I'm a rather biased advocate of Pilates. I believe it's what keeps me running despite a weirdly asymmetric body. My left foot was crushed in an accident when I was 12 and ensuing arthritis meant that, at age 13, consultants told me I would never run again. However, being a farmer's daughter I had the therapeutic advantages of potato gathering, livestock tending and hay bale lifting. My foot hurt a lot, especially in winter, but a strong muscular core allowed me to move swiftly. At 15, teachers recognised that, whilst I had no talent for hockey, I could run rather fast. Over the next four years running gave me so much - I represented Ulster, gained university half-colours and found a life beyond books. I ran on the beach made famous by Chariots of Fire and competed on the same athletics squad as future sports-commentator Hazel Irvine. Then I damaged my back and was again told there could be no more running. Daftly I accepted that advice until my hubby & I attended a Pilates class together. It changed everything. In building a strong abdomen I provided support for my back and gradually straightened it out. My posture improved, I began running again. Joy!
- System of exercise that uses controlled body movements with primary focus upon core abdominal and pelvic muscles.
- Mostly practised as a mat-based activity employing the body's own weight for resistance. Resistance may be increased through the use of stretchy bands or specialist apparatus called a "reformer". The latter is a rolling platform upon which the participant lies and then moves via use of hand- or foot-held cords.
- Pilates emphasises control of movement and concentration upon muscle engagement.
- Strengthens the muscles jeopardised by modern desk-based lifestyles.
- Improves posture and may aid running form.
- Increasingly recommended by physiotherapists.
- Anecdotal evidence that it minimises risk of posture- and balance-related injury.
- Beyond physical health benefits, the emphasis on control and concentration bring mental health benefits - it develops mindfulness.
- Anyone really, but most research to date has been conducted on females. Benefits found include:
- In athletes more robust research is required, but there is building evidence that Pilates is valuable as:
- strength and conditioning training
- Home. Books and DVDs can guide you.
- Local classes. Pilates is now absolutely mainstream and thus commonly offered in leisure centres, church halls etc. Teachers do not require any special qualifications so ask around for recommendations and check the class size in advance. As for yoga, Pilates instructors need small classes so they can easily correct participants' postures.
- For me, 15 - 20 mins at least five days each week. O.K. I'll admit it - sometimes laziness creeps in and I don't manage this. I've been remiss recently and I'm paying the price at the moment with a rather sore back. You know that backache you get from tensing at the steering wheel or desk? Bad me.
- For you? Well, what do you think? If you already take a class in circuit training then maybe there won't be additional physical benefits from Pilates, but you might appreciate the mindfulness dimension. A weekly class perhaps to try it out?
Pilates and yoga both develop muscular control, balance and mindfulness. Pilates, unlike yoga, does not involve spiritual focus and does not promote 'unnatural' flexibility. If you've ever found yourself with a hip injury because you did too many hip openers in yoga classes, you'll know what I mean by 'unnatural' and how yoga can sometimes ask runners to flex too much. That's not to suggest that yoga isn't good for runners, just that each runner needs to develop awareness of their own body and how it can be built into a better running body.
The annual St Andrews Chariots of Fire race is this year on Sunday 31st May. Wear white. Enter here.