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!