Pilates class plan for runners

Now that the weather is warming up, more and more people are lacing up their running shoes and hitting the streets.

As runners begin to recondition themselves and ramp up their training for the new season, it important for us as Pilates teachers to keep a few things in mind so we can help them to get the best out of their training and prevent injury.

What runners want vs. what runners need

Runners will often complain that they feel tight, especially in their hip flexors, and they love to stretch and foam roll. However, if their glutes are weak, stretching will give them temporary, if any, relief; it is also important not to overdo foam rolling, especially on the IT bands, so as not to destabilize the knees.

Instead, focus your instruction on the benefits of strengthening the glutes to balance out the pull of the hip flexors and power up hip extension. Strengthening the glute med can also go a long way towards keeping the IT bands from getting overused, and can therefore reduce the risk of IT Band Syndrome.

Exercises to include in your classes for runners

When runners come to your Pilates class you can expect that they will like to keep moving, so try incorporating a lot of standing work into your normal floor routine. Aim to include a good balance of exercises that focus on overall strength and stability, mobility, balance and co-ordination.

This sequence will keep them active, challenged and moving while you get the job done!

Get moving: Warm it up with standing exercises.

Tick Tocks: stand with feet about hip width apart and tip side to side, shifting weight from foot to foot.

  • Target: glute med – get them to feel for ‘side bum’ muscles working.
  • Add challenges: stay standing on one leg, slightly tipped to that side, and do lateral arm arcs. Do both sides.

 Heel lifts/calf raises: start with feet hip width apart and lift up onto balls of feet and toes.

  • Target: calves, ankle mobility and stability – keep weight across ball of foot and especially between first and second toes, get them to feel the inner calf working.
  • Add challenges: try single leg heel raise, or do this standing on a soft foam yoga block (can support with one or both hand on the wall or on a prop such as a foam roller).

Squat: stand with feet about hip width apart. Sit back and down with a neutral spine, keeping even weight in front and back of foot and pressing up from the heels.

  • Target: get them to feel for glutes on the way up to standing.
  • Add challenges (while sneaking in some work for ankles): hold squat and do heel lifts with one or both feet; try holding the squat with both heels lifted.

Get focused: Time to hit the floor.

Take your time to focus on glutes in these next exercises. Get them to feel the work in glute max in bridge and glute med in the side leg lifts.

Depending on the level of your group you may be able to work through a number of progressions at once or you may have to break it into smaller chunks and build up as you move back and forth between positions.

Neutral Shoulder Bridge: lie on the mat, knees bent hip width apart, neutral spine, feet flat on the floor. Lift and lower hips, keeping a neutral spine.

  • Target: glutes — feel for work at the gluteal crease.
  • Cue: press into the heels and lift the hips.
  • Add challenges: variations include single leg bridges, holding bridge while marching alternate legs, pulses, holding bridge on a single leg and moving the gesture leg, etc.

Single leg side leg lift: Lie on side, bottom leg bent, top leg straight. Lift and lower top leg. Do both sides.

  • Target: glute med — ask them to place their hands at the side bum so they can feel the right muscles working.
  • Add challenges: variations include drawing circles, pulsing, side kick forward and back, etc. Add foot flexing and pointing for more ankle work.

Get them back on their feet: Putting it all together.

This will really challenge balance and stability! Focus on using the glutes to drive movements up to the standing position. Try it slow, then speed it up!

Kneeling lunge: From a kneeling position, step one foot forward  and curl toes under on the back foot. Press into the front foot and come up into lunge position. Do one side for reps, then repeat on the other side.

  • Lower up and down.
  • Add challenges: Lower, hold, and try pulses. Lower, hold, and try spine twist.

Backward lunge: start with feet hip width apart. Step one foot back to lunge position, then back to standing. Do one side for reps, then repeat on the other side.

Forward lunge: start with feet hip width apart. Step one foot forward to lunge position, then back to standing. Do one side for reps, then repeat on the other side.

Forward and backward lunge: start with feet hip width apart. Alternate stepping backward and forward on one side. Do one side for reps, then repeat on the other side.

Wrap it up

Repeat the warm up sequence as a cool down — try tick tocks and squats again and see if they feel more connection in the glutes, better balance, better ankle and foot stability.

Check to see if they are moving with more control. Watch ankles, feet, hips, position of upper body. They should feel like they are more steady on their feet.

These exercises will give them enough of a workout to make them feel good, while getting them to work all the right muscles!

Of course, you can combine these exercises with any number of Pilates exercises for your class and you can scale it up or down with regressions or progressions depending on the experience and fitness level of your group. Try these exercises with your classes and let us know how it goes!

What other variations that have worked for you? Let us know by leaving a comment below!


Tiffany_profile_photo Tiffany Clay is a Pilates Teacher at Body Harmonics. She is also a certified yoga instructor and nutrition coach. As a former runner with 2.5 marathons under her belt, she has experienced the pain of running with weak glutes and knows what it takes to get you back on your feet! She loves to challenge her classes and help people get strong. Want to experience this for yourself? Come check out her Abs, Hips and Thighs class for a glute-tastic workout!