Pilates seems to be having a moment. A lot of pro runners like Keira D’Amato and elite runners like Andrea Pomaranski swear by it for improving strength, performance, and injury prevention. But should runners do Pilates really?
After all, we also hear how if you want to get stronger and feel the benefits as a runner, you need to lift heavy weights. So does Pilates for runners replace or supplement strength training? Is this another thing to add to the LONG LIST of things runner should do to stay healthy and get faster?
That’s what I set to find out. Because honestly, it gets overwhelming all the things we see on Instagram or hear from our friends that we should do to be better runners.
So, I’m here to answer all your Pilates for runners questions including:
- What are the benefits of Pilates for runners?
- Can Pilates make you run faster?
- Can Pilates for runners prevent injuries?
- When often should runners do Pilates and when should runners do Pilates?
- Is Yoga or Pilates better for runners?
- 5 best Pilates moves for runners, and
- 4 best Pilates programs for runners
Ok, let’s go!
What is Pilates?
Pilates is a type of low-impact form of exercise that has been around for centuries. It was developed in the 1920s by a German physical trainer named Joseph Pilates. He developed the exercises as part of a rehabilitation program for returning soldiers after immigrating to the United States.
Studies show Pilates exercises can increase flexibility, improve joint health, tone muscles, and increase strength through controlled movements. Pilates can be done anywhere because there is no need for additional equipment, however, you can add weights to the exercises once you have the core movements down.
What are the benefits of Pilates for runners?
Pilates offers many benefits for runners. These include:
- Increasing core strength
- improving breath control
- promoting recovery
- injury prevention
- mental health improvement
- and improved balance and stability.
Does Pilates improve running performance?
Yes, studies suggest Pilates may help to improve your running performance by improving balance, coordination, and strength.
One study concluded that two sixty-minute sessions of Pilates per week greatly improved abdominal endurance (how many sit-ups they could perform), upper body endurance (how many push-ups they could perform), the flexibility of their hamstrings, and their balance. This improved strength may lead to better running form.
Additionally, another study showed experienced runners who added Pilates to their training routine (two one-hour sessions per week) for 12 weeks significantly improved their 5k running times by more than two minutes!
Caveat: In both these studies, the subjects were relatively untrained or sedentary. More experienced runners will likely not see the same results.
Pilates has also been shown to have benefits for pregnant women including lower blood pressure, improved flexibility, and a healthier spine.
Related: Pregnant Running Guide
Can Pilates prevent injury in runners?
Yes, Pilates can prevent injury, and if you are already injured it can also help the rehabilitation process.
Knee and hip injuries are some of the most common injuries that runners face. By strengthening your core, hips, back, and legs with Pilates exercises once or twice a week, runners may reduce chance of injury and improve stability, balance, and running form.
Should runners do Pilates before or after running?
In most cases, runners should do Pilates AFTER running on the day of a hard run so they can concentrate stress and optimize recovery. The exception is that if a runner is in pure base phase and only doing easy miles or if the runner is looking to improve fatigue resistance (time to fatigue in the legs). In these cases, a runner can do Pilates before running.
According to exercise physiologist Todd Buckingham, “If you do a Pilates workout the same day as a tough run day, then you’ll get a day of recovery the following day and allow your body to rest, recover, and absorb the training. (This is assuming that someone does two hard workouts per week, not including the long run. If they only do 1 hard workout per week and a long run, then they could do the Pilates workout on a different day than a hard run day.
Aim to leave two days between the Pilates workout and the hard run and/or the long run. Omit Pilates the week of a big race to optimize recovery.
Related: How to Lift Weights for the Marathon
Does Pilates for runners replace lifting weights?
Pilates is a form of strength training for runners however, it does not replace lifting weights. Most runners find success in lifting weights and doing Pilates. For example, you may lift weights two times a week in the base phase of your training and do one Pilates sessions.
As your intensity ramps up, you can drop a weightlifting session and do two Pilates sessions instead.
Truly, a mix of different forms of strength training are beneficial for your body. Learn more about that here.
Related: Strength Training Guide for Runners
How often should a runner do Pilates?
Runners only need to do Pilates one to two days a week to reap the benefits of this exercise routine. Pilates and running can be done on the same day.
Pilates should be done on the same days that you do your hard or longer runs. This is so that your body can recover on rest days without being further strained.
What is better for runners yoga or Pilates?
Pilates may be better for runners than yoga. Yoga improves flexibility while Pilates may improve strength, balance, and mobility. (However, types of yoga like Power yoga may also improve strength).
Runners want range of motion of their joints, but don’t want to be overly flexible. For this reason, Pilates may offer more benefits.
Personally, I enjoy a cooldown yoga session after a hard run to help reset my body. This session may not make me faster but it does feel good! Pilates, on the other hand, is more taxing on the body and something I don’t feel like helps me recover. Therefore, the needs are different. Both have the potential to be beneficial to runners.
Should runners do Pilates?
If you aren’t strength training and would do so with Pilates, then DO IT. If you’re already strength training and enjoy your routine, stick with that. The bottom line is that you should be doing SOME form of strength training as a runner–whether is is lifting weights, barre, power yoga, Pilates, or WHATEVER. Whatever will make it a habit for you, then do that.
Related: Yoga Poses for Runners
Pilates for Runners Tips
- Aim to do two 30 minutes Pilates sessions a week.
- A Pilates session can replace a weight lifting session, especially in more intense training phases.
- In most cases, aim to do Pilates on hard running days.
- Also, aim to do Pilates AFTER your running workout.
- Be sure to refuel after Pilates with protein.
5 Pilates Exercises for Runners
Lay on your back and bring both hips and knees up until they are at a 90-degree angle.Keep your back flat on the floor and slowly lower one leg to the floor to tap your toes on the floor and then bring it back up to a 90-degree angle. Alternate each leg and aim for a total of ten repetitions on each side.
Lie flat on your back and bring your knees in towards your chest. Rest your hands on your shins and lift your head up off the floor. Take a deep breath in and extend one leg out as you exhale. Alternate sides and keep your back flush to the floor and your core engaged the whole time.
Shoulder Bridges with Kicks
Lie on the floor on your back with your knees bent and hip-width apart. Rest your arms down by your sides with your palms facing down. Take a deep breath in, and as you exhale lift up your pelvis and hips to create a diagonal line from your knees to your shoulders. Extend one leg out straight and then bend the extended knee. Return to your starting position and alternate legs.
Start on your hands and knees with your hands shoulder-width apart. Pull in your abdominal muscles and keep your spine straight. Lift one arm up in front of you, while lifting the opposite leg up behind you.
Hold this position for five seconds and return to your starting position. Do multiple repetitions on alternating sides.
Start by lying on your back with your feet flat on the ground. Bring your legs up to a tabletop position with your knees over your legs and your shins parallel to the floor. Hold your hands about an inch off of the mat.
Take a deep breath in and when you exhale bring your head up towards your chest and gently lift your shoulder blades up off of the mat. Take another deep breath in and as you exhale the breath pump your arms in a controlled manner while you take five short breaths in and out.
Related: 10 Best Fitness Apps for Runners
4 Best Pilates for Runners Programs
No need to join a gym or Pilates studio to start incorporating Pilates into your routine. Just try out one of these apps and do Pilates in your own home!
Andrea Pomaranksi, an elite runner I’ve had on The Passionate Runner podcast raves about this Pilates for Runners program. She credits it for her recent records, PRs, and toned physique.
On the For Runners website, you can find a variety of Pilates for running resources that are both free and paid. The paid options have a seven-day free trial so that you can see if it’s the program for you. Currently, they are offering a Pilates for Runners course, Ultimate Pre and Post Run Routines, and Coaching for Runners. Additionally, there are blog and podcast resources.
It’s no secret I am a fan of Peloton. I love their yoga, strength training, stretching, and yes, Peloton. The instructors are inspirational, energetic, and choose great music. I love that you can select a Pilates for runners program based on how much time you have!
Nike Training Club is a free app from Nike with many different workouts to choose from including Pilates workouts for different experience levels.
PilatesAnytime is a paid app, but they do offer a fifteen-day free trial so that you can see if it’s right for you. There are thousands of Pilates workout routines for you to choose from and they have lessons for every skill level.
If you want guidance with your run training, including strength training, check out my run coaching services. Also, be sure to check out my free training plans:
- Postpartum Training Plan
- After a Break Training Plan
- 5k Training Plans
- 10k Training Plans
- Half Marathon Training Plans
- Marathon Training Plans
- Strength Training Plan