When considering adding gym work or Pilates into your schedule it is first important to ask, what is the benefit? It can be difficult enough to find time for running, yet alone supplementary training, so it is important to ask if it is worth it. As a runner in his mid-thirties who ran sub 14 minutes for 5k and sub eight for 3k this year, I would say yes. I have seen two main benefits from doing gym and Pilates that make them an essential part of my routine.
The first main benefit is reducing injury risk. If you think of the injuries sustained in running, they are nearly all injuries to the passive structures of the body - Achilles’s tendon, plantar fascia, knee tendon, hip pain, etc. Distance runners very rarely get muscle tears. This is because running does not really engage the muscles. Our muscles can get lazy and do not do their share of the work. Therefore, this can overload the passive structures of the body mentioned and cause injury. Especially as we get older it is important to use Pilates or gym work to get the muscles working. This “wakes” the muscles up so that they help the passive structures of the body absorb the shock and forces from running and help us stay running injury free.
Secondly, Pilates and gym work can also help power production. Power is not only vital for the end of a race, but also for improving your running economy (the effort you use to run ). Running economy relates to how efficient we are when running. Think of a car with flat tyres. It might have a great engine (VO2 max ) and it might be very fuel efficient (good lactate threshold ). However, if the tyres are flat it is going to burn a lot of fuel. This is the same with running. Yes, we need to develop our aerobic engine, but we also need to be as efficient as possible so that all the force we generate is helping us move forward and is not wasted. Several studies have demonstrated that developing core stability and strength through Pilates and gym work can significantly improve running economy.
These are the two main reasons I include gym and Pilates in my routine. However, it is important if starting a gym or Pilates routine that you consider these three important factors.
Three key things to consider when doing gym or Pilates
1. Don’t overdo it
While I have outlined the benefits of Pilates and gym work, it is important to highlight that these should be supplementary to running training. Too often I see athletes get too obsessed with gym work and it can negatively impact their running. Gym work in particular can cause delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS ), so it is best to do it either on the same day as your workout or the day after. In this way it does not make you stiff and sore for your key workouts in the week. I believe until you get comfortable with a gym or Pilates routine once a week is sufficient.
2. Focus on exercises that help your running and keep you safe
Quarter squats are more effective for runners than full squats as they replicate the range of motion that occurs in running compared to full squats. A single leg deadlift is a great exercise for distance runners as it works balance and also helps to strengthen the whole posterior chain, thus taking pressure off the calf muscles and Achilles tendon. With core exercises, only do core stability exercises, ie,. exercises that keep the trunk stable, such as plank, bridge, etc, rather than exercises that move through the trunk, ie, sit ups and back extensions. The stability exercises replicate the way we want the core to work during running whereas sit ups do not. Not all gym or Pilates moves are created equally. Therefore, make sure you pick exercises that other runners include in their programmes.
3. Focus on good technique first
As a chartered physiotherapist it is so frustrating seeing people hurt themselves when they were trying to get fitter and healthier. A lot of times this comes from athletes doing gym or Pilates exercises with poor technique. Not only can poor technique increase your chance of injury, it also reduces the results you will see in your running. This is due to a phenomenon called arthrokinetic inhibition. This fancy term basically means that if the joints are not in a good position, then the muscles around that joint will not contract fully. So not only will you possibly hurt yourself with poor technique, you will also not see the benefits you should to your running. For this reason, I have developed the BackAware Belt (www.backawarebelt.com ). This is a wearable technology that gives you instant feedback on your low back position. This allows you to know when your back is in a good position or a poor position. With this feedback you can track and train your lifting technique during gym moves and Pilates or core exercises. Using the BackAware Belt and following the tips given above should really help you get more out of your running. Email [email protected] to be in with the chance of winning one of these by entering our raffle.
Eoin Everard is a chartered physiotherapist with a PhD in biomechanics. He is the founder of the BackAware Belt (www.backawarebelt.com ) and sports Pilates. For a free week’s trial of sports Pilates visit www.everardpilates.com/sportfreetrial