no pain, no gain

It’s Tuesday night, which means everything hurts. Monday evening is my regular Pilates class and I spend most of the next day in blissful ignorance of the impending pain in my abdominal muscles which tends to manifest as I put my feet up for the evening. By the time I go to bed I’ve got so little control of my stomach due to the discomfort I feel when I tense the muscles, I just have to flop backwards to lie down and then find it nigh on impossible to turn over and get comfortable. When I wake up the next morning though, the pain is gone, and all I feel is a twinge of complaint as my ever-so-slightly firmer abdominals remind me of the ordeal they have been through.

So why do I put myself through this every week? Every runner will know that your training works best when you mix it up a bit, and there’s a good chance you’ll eventually get a bit bored and lose your motivation if you do nothing but run all the time. Also essential if you want to progress and improve your running is the development of a strong ‘core’ – basically toning your midsection to really help you drive those legs and increase your stamina. I took up Pilates about a year ago for this very reason and now I am a bit more experienced at it I both love and hate it in equal measure.

For those who have never had the pleasure of a Pilates class, and think it is just a load of women having a nice stretch on a mat, think again. It is hard work, it is painful and it challenges you in the way that only pushing yourself past the point of endurance can. If it is done properly, that is, which is why I would always recommend going to an instructor-led class rather than trying it yourself at home with a DVD – you will never push yourself as hard as an instructor will! Fairly certain these people must have kind of sadistic tendencies.

I particularly enjoy the beginning of the class, which is all about relaxing your breathing and preparing your muscles for the coming onslaught by tensing and releasing them in turn, and actually feels lovely. After that though it’s all about waving your legs in the air for far too long, maintaining uncomfortable positions until your stomach starts to shake, and everybody’s favourite form of exercise torture – the plank. A few warm down stretches and an hour later it’s all over for another week, and the reassuring muscle aches the next day are the somewhat painful evidence that it’s done some good.

When I head out on Wednesday evening for my 6k training run (with a week and a half to go until the Great North 10k!) I am sure to reap the benefits that having a stronger core does bring, as my kilometre times have steadily improved – even if I don’t always feel like I have it in my legs. If you’ve got a good engine, it doesn’t always matter if the bodywork’s a little rusty!

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