your arms firmly into the mat.
- Bring your right leg up toward the ceiling and turn it outwards slightly. Do not try to get the leg straight up to 90 degrees; instead, try for 70 degrees from the floor.
- Begin by drawing a rectangle with your leg. Move the leg across the body toward your left side, down toward the floor, up toward the right shoulder and stop in front of your nose. Do not allow your hips or torso to move. Repeat 5 times in each direction.
- Repeat with the left leg.
Tips: Make sure you are pressing your arms and the opposite leg firmly into the mat. Draw your abdominals into the floor through your spine to help anchor your pelvis. Keep your range of motion small until you gain more control. Even if you think your hips and torso are still, lift your head and take a look—you might be surprised!
Spinal Stretch Set up
Repeat: 5 times
Purpose: stretches the back of the body from head to toe; strengthens the abs and lengthens the spine.
Sit tall and spread your legs slightly wider than shoulder width. Keep your heels on the floor. (Note: if your hamstrings are too tight to sit up tall, bend your knees as needed.)
- Inhale and press the backs of your legs down into the floor. Keep your fingertips on the floor between your legs, with your arms straight. Press down into your fingers as you grow taller through your spine
and the top of your head. Imagine being able to gain space between every vertebrae.
- With your fingers pressed into the floor, exhale to slide towards your feet as you continue to pull your stomach and spine backwards. This opposition will stretch your spine.
Tips: Keep lifting your lower abdominals and belly up and away from your thighs to ensure you do not collapse orhang over your legs. Picture pulling a bendy straw all the way up before bending it over to sip your favourite drink.
Cara Hazelton is the owner of Precision Pilates Studio in Fredericton.