Running Form Analysis of Joseph Pilates, Part 2

By Jae Gruenke | Pilates for Runners

Mar 09

In last week’s blog post we looked at this video of Joseph Pilates running and compared it to the running form of tightrope artist Nik Wallenda and gymnast Shannon Miller. The similarities were striking. Here’s the Pilates video again, but this time contrasted with video of Kenyan distance runners training in Iten. Take a look:

Here are the differences I see:

  • Pilates’s feet fall directly in line with each other while the Kenyans’ feet fall in line with their hip joints, to the right and left of an imaginary midline
  • Pilates’s feet and legs are turned out, the Kenyans’ are not
  • Pilates’s arms swing to either side of his waist in a basically front-to-back motion (the sagittal plane) while the Kenyans swing theirs around the middle of their ribcages in arcs or circles
  • Pilates’s head stays in the middle while the Kenyans’ heads move side-to-side over the stance foot

Comparing Pilates’s running form to a tightrope artist and a gymnast last week gave us every reason to feel that it had been shaped by his background in the circus and gymnastics. In this video at the age of 52 he still runs as if on a tightrope, preventing his center of weight from shifting side-to-side, as would be essential to keep from falling off a tightrope.

So now let’s consider the consequences of running as if on a tightrope when you’re actually not. Bringing your feet to your midline requires you to turn your legs out and toe off from the outside edge rather than the tip of your big toe, creating bunions in the long run, stressing your knees, and shortening your stride due to the external rotation of the hip joints. You can’t apply much force to the ground or create much flight time. Sustaining the uprightness and minimal weight shift required in the torso involves extra muscular effort and slows you down. The consequences of this way of organizing your movement include a sagittal armswing and a head that doesn’t shift laterally at all.

The Kenyans don’t bring their feet to midline, they let them fall naturally beneath their hip joints, allowing them to remain parallel and using the joints of their feet as they’re intended. To accomplish this, they move pretty much everything else laterally and rotationally so their weight can be supported by each leg in turn. Their pelvises move, their upper bodies turn a lot, their heads shift side-to-side.

When we think of Joseph Pilates we think of core stability. When we think of core stability, we may think of the core being held still. But the Oxford English dictionary defines core stability this way:

 

It’s a context sensitive definition. What is good posture or balance in this particular movement of running? Different than that of the gymnast or tightrope walker. The challenge for Pilates teachers is how to support and develop runners’ ability to move their core to perform the movements of running, to create and facilitate the core mobility that is essential for the skill of healthy, fast, enjoyable running.

Please share your ideas below!

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About the Author

Jae Gruenke, GCFP, is a running technique expert and Feldenkrais Practitioner. Known as a “running form guru,” she is the Founder and CEO of The Balanced Runner™ in New York City and The Balanced Runner UK. She has helped runners from beginner to Olympian improve their form to become pain-free, economical, and fast.

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(2) comments

Jeremy Laverdure March 16, 2014

As a Pilates teacher, I from time to time counsel runners NOT to do Pilates. For the casual runner or someone who does a lot of different forms of exercise, I see no problem. But for someone who is trying to improve their running in some way Pilates (as it is typically taught) is probably not a good match, for the reasons you’re alluding to here. My feeling is it comes down to specificity of training: if I’m not mistaken, there’s research suggesting that triathletes have trouble improving times in all three of their sports because of the degree to which different strengths or skills are needed for each. And swimming, cycling, and running have much more in common than any of them does with Pilates, in my opinion. On the other hand, if you do gymnastics, certain kinds of dance, or certain martial arts, Pilates might be a great fit and help you improve tremendously. And if you’re someone who enjoys Pilates as a full-body system of exercise and wants to make it the cornerstone of your fitness regimen, wonderful!

Thanks for these great posts, Jae! Keep them coming!

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    Jae Gruenke March 17, 2014

    Thanks very much for your comments, Jeremy. I once had a long conversation with the strength and conditioning coach for the Mammoth Track Club under Terrence Mahon, and he expressed a similar view, that spending much time on core strengthing was time taken away from more productive training. If a person is running a lot and running properly, their core will alread be very strong from that!

    Reply
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