In this video, we are joined by Gabby Robertson to discuss how Pilates will help runners achieve better results, whether through injury prevention, technique improvement or better recovery.

Anthony: Today we’re really fortunate to be joined by Gabby Robertson who is our resident Pilates expert. It is stupid o’clock in the morning because this is the hunting time for Gabby! To kick things off just for people who don’t know, give us a little bit of a run down, what’s the idea, what’s behind Pilates, what’s it all about?

Gabby: The basis with Pilates is that there’s four or five key elements that we’re looking at and the first one is maintaining a nice upright spine. A lot of people are unaware of the position of their spine or how to hold their spine. When you’re incorporating that we look at your pelvis and how to align aneutral bucket or a neutral pelvis, we’re looking through holding through the ribcage and up into that spine level. You want to incorporate breathing with that with someone as well and to breathe most efficiently or effectively that they possibly can and incorporate their deep abdominals, which most people would term their core. We find most people are pretty appalling at working out how to use their core or how to activate their core and teaching and which are the deeper layers or the muscles that help to support the spine and which are the more superficial muscles which may be overworking at this stage and differentiating between those two. So one of the things you touched on there is this sort of self awareness of the correct position. You find a lot of people, and regardless of the level of the athlete that you can get some high level athletes who still aren’t engaging their core and still aren’t maintaining good positions.

Anthony: From the point of view of performance enhancement, what sort of things do you think Pilates has to offer someone who’s looking to improve their 10k time or their 5K time.

Gabby: So if someone is wanting to get faster in their speed, basically their speed work that they’re doing for their running what we want to make sure is that you can hold good form while you run. And if you’re able to hold good form then all of your muscles that are already working are able to work far more efficiently. If you can incorporate appropriate breathing with that which is often the part that tends to fall off, and more so towards the end of the run as people are trying to get faster. If they’re unable to hold that nice position and unable to hold a decent breathing pattern then everything else is gonna fall off.

Anthony: So Pilates is more about making people aware of their technique flaws and showing them in a different environment how to improve that and then transfer that across to the running. How do you find the transfer from doing mat based pilates and the equipment based pilates, how do you then transfer that into someone’s active running style.

Gabby: Well from looking at them in an assessment point to start with and then building them through onto that mat based or those equipment based exercises, we’re using a lot of cueing that they can then carry over into their training and that they start that from an early level. Those cues or those exercises they’re then incorporating into their training program so that as we build on those movements and build those movements in larger movements making them more functional towards their running style or reproducing some of their running movements on the larger pieces of equipment. We can then tear that to pieces a little bit further and find perfect cues for them but they can then carry over into their training sessions.

Anthony: So you touched on the aspect of Clinical Pilates and as you know there’s Pilates options aplenty, with the growth and the popularity of Pilates. What would be the difference for someone who’s looking at starting Pilates? What’s the difference between run-of-the-mill Pilates and the Clinical Pilates that you do?

Gabby: With Clinical Pilates someone’s had an assessment by a physiotherapist. The physiotherapist have been able to identify for that person things that may be outstanding such as weaknesses. We might have injuries or an injury history that we’ve worked through with someone and incorporating their Pilates with them whether it be mat based or equipment based, we’re then addressing that injury history for them. We’re addressing their assessments and the things that we’ve picked up from that assessment and then using that with them to incorporate it towards their goals. They might be a runner and be training towards something, but you know running varies. It might be longer distance events, it might be shorter distance events and that time frame that we have in order to work towards with them.

Anthony: One of the one of the big influences we have here at GrandStand is talking to people about injury prevention and where we work on the idea that prevention is much better than the cure so again from the Pilates aspect, is Pilates something which is useful in terms of injury prevention?

Gabby: Absolutely! I mean Pilates can be used to inject into a running program as their strength component, you know the majority of runners feel that running and running and more running and more running is how they will improve, and you know research will tell us at least if you are running three or more times in a week you need to inject a strength session into that. Most of us will say we don’t have time for that. You know, we just need to run we want to put our trainers on and head out the door. But we must have that strength component. In that Pilates we can incorporate not just their strength but looking at their form and looking at proprioceptive techniques and things for them as well.

Anthony: So in the longer term you’re actually going to probably be able to run more because you’re going to have less injury lay-off as a result of dedicating some time to specific injury prevention and Pilates sounds like it offers that solution for people to do as a different session for people to do rather than as you said just hitting the pavement and doing mile after mile after mile.

Gabby: Absolutely and a lot of people will think ‘oh, Pilates look I’m on a mat, I’m not able to get enough resistance into that’ and that’s where the equipment comes into play really nicely. Now we can go well above body weight and high level resistance into those to get a true strength and conditioning. Obviously a lot of athletes are doing a lot of miles and recovery is one of the big issues that we have with athletes, for athletes to be able to recover fully from a run so they can back up their their subsequent run and we’ve spoken before about different modalities that athletes can use to, you know, allow their body to cope with the loads better.

Anthony: Again from a recovery point of view, do you think there’s a place there for Pilates and, is it something that athletes can use to prepare themselves for the next running session?

Gabby: Definitely! And with that strength and conditioning component comes adaptation. We need those adaptations to occur. We need them to transfer that take it over to their run and then incorporate it into their running program and then we need that recovery session. So in recovery, and if it’s a recovery session that we’re working through, whether it be on the mat it’s a really nice way that we can look at some length we can look at some flexibility and really highlight for some of the athletes areas that they need to target themselves both before during and after are they’re running sessions.

Anthony: As an example, Gabby, if someone were to present with a long history of achilles tendonitis and we talked a lot about the biomechanical backgrounders to to why achilles tendonitis occur, what sort of exercises would Pilates have that will you know be looking at correcting the biomechanical flaws in an achilles tendonitis for instance.

Gabby: So, if their physiotherapist they’ve seen has picked up but they have issues further up the chain as to what’s going on with that we can start in a really early based exercise. The really nice thing about Pilates, is it can be that early entry point. You can be supportive. You can take the spine out of action. It can be quite specific and you know if they’re struggling with their breathing they’re struggling with their upright spine and that their the form issues, that we can still target the ankle in a nice lying down position and work on some length, you can work on some eccentric control there for them, and progress their program that their physio has already got them working on at this stage. From that we can bring them then into lots of different positions and that’s the thing I love most about Pilates. Pretty much, I can exercise you in any position, offload any part of the body, and then target somewhere else specifically. So if we’re wanting to just work specifically on those intrinsics, work through the foot and things around the ankle we can do that. If we’re wanting to build in some other joints towards that and start to progress them to more upright and being functional towards their running again we can do that. So again, starting Pilates early in the rehab rather than using it as an end stage conditioning program, the earlier we get an intervention the more likely we are to support the the tissue which is at present struggling with the load. Everybody comes to it at end stage, you know. They’ve gone through their rehabilitation or their hands-on treatment with their physio and then they look for something else and I’m saying, well incorporate it early, get the maximum benefit you can and progress through that rehab as quickly as you can.

Anthony, Gabby, you’ve certainly had a long and rich experience with runners and you’re well known to the runners in the Newcastle region. If we were to put you on the spot and say look, given you experience, what is the the one technical flaw that you notice in runners and again regardless of the level that they’re running at, one thing that you as a Pilates clinician you look at and you think ‘that’s something that we could improve’?

Gabby: Probably the most outstanding one and the one that’s easiest to spot is really that loss of their core control and they just tip them through the bucket. You look at them side on as they run past and they’ve lost everything through here, and that just makes breathing so hard. So it shifts into the upper part of the chest. You see it with runners as they’re heading towards the end of their 5k at parkrun on a Saturday and there are so many parkrun photographs to flick through. At each of your local events and you can you know check it out you see it in your sprinters. You see it in, you know, that first big race that’s local, that 10k and everyone’s running for their finish line and all their finish line photos look like. They’ve got their shoulders up here, they’re tipped through here and they are trying to breathe as heavily as they can. Unfortunately, with the shape of the lung, we know anatomically, you’re not going to get much air in when you’re breathing up there. So if there’s one thing that I could do for the majority of runners, it would be to grab their hips and their pelvis and just tip them back into that level position. That allows their diaphragm to expand beautifully, it allows them to use their leg muscles, you know, their buttocks which are there for them to use. We want them to use those glutes while they’re running and unfortunately we will tend to lose control of those and just overload a hamstring. But, if you can grab ahold of that pelvis, tip it back for them, allow their lungs to breathe more effectively, they’re going to get a far more efficient breath, use that breath capacity then and not feel so horrible towards the end of their run.

Anthony: And is that a technical flaw, is it the people under fatigue conditions they fall out of their good form or is it a case of their muscles aren’t strong enough or they’re not getting enough support from some of the support muscle? So, it is technical or physiological, that loss of form at the backend?

Gabby: It can be a bit chicken and egg, and until they’ve had that assessment and you’ve worked out what it is that’s helping contribute to that, because for the majority of runners we’ve never learnt how to run. You know, we grab our trainers and away we go. So unless you have you know it’s some nice understanding of how the body should move or how it could move, understanding that everybody’s different, and that our bodies all move differently. We can watch those professionals at the upper level and think ‘wow, that looks horrible’ and yet they’re breaking World Records. So everybody’s bodies are different and we need to understand that. But equally unless we’re assessed and look in to that, you know they might have a huge long-standing history that has led them in their injury capacity, to only be able to perform like that. They still want to run and that’s the best that they can do when they head out the door. If we can give them a little bit of education, we can help them to understand how their body may move better, and how it may be more efficient to move or more efficient to breathe, and to use the deep core muscles in and around their spine to help support that pelvis, their efficiency and their speed will go through the roof.

Anthony: So the next step, and I’m sure you’ve probably set off some alarm bells in some of our runners minds, what would be the next step, so for someone who is said ‘yeah that sounds like me I’m someone who loses my form at the back end, and I’m really you know keen and excited by the prospect of trying to improve my performance through that’, what’s the next step for someone to get involved inPilates? How do they how do they start?

Gabby: I think you need to be assessed. Look into locally what’s available for you in clinical Pilates. Obviously, as Anthony said before, there’s a big difference between different types of Pilates that are out there and you want to make sure that your body’s in safe hands and that you’re being looked after. A tailored exercise programs for you. So get assessed. Once you’re assessed, we can then look at your injury history. We can tie that together with how your body presents right now and then look at what goals are specific for you. If you want an entry level of Pilates to start with then the mat based work is really fabulous. You can come along, we’ve got running specific Pilates six a.m. on Monday morning. Come and join us, okay. It is my Pilates for runners class that I run every week. You can come along to that. Throughout it we’re talking running language the whole time. We’re cueing your body and giving you nice things to think about when you’re out running and doing your own training sessions throughout the week. From there, if you’re interested in really stepping things up, come in and be a part of the equipment sessions. On the equipment, we can be far more tailored towards you. You can have either one-on-one, they can be, you know, increasing in ratio and you’ll find that the majority of clinical Pilates on equipment will come up to about a ratio of one to four. Anything more than that and you’re probably not going to be as specific or as tailored to the individuals that you want to be. Some people in those sessions are addressing length and flexibility and they’re here for their stretch and release. They’ve done their long run and they’re booked in on a Monday and that’s their way that their body’s going to help flush some things out. Others throughout the week are using it as their strength and conditioning.  We’re heading up with the weights with offloading different parts of their body that yet if stable or as controlling as we’d like them to me and for those who are performing at their best we’re stepping them up even further and working them in a really functional upright position, very run specific in what they are doing. So Pilates in will have something to offer anyone, from the entry level to the person who’s just starting to to increase their mileage, all the way through to you know your top end guys who are really looking for that extra 1% in their their improvement.

Anthony: I think the key as you mentioned, is that specificity to runners is really important so it’s not an off-the-shelf solution for you. You need to make sure that the exercises are you doing are tailored specifically to your body and targeted specifically to your your goals and that’s where I think that running aspect of Pilates is probably something where people should be really encouraged to investigate, rather than just normal everyday Pilates class.

Gabby: For sure, the last thing I would want someone to do is, you know, say ‘okay great, Gab said we need to do this’ and then go out on the next run and do entirely the wrong thing. You know it’s going to hurt,  it’s not gonna feel good and then you think ‘that’s not  for me’. However if we have assessed you. We have looked at how your body moves, we look at how your body wants to perform and then we can make changes that are specific for you. We can be far more efficient for your running form. Give you some great cues to work towards. And then, with time, we’re obviously not looking at two to three weeks seeing a huge change in performance. It’s something we need to stick to and with the programming we expect change. Males it is usually a little bit sooner, at that five to six week mark and women more of that six to eight week.

Anthony: Really? What’s what’s the reason behind that, or what in your experience why is it that, I was gonna say women lag. but I think men excel, might be a better way of saying it.

Gabby: Men excel, is probably a far better way to say it. I think for the majority of women, they adopt the cues really well, posturally and form wise they do it very well, but for the men we’re seeing some of those adaptive changes in their muscles far sooner than women.

Anthony: There’s certainly some really good reasons to look at incorporating Pilates into your running schedule and whether would be from the point of view technique improvement or as a recovery modality or as a way of preventing further injuries. If you are interested in introducing Pilates into your program make sure you’re looking for a clinical Pilates instructor who’s got a background and a solid understanding of running and that’ll make sure you get the best out of the Pilates for your running. Gabby, thanks so much for joining us today and giving us a bit of an insight into just what Pilates is all about, particularly for our running athletes. For those of you who have any questions or comments feel free to pop them into the comment section below. If you like the video, remember press the ‘LIKE’ button, consider subscribing and we’ll see you in the next video!