Question Answered: Pilates for Runners with Upper Body Tightness

If you do a lot of upper body work – exercises like boxing, lifting or rowing – you may find you struggle with tension through the neck and shoulders when running or perhaps you find you can’t open your chest well and get deep breaths in, exhausting more quickly.
Here are a few Pilates exercises that might help you; designed to open the shoulder girdle, ease tension in upper traps, strengthen serratus anterior, lower traps and teres minors and so forth… I started by consulting Paul Massey’s Sports Pilates & Jacqui Haas’ Dance Anatomy – two excellent books.
But since the books didn’t prove all that fruitful, here’s what I personally would recommend based on experience with my clients.
All of the below will also help open up the hip flexors and strengthen the backbody.
During running, try pushing off the forefoot as if you were turning into an energy line from toes/ balls of feet through extended diagonal leg, tilted pelvis, engaged core, forward leaning upper body but open chest…
Diamond Press
Lying prone, hands under forehead, core active, lifting head off (back of neck long, shoulderblades set, shoulders down).
Progress to keeping hands against forehead as head, hands and elbows lift.
Then progress to feet lifting (together or hip distance apart).
Position two is a variation and also good:
Same starting position apart from hands and arms long by sides, shoulders rolling back, collarbones spreading open, palms down.
Then progress to hands lifting, tips of shoulderblades rolling in, thumbs up.
Then progress to feet off floor.
Then progress to taking outsides of ankles in hands, feet flexed, feet kick into hands and whole body lifts off.
Shoulderbridge
Supine, feet under knees (ability to touch heels), neck long. Roll spine up on exhale, keep core engaged to avoid lower back tightness, clasp hands, roll shoulderblades under, push back if head gently into mat. Open ribcage even but avoid overrecruiting glutes. Hammies might cramp – if that’s the case, hands can gently support lower back and max range should be avoided. careful not to let inner or outer edges of feet press unevenly. Great alignment in the pose, no off centre stuff or shortcuts!
4 Point Kneeling + bow
Cat stretch position but with neutral spine. Hands under shoulders, shoulderblades set, core engaged, knees under hips. Start with cross reach – lengthening opposite arm and leg on inhale and drawing back down on exhale. Then after a few reps, one leg stays in air, bends, foot flexes and opposite hand takes inner edge of ankle. Shoulder rolls open, chest opens and eyeline lifts slightly. Kick foot into hand and extend spine. Keep core engaged.
Important for all of the above:
Knees never wider than hip distance. Back of neck long. Pit of belly flattening.
Swandive
prone, hands in line with shoulders (Like upward dog to some extent), out from body so that elbows can rest comfortably, legs wider than shoulders and toes and thighbones externally rotated. Inhale: pit of belly lifts, tips of shoulderblades melt away from ears and exhale lift spine forwards and up in fluid motion (snake up). Inhale: Hold, drop shoulders if lifted!!!!!, Exhale to release. Inhale to set body (core active, shoulders relaxed and down).
As always, get in touch if you’d like more info or have any questions.
Sol x

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  • Lovely article Sol, I end up with a lot of tension across my trapezius by the end of the week as I seem to hold any stresses there… interesting to know that the shoulder bridge pose can help! Will be sharing this on my Twitter for other people to read :)

    • solwalkling

      Hi Daisy. Like most of us! I find rotator cuff work really helps me ease out those muscles. The shoulderbridge helps those clients with chest and hip flexor tightness stretch out across the whole front body. I love the pose and have found it very relieving for clients – especially after other Pilates exercises that strengthen the abs more. Thank you for sharing! Sol x