We all know that regular massage and stretching helps speed up our recovery to keep up with all those kilometres, but have you ever thought about using Pilates and/or Yoga to improve your running and help you become more efficient?
How Pilates and Yoga can Enhance Your Running
Let’s be honest, we could give you endless reasons why Yoga and Pilates are really good for you but for the purpose of this article, we will talk about how it can have a positive impact on your running and look at muscle imbalances and the importance of the sympathetic nervous system.
Sitting is Slowing You Down
As a society we really do spend too much time sitting down. Think about it. We sit in the car, bus, or bike to get to work, we then sit down for 8 hours of the day (80%-90% of us), then we sit again for the commute home, relax on the couch before bed then sleep and repeat. Now we are not saying this is every body’s routine and if you get up during the day and move around, that’s great, BUT when comparing to the hours spent sitting for long periods, we are not moving frequently enough. This brings on muscular tension, aches, pains and unfortunately postural imbalances.
Stress is another big factor. It impacts not just our running but also our general health. First we have to understand what stress is to be able to get out of the cycle. Outside factors (stressors) overstimulate our Sympathetic Nervous System and we are on constant ‘fight or flight’ mode. The ‘fight or flight’ mode is the body’s response to a threat, attack or specific event. The adrenal gland releases hormones which increase the heart rate, blood pressure, glucose levels in the blood and influence the way we respond to a situation. It is meant to be a quick response and not a long term state for the body. Being constantly stressed is detrimental to our health and can lead to high blood pressure, body aches and pains, anxiety, muscle twitching, slower removal of lactate and more. Giving our Sympathetic Nervous System a break can improve our overall health but we can also use this response to our advantage. For example at the start line of a race, these stressors can get the adrenalin pumping and flight mode kicking in so we can get off to the best possible start.
How Yoga Can Help Your Running
Yoga helps to balance not only the muscles but also the Sympathetic Nervous System, achieved by using our breath. Yoga is commonly referred to as moving meditation. When we give the Sympathetic Nervous System a break, we can lower blood pressure, optimise the gas metabolism and lactate is removed faster. This positive impact will reduce anxiety, nervousness and tension, so when you are at the start line of your next race, you will be focused and energised.
The variety of static postures will increase body awareness of muscle imbalances and help strengthen and stabilise the entire body. The dynamic sequences promote strength and fluidity and connect movement with your breath. This fluidity translates through to your running, preventing your movements becoming rigid and tense. Let’s take the Sun-Salutation for example. The length of each movement is directed by the length of your breath. As we breathe, we move, so we have a constant symmetrical and balanced flow which takes us through the sequence of warm up stretches for runners. Practising three to four rounds of the Sun Salutation will warm the muscles and joints and will focus the mind preparing you for your run.
How Pilates Can Help Your Running
Pilates focuses on building a strong core and finding imbalances in specific muscles and muscle groups. It is commonly believed that the ‘core’ is only our abdominal muscles or even just the Rectus Abdominus (our 6 pack) but this is not entirely true. Our core stabilisers are the muscles of the pelvis, abdomen and shoulder girdle; the muscles which give us good posture and keep us ‘stable’. We commonly find imbalances in these areas caused by improper posture, repetitive movement or overloading specific muscle groups. Being desk/chair-bound can lead to weak stabilisers. Even being unaware of how to switch on our muscles can create imbalances and weakness. Imagine trying to execute a movement and only half the muscle group(s) required to perform the exercise are working. You get half the result. Now imagine all muscles are engaged and firing. The end results are going to be significantly different. And let’s not forget about efficiency! When our core stabilisers are strong, it eliminates excessive unnecessary movements which means your running stride is efficient and you are able to run stronger for longer. Especially as you get towards the end of a long run. This is when we are fatigued and tired and tend to add unnecessary arm or hip movements. So for a strong core try Pilates and clean up your movements.
Yoga or Pilates?
Which one should you choose?
Both are great modalities and work very well together. Ideally choosing to practice both on a regular basis can be incredibly effective for all reasons mentioned above. Pilates focuses on the strengthening of individual muscles and stabilising muscle groups and using your breath to execute movements with control. Yoga focuses on combining breath and movement, giving you strength and length to muscles and gives the sympathetic nervous system a break.
Both will improve your body awareness and iron out muscle imbalances. If you have to choose one or the other and like a challenge, choose the one you feel uncomfortable with. This generally means we think ‘we are not good at it’ which means it’s something our body needs most!