Sports Therapy and Pilates

How Can Pilates Help My Running?

As a Sports Therapist and Pilates Instructor I often hear the phrase “I’m a runner, that’s enough. I don’t need to do any strengthening work” And I’m guilty of following this approach myself with my triathlon training. But after recurrent back, glute and hamstring niggles I realised there was something missing from my training programme….. and that something was strength training.

The correct exercises to target your postural and global running muscles will help improve your running fitness and strength. This will ultimately lead to faster times, a more efficient stride and gait pattern, as well as reducing the risk of injury.

So if recurrent niggles are something of the norm for you, why not try some simple strengthening exercises. Here are 5 top Pilates exercises that will benefit your running performance……who doesn’t want a strong, injury free body and faster 5km split times after all?!


Strengthens the glute medius muscle, a vital postural muscle during running.

  • Side lying, knees bent with hips and feet stacked. On the exhale lift the top knee and return it on the inhale. Imagine your hand is in the “back pocket of your jeans” to feel the glutes are working.
  • Keep the feet on the floor for the first set of 10 (image 1) and then lift the feet for the second set of 10 (image 2).

One Leg Kick:

Strengthens the hamstrings and glutes in isolation of each other, encourages the correct firing order. Replicates the dorsiflexion and plantarflexion of the foot during foot strike to toe off in running.

  • Lie face down with your forehead resting on a small pad. Start with 3 pulses of the leg bringing it up to 90’, then add in flexion and extension of the foot.
  • Do this 10 times on each leg (image 1-3). Then repeat with a glute squeeze and leg lengthen/lift as the leg returns to start position (image 4) also 10 times.

Shoulder Bridge:

Strengthens the glutes, and core muscles. Develops lumbo-pelvic stability, and with the variations adds extra gluteal activation challenge.

  • Lie supine with knees bent and feet hip width apart. To find this foot position start with your feet together, take the toes out then bring the heels out in line with toes (image 1)
  • Imagine rolling the pelvis backwards as if tipping water out the back of a bucket, squeeze the glutes, and on the exhale lift each spinal segment off the floor until resting on shoulder blades. Keep your rib cage flat (no flaring) and body in a straight line. Inhale and hold this position at the top, (image 2) then exhale and roll the spine back down, segment by segment until tail bone is back down.
  • Repeat this 10 times.
  • Variations include lifting one heel off the floor at a time once in the bridge position (image 3), and also extending one leg out straight (image 4) Ensure you are activating the glutes to keep the pelvis level during these variations.

Side Plank with Hip Flexion:

Strengthens the obliques, core, and glute medius and maximus of the lower leg. Also works shoulder stabilisation and balance.

  • In the side plank position with elbow resting under the shoulder and knees stacked, lift the top leg into abduction and flex the hip in towards your body, then lengthen the leg away (imagine replicating a running stride). Keep the hips lifted, and the core active.
  • Repeat 10 times.

Single Leg Ball Squats:

Strengthens the gluteus medius and gluteus maximus, core and thigh muscles (quadriceps and hamstrings). Develops flexibility of the ankle joint and balance.

  • Start standing with a small ball/cushion/towel tucked into the knee joint closest to the wall. Bend that knee and lift the foot off the ground. Engage the core, and perform a mini squat, keep chest lifted.
  • Think about “sitting back in a chair” as you squat as this keeps the knees aligned over the ankle joint. You should be able to see your foot during the move.
  • At the bottom, squeeze and initiate the return with the glutes. Repeat 10 times on each leg.

Have a try of these exercises and feel your strength, core and balance improve, and hopefully see your run times decrease!

Written by Rhea Malkin BSc (Hons) Graduate Sports Therapist MSST and STOTT Reformer Pilates Instructor.