Wednesday is sport day, and today I want to talk about running, and more specifically barefoot running.
Barefoot running is gaining in popularity, as is new designs in minimalist footwear. But what are the benefits? And can Pilates help?
Over the years I have been asked many times to devise Pilates programs for different sportsmen and women. I have worked with many runners who have seen big improvements in their performance.
As we all know, running is a great aerobic exercise and an ideal weighty-bearing exercise as it helps to increase bone density in the skeleton, thus helping to avoid osteoporosis. As we also know, Pilates can help to improve overall physical condition and performance by strengthening the core and stabilising the pelvis, giving more range of motion and flexibility. Pilates can also;
- Stretch hip flexors and strengthen buttocks.
- Improve posture and alignment. Develop a balanced body which removes dysfunctional movement patterns and helps prevent injury.
- Good posture means a stable pelvis, with feet and legs in alignment, which is a very important part of the gait cycle.
- Allow training during injuries, and help rehabilitate after injury.
I am sure we are all familiar with the scientific evidence that supports the fact barefoot running has many benefits, not least the fact that because we land on the middle or front of the foot, barefoot runners remove almost all the impact collision that shod runners suffer from as they are far more inclined to land with an initial heel strike.
If you want to learn more about barefoot running, I recommend Barefoot Running Step by Step as a great place to start.
Whilst barefoot running can reduce the risk of ankle sprains, plantar fascitis, and other running related injuries, Pilates can reduce the risk of injury still further by emphasising balance, posture, focused breathing and attention to the correct form.
By restoring muscle balance, a Pilates program will protect your joints, and reduce strain on joint capsules and ligaments.Studies have shown that barefoot running reduces energy use and oxygen consumption, however poor posture caused by weak abdominal muscles may not allow you to support your spine properly, and can cause back pain and have a negative effect on breathing.
Because Pilates exercises encourage a long spine, the tall upright stance gives your lungs space to function with efficiency. An important factor for runners is the synchronisation of breathing with movement. This is a vital part of Pilates, as when you breathe properly, you gain more stamina. Muscles that stabilise the back are found in the core, and awareness and recruitment of these muscles will allow increased range of motion in extremity joints as well as prevention of trauma around the spine.
Pilates includes stretching exercises for the hips, legs and back, and will increase the range of motion with fluid movement. But most importantly for runners, Pilates will improve your flexibility without compromising your strength.
Good runners are conscious of their body. Instead of seeing a run as an excuse to zone out with their iPod, they see it as a chance to develop their kinesthetic awareness. This is all the more relevant in barefoot running, for example, you can explore the feel of your feet on the ground, how balanced your head is on the neck and spine, whether your ankles and knees are working in sequence, how your breathing pattern changes as the workload becomes more demanding. This approach makes running as much a mental activity as a physical one – very much like Pilates.
One word of warning, Researchers at Brigham Young University in the U.S found that runners who make the switch from normal trainers to barefoot shoes too quickly suffered an increased risk of injury to bones in the foot, including possible stress fractures. This was especially true for women.
I am interested as always to hear you experiences with barefoot running and minimalist shoes. Have you seen a personal change or changes in your clients?
Chris is an international Pilates and functional training presenter and educator based in London and Barcelona, Spain. He is the creator of Pilates EVO©, bodyFUNC©, and CEO of Pilates Rehab Limited and Sport Core Strength. He also created Pilates Carnival and Fitness Carnival, conventions where all profits go to local children’s charities. He organises fitness holidays and sports holidays in Barcelona, as well as retreats. For more information about training with Chris in Barcelona, please click on Barcelona Bienestar. To learn more about Chris, please read Just who is Chris Hunt anyway? You can also subscribe by completing the form on the this BLOG to receive articles and special offers straight to your inbox.
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