Make me a better runner: Pilates (Part 4)

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Read Part 1Part 2 and Part 3.

Three weeks into my Pilates challenge, I was feeling much more secure in my core – the scooping of abdominals in every workout was something I could easily transfer to running. What wasn’t behaving, however, were my legs. With a collection of injuries ranging from IT band syndrome to tib post dysfunction and beyond, the physio verdict was that weak ankle muscles and lazy glutes were to blame. However, having lived with my malfunctioning muscles for so long, I couldn't seem to kickstart them no matter how much I tried.

As bodyweight work alone wasn’t fixing my muscle imbalances, I headed to one of bePilates’ Chair classes. A Pilates chair is a box-like stool with a padded top layer and a large pedal (sometimes split into two) attached to springs for tension. The chair can be used to add resistance to exercises or as a platform for moves such as hip hitches.

While the chair itself is compact and relatively non-intimidating (unlike the slightly fearsome-looking Pilates Towers), I thoroughly felt the burn. With moves such as step ups performed with extra resistance on the back foot, using the Chair meant I had to focus more on balance and proprioception in order to complete the exercises (and avoid falling off). This pushed me to engage my weak gluteal muscles, which had already led to my long-term relationship with IT band syndrome. 

The Achilles stretch, too, was particularly powerful for my calf and tib post muscles. This Pilates adaptation of a calf raise sees you rest one knee on the chair and your toes on the pedal, with the other foot on the ground to support as you press up and down. The pedal’s resistance increases the difficulty of the move, without overloading the muscles as is risked with free weights (trust me, I’ve done it).

Having been introduced to that new focus on my weaker muscles, bePilates founder Dawne Likhodedova passed on at-home adaptions of the exercises I’d found most useful. Chair or no chair, I wasn’t going to let those lazy muscles lie. 


Heel raises

Stand with your weight shifted to your left leg, holding onto a wall for balance if necessary. Lift your right leg off the ground. Rise up onto the toes of your left leg, slowly lower until your heel is an inch or two from the floor and push back up again. Complete 15 reps. Repeat on the right leg.

Step up

Find a stable platform, such as a stair or bench. Place your left foot flat on the platform, scoop your abdominals and engage your glutes. Push up and straighten your left leg to raise yourself off the floor. Lower down slowly. Complete 15 reps. Repeat on the right leg.