With the Miami Marathon just around the corner, now is the time that we tend to so see the clients pour in with aches and pains which they usually attribute to overuse. Well, I’m here to tell you something…most of those injuries are not because you’re running too much, but rather running with the wrong mechanics! Any serious runner should be complementing their aerobic exercise with a daily mobility/flexibility routine in order to optimize postural alignment during runs.
Kelly Starrett, physical therapist and co-author of Becoming a Supple Leopard, puts it simply that “one of the things you should be able to do as a runner is, with your feet and knees together, squat all the way down without your heels coming up.” A good habit to make is practicing this type of squat on a daily basis to ensure that you have hip and ankle range of motion that are within normal limits.
Some key factors in maintaining proper running mechanics and preventing injury are as follows:
- ankle mobility(specifically dorsiflexion)
- thoracic mobility for increasing trunk rotation (this will offload the rotational stresses that often occur in the low back, which is a common complaint of long distance runners)
- intrinsic muscles of the feet
Here are my top choices of pilates exercises to complement your running training with a quick description of why each one is vital.
- Book openings
Why: This exercise is great to improve thoracic mobility, especially into rotation, which is necessary to maintain postural alignment during your runs.
How: Lie on your side with a pillow or yoga block under your head with arms outstretched in front of you. Maintain hand and shoulder in the same line as you inhale, lifting your top arm up towards the ceiling and opening up through your chest. Exhale to close the arms and come back to starting positions. Repeat lying on your other side.
- Side kick
Why: This exercise targets the lateral hip muscles that help with hip-knee-ankle alignment during running and also focuses on hip mobility.
How: Lie on your side with a pillow or yoga block under your head, with head, shoulders, hips and feet all in same line. Lift top leg up ~ 6 inches. Inhale to bring leg forward while you flex your foot, exhale to sweep the leg back while you point your toe. Make sure not to bend or arch in your low back while performing exercise. Perform on both sides.
- Piano toes
Why: This exercise isn’t specifically Pilates, however it is still a great exercise to incorporate into your mobility repertoire to strengthen the intrinsic muscles of the feet and help with arch support.
How: Standing tall with upright posture, alternate lifting/lowering each toe as if you were playing the piano with your toes. Try to disassociate each toe from the other.
Why: This exercise helps improve hip range of motion in rotational positions and spine mobility into sidebending. It also improves rib mobility with is crucial for optimizing your true lung capacity during long distance runs.
How: Sit in Z-sitting position. Bring right hand down to ground and reach left hand up and overhead, sidebending towards the right hand. Perform to left side as well. Maintain space between tops of your shoulders and ears. Switch leg position and repeat.
- Single leg kick
Why: This exercise helps to improve hip extension which is essential for getting proper recoil of your leg with each bounding step during your run.
How: Lie on your stomach and prop yourself up on your forearms. Bend your right knee as if aiming to kick your bottom 2 times with your heel then stretch your leg out long, lifting it up 2 inches off the ground. Repeat to the other side. Continue alternating side to side following this sequence: kick-kick-reach-lower leg.
Try performing these exercises daily and see if you can feel a difference in your run! And if you’re really diligent-maybe you’ll hit your new PR at the next race!
Kelsey Garcia PT, DPT, PMA-CPT