Read Part 1 here.
Say ‘Pilates matwork’ to me a few weeks ago and I’d imagine a low intensity gym class that I’d chosen because I didn’t fancy dragging my weary body through something harder, half-heartedly flailing my limbs while wishing I was asleep. Instead, I would choose to dream of bed from a horizontal position, occasionally remembering I should engage my core.
When I headed to the bePilates studio for a mat class, though, things were different. Maybe it was down to the peaceful location (my usual gym-based sessions had the backing track of a shouty spin instructor next door), but more likely that my instructor Pierre’s attention to detail made me connect strongly to each part of my body. With the spine curls – a classic Pilates move – he drew my focus not just to the sections of my spine as I moved, but also how I should purse my lips on the outbreath on the way up to activate my stomach muscles more. It’s a tiny alteration, but the restricted space for breath helps you engage the easily neglected deep-laying stomach muscles.
Following each set of spine curls, Pierre had me lie on my back and roll my knees in circles to release the hip flexors (see the exercise below). Hip flexors can be a cruel mistress – if you sit down at work for hours a week they can get chronically tight, which makes things all the more awkward when you hit the roads or trails, so this move was a great release. Plus, as it’s done lying down, you can do it right after you wake up or before you go to sleep.
Sitting with my legs straight out in front of me, Pierre pointed out how my feet naturally flopped outwards with my heels in. I’d been noticing it for years but never gave a second thought. It’s a sign of tight arches, apparently - something that made a lot of sense given the foot ache that had been haunting my recent runs. Also, something I easily could have prevented if I’d paid more attention to my body’s signals. Lesson learned.
Pilates for prehab
Prehab - becoming aware of your body’s existing weaknesses and imbalances, then taking action to correct them before they cause problems down the line – is a concept that’s gained momentum over the last few years. The following moves are a great addition to your post-run routine to ease out tension and release tight muscles, which could mean you avoid injury in future.
Hip flexor release
Lie on your back with your knees bent flat in a tabletop position. Place a hand on each knee, engage your core and gently roll them outwards five times in circular motions. Repeat with five more inwards circular motions.
Foot arch stretch
Sit with your legs straight out in front of you. Bend forward as far as is comfortable, take hold of the outside of each foot and gently pull so you feel a stretch in your arches. Hold for 20-30 seconds.