Pilates For Runners: Try These 6 Exercises For A Stronger Core

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Runners often hear about the importance of a strong core, and one of the best forms of exercise for core strengthening is Pilates.

Pilates uses small, controlled movements to target the core, while also increasing flexibility, mindfulness, kinesthetic awareness, and overall fitness

Though some runners are intimidated by going to a Pilates class and getting on a reformer—the contraption that has a sliding platform and various straps and pulleys—the good news is that there are Pilates exercises for runners that you can do right at home to strengthen your core.

In this article, we will discuss Pilates for runners, sharing the best Pilates exercises for runners to help you strengthen your core.

We will cover: 

  • What Is Pilates?
  • Benefits of Pilates for Runners
  • 6 Of the Best Pilates Exercises for Runners to Build a Strong Core

Let’s jump in!

A person unrolling a pilates mat.

What Is Pilates?

Pilates is a type of exercise that focuses on precise, deliberate movements to strengthen the core, improve alignment, and increase flexibility and strength.

Pilates was started when German-born Joseph Pilates, who moved from Germany to New York City in 1923, opened the first Pilates studio. 

Developed after observing the deleterious effects of battle injuries on the function and health of soldiers in World War 1, Joseph Pilates’ goal was to develop a form of fitness training that could help rehabilitate injured soldiers by strengthening, stabilizing, and stretching certain muscles.

Joseph Pilates originally called his fitness method “Controlology” and designed it based on the guiding principle that “It is the mind itself which builds the body,” which speaks to the emphasis on the mind-body connection in Pilates.

There are six core principles in Pilates—Centering, Concentration, Control, Precision, Breathing, and Flow—along with the newer principle of proper alignment.

The emphasis on control and proper alignment in particular is what makes Pilates such a valuable form of exercise for runners.

A person doing pilates holding one knee.

Benefits of Pilates for Runners

Pilates focuses on building a strong core, which serves as the foundation to anchor your legs and arms.

Most runners who do core exercises focus only on exercises that target the superficial core muscles like the rectus abdominis and obliques, but it is the deep core muscles like the transversus abdominis and the smaller muscles stabilizing the spine that are particularly important for runners.

These muscles provide trunk support, improve breathing mechanics, and give your lower body and pelvis a stable foundation. 

Research has found that weakness in the deep core muscles, such as the erector spinae, which are a group of muscles along the spine that stabilize the spine and allow you to twist and straighten the trunk, increases the compensatory force in the muscles by up to 45 percent.

Runners with a weak core are also prone to low back pain because the deep core muscles lack the strength and control necessary to stabilize the spine.

This allows excessive movement between the vertebrae and joints in the spine, which can increase the likelihood of low back pain and injury.

By having pelvic support and stability, you can run more efficiently and have a more balanced even stride.

Pilates for runners can help prevent your hips from rocking and dropping when you run, and can ensure you’re able to keep your core engaged, thus enabling you to have a strong, powerful, and efficient stride.

A person doing a pilates exercises.

The core-strengthening benefits of Pilates for runners also helps you maintain your posture and running form while you fatigue in the later miles of a long run, hard workout, or race.

It’s common to see runners with their form breaking down as they get tired. They may start to slouch, or the hips may sway side to side or drop up and down as they land.

These adverse changes can reduce your running economy, slow you down, and increase the risk of injuries. 

Indeed, Pilates has been shown to improve running performance and economy.

Finally, one of the key benefits of Pilates for runners is that it can increase stability and balance in the muscles controlling your joints, which reduces the risk of injuries.

For example, Pilates exercises for runners that target the core strengthen the deep muscles that stabilize the spine. This can prevent low back pain, sciatica, and piriformis syndrome.

Pilates exercises for runners that target the hips and pelvis help confer adequate strength to the smaller hip rotator muscles and hip abductor like gluteus medius.

This, in turn, improves alignment of the lower limb, which can prevent IT band syndrome and runner’s knee, among other injuries.

A person doing a pilates exercise, scissors.

6 Of the Best Pilates Exercises for Runners to Build a Strong Core

The following are some of the best Pilates exercises for runners to strengthen the core:

#1: Scissors

This is a great Pilates exercise for runners because it increases core strength and stability while also increasing stability and control of the pelvis.

It targets the lower abs and deep core muscles like the transversus abdominis and the multifidus.

It’s one of the best Pilates core exercises for runners because it mimics the reciprocal leg pattern of running.

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent, core engaged, and feet flat on the floor.
  2. Use your abdominal muscles to draw the right leg up so that your hip and knee are at 90 degrees and your shin is parallel to the floor. 
  3. Slowly lower it back down while simultaneously raising the left leg in the same way such that your legs are moving reciprocally. 
  4. Just tap the toes to the floor without fully planting the foot, ensuring you keep the 90-degree bend in the knees.
  5. As you get stronger, straighten your legs more, so that your feet are tapping further out away from your body.
A pilates class.

#2: Side Kicks

The side kick is one of best Pilates for runners exercises because it strengthens the core, mimics the reciprocal motion of running, and does a great job targeting the gluteus medius muscle, which is often weak in runners.

Weakness in gluteus medius can lead to a host of issues, from compromised running economy, poor form, and injuries such as IT band syndrome and knee injuries.

  1. Lie on one side with your hips bent to 90 degrees and your knees bent to 45 degrees, and your arm under your head for support.
  2. Using your core, engage the leg on top until it’s at hip level, parallel to the floor.
  3. Press the leg forward, away from your body, and then slowly draw it back, making sure your knees don’t touch.
  4. Complete 10-15 slow reps and then switch sides.
A person going a glute bridge.

#3: Shoulder Bridges With Kicks

This is a great Pilates for runners exercise because it strengthens the pelvis and deep core muscles, along with the glutes and hamstrings.

It also isolates one leg at a time, training you to have pelvic control during the reciprocal motion of running.

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent, one foot flat on the floor and one up in the air.
  2. Engage your core and squeeze your glutes to lift your hips up all the way until they are in line with your body from your knees to your head.
  3. Lift your right foot off the floor and straighten the knee, extending your leg and kicking it up as far as you can.
  4. Exhale as you lower your leg back down and bring your foot to the ground.
  5. Lower your hips back to the ground. 
  6. That’s a single rep. Do 10-12 reps and the switch sides.
A person holding a medicine ball and laughing with a friend.

#4: Single Leg Squats 

This is a good Pilates for runners exercise because it is a unilateral exercise, much like running. 

When you land on one leg during running, your core and hips have to stabilize and balance the pelvis without allowing the hip on the supporting side to drop down upon impact.

By focusing on loading each leg in isolation, this Pilates exercise helps strengthen the pelvis in order to control this movement during running.

  1. Stand upright on one leg with your core engaged, holding onto a light medicine ball or stability ball with your arms extended in front of you at chest height.
  2. Keeping your hips facing forwards and stacked over your knees, bend the knee to 90 degrees on your supporting leg.
  3. Slowly press back up to standing.
  4. Complete 6-8 slow reps and then switch sides.
Two people doing pilates.

#5: Leg Circles

Leg circles are a good Pilates exercise for runners because they target the core, hips, glutes, quads, and hamstrings.

  1. Lie on your back with your legs straight and arms at your sides.
  2. Engage your core as you draw one knee up towards your chest.
  3. Fully straighten the leg up toward the ceiling while keeping your keeps down and pressed into the mat by engaging your core.
  4. Inhale, drawing the raised leg across your body toward the opposite shoulder, keeping the knee straight.
  5. Exhale, bringing the leg down towards the floor, out to the side, and back up to starting position, tracing a big circle in the air without moving your pelvis or lower back.
  6. Draw five big circles in each direction with the leg and then switch legs.
A person doing a hollow hold.

#6: Hollow Holds

This Pilates core exercise is an isometric hold like a plank, and it builds endurance and strength in your core.

  1. Lie on your back with your arms extended overhead.
  2. Engage your core, lifting your head, upper body, and lower body so that your arms and legs are at about a 45-degree angle with the floor.
  3. Hold this position, breathing slowly throughout.
  4. Slowly release after the time is up.

Adding these six Pilates exercises to your workout routine can strengthen your deep core muscles to help stabilize your spine and pelvis while you run.

Perform 2-3 sets of each exercise.

Pilates is a low-impact activity, so it’s safe to do in back-to-back days, but beginners should just start with doing Pilates exercises 2-3 days per week.

Looking to add in strength training exercises to your routine as well? Take a look at our bodyweight routine for runners, no equipment necessary!

A person doing a pilates pose.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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