Part stretch, part strength, with a focus on alignment, Pilates is a great workout. But Jae Gruenke, founder of The Balanced Runner, explains that with a few tweaks, you can tailor the for-everybody exercise into something that benefits runners specifically.
Do the following four moves—with Gruenke’s tweaks—prior to a run, and they can help you unkink yourself from the position your desk chair or laptop put you in all day (flexed hips, hunched shoulders). Alternatively, save them for after a run (or a long day at work) and let them help imprint what good movement patterns feel like in your body even when you’re tired.
Shoulder Bridge with Single-Leg Extension
Step 1: Lie on your back, knees bent, feet hip-width, directly under your knees, and arms overhead. Roll your pelvis up until your knees and shoulders form a diagonal line. Stretch the left knee and left hand away from each other, so your left side is longer than your right. Let the pelvis shift to the left. Switch to the opposite side. Step 2: Keep your hips high and in line with each other and lift one leg off the floor. Return it to the floor and repeat with the other leg. Runner’s Secret Weapon: A key part of the spring mechanism of running is to lengthen one side of your body and shorten the other. This helps you rehearse that.
Step 1: Lie face-up. Bring both knees to your chest and curl your head and shoulders off the floor. Step 2: Clasp your hands over your left knee and extend the right leg; don’t let it touch the floor, as you turn toward your bent knee. Switch sides: Bring your right knee in and extend your left leg. Runner’s Secret Weapon: Turning your sternum toward the bent knee mimics how your body turns toward your forward leg when you run.
Step 1: Lie face-down, arms by your sides with feet a little wider than your hips. Lift your torso and legs into a “swan” position and hold for eight breaths. Lower. Step 2: Stay face-down and bring your arms overhead. Lift your arms and legs off the floor. Then stretch the opposite arm and leg higher. Lower, and alternate sides. Don’t lock your middle and flap your limbs; let the movement go through your shoulders and hips. Runner’s Secret Weapon: Think of pressing your pubic bone into the floor as opposed to your navel toward your spine. This activates your glutes (important for runners) and keeps you from pinching your lower back.
Standing Single-Leg Balance
Step 1: Stand with feet hip-width apart, toes pointing forward, arms overhead. Keeping the knees straight, lift your right heel off the ground and reach your left hand toward the ceiling. Place the right heel on the ground and lift the left, allowing the right side to stretch. Return to standing. Step 2: Reach your arms up and allow your weight to shift onto the right leg without bending your knee. Lift your left leg off the ground and drop the left arm to your side. Feel how your head is over your standing foot, where it needs to be for running. Move the other leg around to challenge your balance. Switch sides. Runner’s Secret Weapon: Traditional Pilates does this move in a turned-out position with legs together. By separating them, runners get used to shifting weight onto one leg. This also works the obliques and the outer hips.