Why every runner should do Pilates – with 4 easy exercises to get started

These exercises will help you become a better runner.

Some runners scoff at the idea of doing Pilates. Why should they waste precious training time doing an activity that they wrongly believe is just for middle aged women?

But did you know studies have proved that Pilates can improve your 5km time? Or that Pilates can help prevent injuries?

It’s an exercise that no one who wants to enjoy the benefits of running can afford to skip, and here we explain why it’s so important and how you can use it to improve your running.

A group of runners stretchingCredit: Shutterstock /Kobchuk Viacheslav

Pilates is a form of exercise that builds strength, flexibility and improves body alignment through a series of precise exercises. Read our beginner’s guide to Pilates to find out more about the different forms and its origins.

You can practise Pilates on a mat or on a specially designed reformer machine, which can be adjusted to make the exercises easier or more difficult.

Liz Patient is a Pilates instructor and a runner. She runs an online Pilates platform specifically for runners.

Patient says: “The two things most runners want from attending Pilates is to reduce their risk of injury, and improve their running.

”What I love about Pilates is that you can build your strength, mobility and stability, all of which will improve your running form, whilst also varying your movement and giving your body a rest from the high impact nature of running.”


Why is Pilates good for runners?

Pilates helps you run faster

A study carried out over a six week period on 40 runners showed that a Pilates programme improved their 5km (just over three miles) times.

Patient says that strength, balance and flexibility are vital if you want to improve your speed.

“Building strength with Pilates will help to create stability around the joints and trunk,” she says.

“That stability will enable you to maximise the power in your arms and legs to propel you forward. When you strike the ground, you are able to maximise the amount of ground force you absorb and then use to drive you forward. Without sufficient strength and stability, you lose more of that energy into the ground instead.

“Pilates is fantastic at helping you building stability, which comes from a combination of strength, endurance, motor control, balance and coordination exercises. Like any skill, you have to train for it and that’s where regular Pilates can really make a difference.”

Pilates can help you avoid injury

Studies have shown that Pilates can help protect our bodies from injury. It’s something that all runners fear and Patient says regular practice can make a big difference.

She says: “It is a good idea to keep in mind that running is a repetitive and high impact sport. You use your muscles in the same way over and over again under heavy load. Whilst this is great for building tolerance in your muscles and joints, and improving your overall fitness, the repetitive nature of running does mean there is a higher risk of physical overload if you don’t get the balance right between training and recovery.

“One of the best ways to get this balance right is to vary your movement outside of running, especially if running is currently your main or only exercise. Start to challenge your muscles in different ways.

Women in a Pilates doing bridge poseCredit: Shutterstock / BearFotos

Pilates helps you breathe better

An essential part of Pilates is focusing on the breathing.

“This focus can really help you to develop more efficient breathing when running,” says Patient.

“It also can be relaxing, helping to lower the heart rate, reduce stress, and brings your focus inwards, rather than outwards. It’s about taking time out for yourself.”

Pilates can speed up your recovery time

Research has shown that Pilates can speed up recovery times and it is regularly offered as part of physiotherapy by the NHS and privately.

Patient says the beauty of Pilates is how it can be adapted so that people with injuries can still exercise.

She says: “You can be out with an injury and still be doing Pilates. It can take you through every stage of your rehabilitation, by maintaining your body strength and flexibility. It is so adaptable to your circumstances, which enables you to stay consistent regardless of what you have going on. I just think, why wouldn’t you do it?”


How to get started with Pilates for running

You can practise Pilates in an in-person class, a live online or recorded class.

“Find an environment you feel comfortable in,” says Patient. “Pilates is so varied, that it’s a bit like speed dating. If you don’t like the first instructor, then try another because they will teach differently, and their classes will offer different levels of challenge and varying focus, so find one that is suited to you.

“Think about your training programme. Someone doing 5km has very different needs to someone training to do a marathon or an ultra-runner.

“Ask yourself what elements you have got in your training and what are your gaps. Is it your strength? Is it your mobility? Is it your stability or is it rest and recovery?

“Maybe it’s a little bit of everything? Then talk to the instructor and explain exactly what you are looking for and find out whether they are best placed to help. If they are a runner themselves then even better, because then they really will understand what you’re after.”

Pilates for runners: 4 exercises to try

Patient has put together Pilates exercises which are great for runners, especially for Saga Exceptional – along with an introduction video.

Introduction to Pilates for runners


1. Hip hinge


2. Side kick


3. Single leg squat


4. Standing swim

Phillipa Cherryson

Written by Phillipa Cherryson she/her


Phillipa Cherryson is a senior digital editor for Saga Exceptional. Phillipa has been a journalist for 30 years, writing for local and national newspapers, UK magazines and reporting onscreen for ITV. In her spare time she loves the outdoors and is a trainee mountain leader and Ordnance Survey Champion.

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