April 14, 2024

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Pilates Exercises for Better Stability

Recently, the popularity of wall Pilates has boomed, likely thanks to the beginner-friendly, low-impact workout that it offers. The practice of Pilates, in general, strengthens your core muscles and hones in on stabilization—both key for runners who want to stave off injury and perform their best. Adding a wall to the mix adds a little variety while offering some tactical feedback for exercises, which helps those new to the practice.

In addition to building a strong core, Pilates can also increase mobility throughout the body, says Abby Suskin, 500-hour certified Pilates instructor, based in Brooklyn, New York and founder of Pilates With Abs. Runners need a full range of motion and strength through their entire stride, and Pilates can help with that. It also supports strong form, especially through later miles, by focusing on the core, including the power-providing glutes.

Research supports the benefits of Pilates as well. A study published in Frontiers in Neurology in 2021 says that Pilates can promote muscle strength, balance, and flexibility.

 

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While runners have a lot of power in their quads, hamstrings, and hip flexors, repetitive movement of these muscles can lead to injury, Suskin says. That’s why it’s important to add exercises to your running program that target these big power players, but also smaller, stabilizing muscles that you’re not regularly engaging.

To do just that, Suskin shares this wall Pilates workout all runners can add to their schedules. You can do this routine home, two to three times per week, for kicked up core strength and better stability with each step.

How to use this list: Do each exercise in the order listed below for the number of reps described, resting as needed between exercises. Do just one time through or repeat for another round.

Each move is demonstrated by Jennifer Acker, health and fitness editor and certified yoga instructor. You will need a yoga block, mat, and access to a wall.


1. Wall Squat

woman doing a wall sit

Trevor Raab

    Why it works: Suskin says the wall squat strengthens the core and quads. “Stronger quads and core create a more stable landing with less load on the joints,” she says.

    How to do it:

    1. Standing with back to wall, slide down until thighs are parallel to floor and shins are parallel to wall. Aim fo a 90-degree bend of hips and knees. Engage core and keep back flat against wall.
    2. Hold for 3 rounds of 30 seconds with 15 seconds of recovery in between.

    Modification: Don’t go quite as low in the squat position.
    Progression: Hold for 60 seconds.


    2. Elevated Bridge

    a person doing a bridge on a mat

    Trevor Raab

      Why it works: The elevated bridge strengthens the hip extensors, including the glutes, the primary pushing muscles when running. This creates a more powerful stride, Suskin says.

      How to do it:

      1. Lie on the floor with feet flat up against the wall, aiming for a 90-degree bend of both hips and knees.
      2. Press feet into wall and lift hips, powering through back of legs (hamstrings and glutes) to lift. Avoid lifting with low back by engaging core.
      3. Hold for 3 seconds, then lower hips back down to floor.
      4. Repeat. Do 10 reps.

      Modification: Shorten the range of motion by only lifting hips slightly off the ground.
      Progression: Every time you lift hips, march one leg off the wall, lower that foot, then repeat on other side.


      3. Split Stance Deadlift

      split stance deadlift on a mat

      Trevor Raab

        Why it works: The split stance deadlift, “eccentrically loads the hamstrings, which will help prevent hamstring pulls and tendonitis at the hamstring insertion,” Suskin says.

        How to do it:

        1. Stand with back to wall, both feet about 12 inches from wall.
        2. Step one heel backward against wall, toes on the floor.
        3. With both knees slightly bent, hinge at hips with flat back, as if trying to find the wall with tailbone. Keep front knee over front ankle and engage core.
        4. Once torso is about parallel to floor, drive through foot to stand up, extending hips.
        5. Repeat. Do 8-10 reps. Then switch sides.

        Modification: Step away from the wall and do a regular deadlift on both feet.
        Progression: Hold a 10- to 20-pound weight in the same arm as the leg that is in front.


        4. Standing Hip Hike

        standing hip pike on a yoga mat next to a wall

        Trevor Raab

        Why it works: “Standing hip hikes target the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus (the side glutes),” Suskin says. These muscles are often weak in runners because they support lateral (or side-to-side) movement, whereas running mostly involves movement in the sagittal plane (forward and backward). By targeting these muscles, you help stave off injury and build a more well-rounded stride, Suskin adds.

        How to do it:

        1. Stand with side to wall, shoulder almost touching wall.
        2. Place a block or large book under foot closest to wall.
        3. Balance on block with opposite foot flexed and hovered next to block.
        4. Engage abs, keep both legs straight, and hike the non-standing hip up toward the shoulder.
        5. Lower hip back to neutral.
        6. Repeat. Do 8 reps. Then switch sides.

        Progression: Stand on a higher surface.


        5. Wall Plank

        a woman doing a wall plank

        Trevor Raab

          Why it works: “This move coordinates abdominal strength with breath and strengthens your deep core which can help prevent hip and lower back pain when running,” Suskin says.

          How to do it:

          1. Stand facing wall with forearms on wall, elbows in line with shoulders.
          2. Walk feet back as far as possible leaving heels on floor and elbows on wall. Engage core and make one long diagonal line from heels to crown of head.
          3. Exhale, engage core and push up onto hands.
          4. Inhale, lower elbows back to starting position without breaking line by dropping or piking hips.
          5. Repeat. Do 8-10 reps.

          Modification: Start with feet closer to wall.
          Progression: Walk feet further out.


          6. Kneeling Thoracic Rotation

          a person stretching on a mat

          Trevor Raab

            Why it works: “Running requires rotation in the thoracic spine (upper spine) and stability in the pelvis,” Suskin says. This move helps with both. “Keeping your thoracic spine mobile will help prevent lower back and hip pain,” she adds.

            How to do it:

            1. Kneel with side to wall.
            2. Step leg furthest from wall forward, both knees bent 90 degrees.
            3. Reach both arms forward, with back of inside arm touching the wall. This is the starting position.
            4. Without moving pelvis, reach arm farther from wall out to a T behind you until the back of it touches the wall behind you (or as close as possible) while staying in line with shoulders.
            5. Return to starting position.
            6. Repeat. Do 5 reps. Then switch sides.

            Modification: Place a block between the front knee and the wall for stability.
            Progression: Circle the arm up, then back, then forward for a larger range of motion.


            7. Calf Stretch

            woman stretching her calf

            Trevor Raab

              Why it works: Calf stretches can help prevent plantar fasciitis, shin splints, and calf strains. This stretch, in particular, promotes length in the two calf muscles: the gastrocnemius (the belly of the calf) and the soleus (further down toward the Achilles tendon), Suskin explains.

              How to do it:

              1. Stand facing wall with toes about one foot from wall.
              2. Place hands on wall and lean forward.
              3. Step one leg back into a lunge with front leg bent and back leg straight.
              4. Hold stretch with back leg straight for 90 seconds trying to reach heel to floor.
              5. Hold stretch with back leg slightly bent for 90 seconds trying to reach heel to floor.
              6. Repeat on other side.

              Headshot of Jennifer Acker

              Jennifer Acker joined the editorial staff of Runner’s World and Bicycling in January 2022. A former freelancer writer and NCAA runner, she started running as a kid and basically never stopped. She also loves outdoor adventures, like hiking, skiing, and mountain biking.