It’s pretty common knowledge that running can cause all sorts of injuries. So why do so many of us love it so much?
Ask any avid runner and they will tell you;
– It can give you a great sense of euphoria and reduce anxiety
– It will clear your head and calm you down after a stressful day. Some see it as a form of meditation
– It’s simple and easy to do and you can do it anywhere
– It is a great way to build up your cardiovascular fitness
Sounds pretty good, right? Almost makes you want to go for a run!
It is unfortunate that those who love to run often have to deal with a long list of injuries that can come with it. That’s not to say you are guaranteed an injury, but it is common.
As a Pilates Instructor, I have had many clients who have acquired a running injury and are looking to rehabilitate their injury. I have also recommended Pilates to people who enjoy running as a preventative. Why?
Pilates is focused on strengthening your core, glutes and back and stretching out your hips and hamstrings.
In my experience working with runners, the 3 most common causes of runner’s injuries include; poor posture, tight hips, weak glutes and a weak core. Other causes include; imbalances around the hip joint, tight hamstrings, inappropriate running shoes, weak ankles and knees. Given that all of these weaknesses are addressed in a Pilates class, it is no wonder runners turn to Pilates to rehabilitate them from injury and/or prevent an injury.
All of the causes I listed before can lead to a long list of injuries for runners but at risk of losing your attention, I am only going to explain 3 and then show you 3 Pilates exercises/stretches that you can do to help reduce your risk of acquiring a runner’s injury.
Let me start by saying – My clients have usually been diagnosed with these injuries prior to starting Pilates. I am purely speaking out of experience from teaching Pilates to people who are either using Pilates as a preventative to injury or who have already experienced injuries from running.
If you are suffering with ongoing injuries, I would highly recommend speaking with a podiatrist and/or physiotherapist. You don’t want to leave these injuries too long because they can get progressively worse and ultimately stop you from being able to run again.
3 Common Runner’s Injuries
1. Runners Knee
Also known as Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome, it was given the name ‘Runners Knee’ due to it being extremely common among runners (go figure!).
Running can put a huge stress on your knees. Add in some steps, hills, uneven surfaces, weak quads and glutes, tight hamstrings and some worn cartilage, and you have yourself a runner’s knee injury!
If your quads and glutes are weak they will be unable to support your knee, leading it to track out of alignment. Tight hamstrings and calf muscles are going to put pressure on your knees, worn cartilage in the knee is going to reduce shock absorption and running down steps, hills or uneven surfaces is just going to aggravate your knees even more. Sounds like a bad recipe, don’t you think?
How Pilates can help:
In my experience, clients have benefited the most from Pilates glute and quad strengthening exercises, calf, hamstring and hip flexor stretches. This winning combination can make a MASSIVE difference to your running technique by reducing the symptoms of your injury and in some cases, eliminated them altogether.
2. Achilles tendonitis
The Achilles tendon connects the two major calf muscles to the back of the heel. Increasing your mileage too quickly, overuse, tight or weak calves or not wearing appropriate shoes can put this tendon under stress which can lead to an Achilles injury. Achilles tendonitis can cause the Achilles to become less flexible, produce a covering of scar tissue or worse – lead to an Achilles tear or rupture.
How Pilates can help:
Pilates can help by improving your mobility with a combination of stretching and strengthening exercises for the calves and Achilles. By doing these regularly, you will put less strain on the Achilles tendon and reduce your chance of an injury.
3. Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS)
The Iliotibial band runs along the outside of your thigh from the hip to the knee and helps to stabilise and move the knee joint. When you run, your knee will bend and extend which can cause the IT band to become irritated. ITB syndrome can result from any activity that causes the leg to turn inwards repeatedly. This is often combined inappropriate footwear, running downhill or overuse. It is much more common for women to experience this injury due to differences in the hip anatomy of females and males.
How Pilates can help:
If you have ever tried Mat Pilates before you have probably experienced a side lying glute exercise (that deep burn in your glutes is hard to forget!) These exercises can certainly be brutal but oh so, so good for us! Runners who develop ITBS, in my experience, have usually been referred to do Pilates in order to strengthen their glutes. In many cases of ITBS, the glutes and outer thighs are weak and as a result, can cause irritation to your IT band. The good news? Learning how to strengthen your glutes correctly can significantly improve your running technique.
3 Exercises/Stretches that you can do to help
Hip Flexor Stretch
HOW TO: Step your right foot forward into a lunge position, keeping your back knee on the ground. Sit up tall and press your left hip forward. Take a deep breath in and as breath out, try and relax into the stretch.
Note: You can place a towel underneath your back knee to make this position more comfortable.
Hold for 1-2 minutes on each side
2. Achilles Stretch
HOW TO: Stand close to a wall and step one leg back and place your other foot approximately 2-3 inches away from the wall. Place your fingertips on the wall and slowly bend your front knee forward and aim to touch the wall. Hold the stretch for a few seconds and then bring your knee away from the wall. Continue this movement on the same leg before changing sides.
x20 repetitions on each side
Side Lying Clamshells
HOW TO: Lie on your side with your knees bent and your feet together. Stretch your bottom arm out behind your head and rest your head onto your arm. Create a little gap underneath your bottom waist, straighten out your back and engage your abdominals. Lift up your top knee without letting your top hip fall back. lower your knee back down and repeat the movement.
2 sets of 20 reps on each side