Increasingly, we hear of sportsmen and women extending their training beyond the skills and movements that define their chosen sport. Often these will be complementary conditioning programmes to maintain or enhance flexibility and mobility or exercises to prevent injury or to regain fitness after injury; for example, footballers undertaking Yoga or Pilates as part of their regular training regime; cricketers, golfer, tennis stars using Pilates to overcome chronic back pain.
Yes, and cyclists. Scan Cycling Weekly and you’ll see references to building core strength, with accompanying recommended exercises, frequently Pilates based. But when I ask keen cyclists about Pilates often the response goes like this ‘yes, I’ve heard it would be a plus, but there are only so many hours in the week, cycle training is very time consuming and I’ll get better by being on my bike’. Can’t argue with that? Well, yes I can actually.
The case for Pilates for Cyclists
Let’s start with those buzz words core strength. Many exercise programmes or gym work outs include core strength work but only Pilates places it at the very heart of its philosophy and practice. Everything, from the breathing and the initial set up to the movements undertaken, is designed to strengthen the deep abdominal, spinal and pelvic muscles and these muscles do not get strengthened by cycling or indeed by most fitness or sporting activities. With this girdle of strength positioned above your saddle you have an essential base for more efficient, economical and stable cycling.
Improved core strength leads to improved balance, which can only assist your confidence, your bike handling. Again, many Pilates exercises, particularly those performance on a fitness ball, are designed to challenge and improve balance.
The stable base Pilates provides, together with many of the properties of the exercises – precision, control, concentration, body awareness, symmetry of movement all contribute to improved posture and postural awareness. The effort required to cycle long distances or with intensity can lead to postural problems. A bending of the spine, forward rolling of the shoulders, drooping of the head, forward stretching of the neck, narrowing of the chest are all likely consequences of hours on the bike.
All sports lead to muscular imbalances – think the one sided strength of the golfer or tennis player. For the cyclist the effort involved in the pedal stroke require strong leg muscles – quads, glutes, calves, hamstrings, hip flexors. The stress and tightening of these muscles can pull parts of the body e.g. head, neck, shoulders, pelvis, knees out of alignment leading to rounding of the back, weakening of other muscles, strain on joints and resultant aches and pains. Pilates places great emphasis on correct body alignment through identifying and working on all muscles and their inter connections.
Finally, along with muscular strength – and note it is strength without bulk, Pilates increases flexibility and mobility, with exercises that improve mobility around joints, counteract tight muscles and help to produce a full range of muscle movement.
So, whether you are a competitive cyclists out on the road day in, weekend out or someone new to the cycling bug, cycling to work in the week or the country pub at weekends and you are within a short pedal of Spitalfields treat yourself to a lunch time Pilates session for cyclists at the Artizan Centre.
About Kevin Fitzgerald – Pilates for Cyclists
I got into road cycling in September 2003 when I bought a steel frame Eddy Mercyx and began training to ride a mountain stage of the 2004 Tour de France. Later that year I rode from Lands End to John O’Groats and since then have continued to take on endurance cycling challenges: three more Le Tour stages, Raid Pyrenees, Raid Corsica, Biarritz to Barcelona, the massif Central, Alps, Dolomites, numerous domestic sportives.
No injuries, few aches and pains; in large parts, I believe, because I started doing Pilates in 2002 and have continued ever since, qualifying to teach matwork classes in 2003. Earlier this year I undertook a course on Pilates for cyclists and now wish to use my experience to pass on the benefits of Pilates to other cyclists.