What does running 18km through mud and jumping over obstacles whilst getting shocked with electricity have in common with Pilates? As it would have it…not a huge amount, but they do, believe it or not, complement one another. This Saturday I will be taking part in the Tough Mudder, which is an obstacle course race – or “OCR” as the cool kids call it!! The race is roughly 18kms, dotted with military style obstacles and a few extra masochistic touches, such as being shocked with live electric wires whilst climbing over hay bales – just for fun!
I know what you are thinking: “This is not exactly the poise, grace and control that I would associate with Pilates!” – and you would be correct. However, what I have found in the last few months is that, although very different, the two types of physical activity have been incredibly complementary!
The concept of balance is one that I regularly discuss and explore with clients both in a physiotherapy and Pilates capacity. I love to use the analogy of Yin and Yang, Acidic and Alkaline, or Debit and Credit when speaking about exercise and life in general. You cannot keeping taking money out of the ATM; you have got to lodge some back in the bank at some stage! Training is no different. Let me explain…
The primary purpose of exercise is to create an adaptation through stress in the body, whether that be flexibility, mobility, strength, aerobic, anaerobic exercise etc., and without getting too nerdy here, they essentially stress or shock the body and the body creates a positive adaptation in its response to this stress.
This is all very well, but if you stress the body too much physically or if you are stressing the body in other ways – for example, through poor nutrition, lack of sleep, emotional stress etc. – then stressing your body even further can lead to the production of too much cortisol and put stress on your adrenal glands, and you can feel burned out – as I found out the hard way!
At the beginning of my “Tough Mudder” training, I did a bit of research to try and find out what would be asked of my body and how I could train accordingly. I began ferociously out of the blocks, running every second day in conjunction with a strict regime of calisthenics and resistance training. Training for this event daily in conjunction with working full time meant I had to reluctantly sacrifice two of my weekly three Pilates sessions. “Go hard or go home”, right? Wrong!
About a month into my training I began to lose motivation, fatigue crept in and I started to pick up many aches and niggles. With two months left on my training calendar I knew I was in trouble of falling apart long before I even arrived at the start line! I needed a change of tact and quick. I needed to take a spoonful of my own advice.
The first thing I did was reintroducing Pilates back into my training and taking out one day of running and one day on conventional resistance training. Mentally this was very tough to do as on paper I now had an “easier” training schedule in preparation for what the people at Tough Mudder call “the ultimate test to determine the fastest and fittest athletes”. This was difficult to do initially but I had to trust the process, rehab my injuries and remind myself just how amazing the power of Pilates can be.
Within a week I began to feel the prolific benefits once again. The combination of flexibility, strength, control, balance, stability – all whilst being low impact – was incredible. Rather than feeling shattered and deflated after my exercise sessions as had become the norm, I immediately felt incredible.
Having taken part in so many weeks of strenuous and taxing exercise, it felt amazing to reinvest in myself. I felt like I was working with my body rather than against it and my body thanked me for this much needed restorative prioritisation. Since the reintroduction of Pilates I have found that my running and resistance training have come on leaps and bounds and I feel primed for the race.
On reflection I should have stayed true to my core…LITERALLY, and kept all of my Pilates sessions, but now I feel ready so bring on this Saturday as one balanced, well rounded Pilates Mudder !