This post kicks off a new series focused on cross-training. Cross-training, as we’re often told, is essential for runners who want to stay healthy and strong, and wish to continue running for as long as possible. In this first post, MRG takes a look at Pilates.
Years ago, when I was chasing after a preschooler and a toddler, I joined a downtown gym that won me over mostly because of its onsite childcare — childcare that didn’t just offer a corner with plastic toys, but instead an enormous room filled with exercise balls and yoga mats and plenty of space to roam. Emma and Andrew could “work out” downstairs while I broke a sweat upstairs. I was a complete gym newbie — I was barely a runner at this point but was digging the Elliptical — and knowing my kids were having fun while I unearthed a newfound interest in health and wellness was pretty cool.
It was at this same gym that I discovered a fitness practice I continue today: Pilates. It started with an evening mat class, where I discovered just how weak my core muscles had become following my pregnancies (or maybe they’d always been weak?). It was eye-opening to lie on a mat, my arms stretched overhead, and attempt to roll up using my abdominal muscles (not my shoulders, not momentum, just my abs). My legs were supposed to stay flat on the floor, too. Hmmm. Really? It was humbling, to say the least, to try this move and many others that focused on strengthening the muscles that do so much for us everyday.
I ended up falling away from Pilates — and the gym — after awhile. Life just got busy, and I had started to run more, which I really loved and was my preferred form of exercise during a time that got especially busy (hello, third baby!).
But about six years ago, I decided to revisit Pilates — this time, I contacted local studio owner Jennifer Cutler, known as an excellent instructor whose studio Pure Pilates follows an “Aspire, Strengthen and Evolve” philosophy. The setting is “non-intimidating yet energizing,” as they say at Pure Pilates. (I love that women and men of all ages come through Jen’s studio; I hope I’m as strong and flexible as some of the older women I see there when I’m in my later years!) And the studio is committed to practicing Pilates the way Joseph Pilates intended: “A regimen of complete coordination of body, mind and spirit.”
Jen has become a close friend of mine — we’ve run together quite a bit, racing both the Hot Chocolate 15K in Chicago a few years back and the M22 Challenge in Glen Arbor, Mich. — and I know part of the reason we’re such great friends is our shared belief in living healthy, both in body and mind. I’m so thankful for her instruction early on because I believe she instilled in me a strong foundation of Pilates principles — principles that have absolutely aided my running. With a stronger core, I feel stronger running. Jen’s voice sometimes comes to mind, her words of “shoulders back and down, belly button pulled to your spine” reminding me that my core muscles are what propel me forward and play such an important role (along with my legs, lungs and arms) in putting one foot in front of the other.
The stretching and strengthening that I experience through twice-weekly Pilates sessions leave me feeling re-aligned, centered, balanced and … just happy. Oftentimes I run immediately after a class — I love running from the studio’s downtown location, and having warmed-up muscles is a great sensation when getting into the groove those first few miles.
There have been times when I have had to scale back my Pilates sessions — scheduling conflicts and just life — and those are the times when I’ve noticed I don’t feel as strong when running and sometimes have even felt ever-so-slight twinge-y back pain. When I follow a regular Pilates schedule, I notice I’m not injured from running as often. I especially like the reformer because I’m getting an awesome full body workout in my 50-minute class. My arms and legs are stronger than ever, and Pilates is about “quality over quantity” and precise movements targeting specific areas of the body, i.e. you’d be surprised just how challenging (and rewarding) this exercise can be.
Have you tried Pilates? What do you like most about it?