Cycling is becoming more and more popular, but it can leave you stooped forward over the bike and not always in the best position to use the body effectively. The position on the bike also means that the hips, neck, and back are prone to injury. Efficiency is paramount for the cyclist. The more power you can produce and with the minimum amount of effort the faster you can go and for longer. A tired cyclist will start to roll their bodies on the bike becoming less efficient whereas with a stronger and more stable body, head and shoulders, the legs will be able to turn the pedals more smoothly and with less effort. Sir Bradley Wiggins is quoted as saying that “without a solid core you can’t transfer power efficiently.”
With the focus in Pilates on core stability, strengthening of the abdominals, hips, and glutes as well as good posture and alignment then it becomes an invaluable tool for the cyclist…particularly on longer rides. Having a stronger core means easier and more efficient cycling.
A Stronger Core – Pilates helps to stabilise the cyclist, building endurance in the core muscles so that you can ride faster, further and with good form throughout. A better core will help to generate more power through the legs. Better core stability is know to help reduce back problems.
Better Balance – By strengthening your core and deep stabilising muscles it will help to improve your balance on the bike by keeping your spine in a stable position as you move your limbs. For the competitive cyclist this enhances safety and performance and for the recreational cyclist again much safer and more efficient.
Improved Limb Alignment – By practicing Pilates you will benefit from better limb alignment. When the legs are aligned well from the hip down it will give you better stability and control when moving. More stable movement means improved movement patterns in the legs. Pilates is about moving effortlessly and with control and this comes from good alignment in the limbs for optimal function of the muscles and body as a whole. For example, it will help the knees and feet from turning out and twisting during the pedal stroke. The better and more even distribution of strength will also reduce the risk of injury.
Injury Recovery and Prevention – As mentioned above good alignment will guard against injury alongside a stronger core which improves force production and efficiency. It can help prevent potential knee and ankle injuries as well as reducing neck and back pain. Also, if you are injured Pilates is a great way to rehabilitate from other cycling related injuries such as hip and low back pain. Your mobility and strength can be improved in a safe and progressive way.
Bone Health – Cyclists can have lower bone mineral density because it’s a non-weight bearing exercise. This can lead to an increased risk of fractures caused by crashes or falls. Pilates which is not a high impact activity can get you loading the spine and hips which is something cycling doesn’t do. Also, by adding some weight bearing and resistance training that will load the bones and joints it will help to increase bone density and reduce the risk of fractures.
Improved Muscular Strength – Pilates training will help to increase muscular strength without bulk which is important to the cyclist in terms of power to weight ratio. There is also emphasis on strengthening and working the glutes effectively in Pilates and this combined with mobilisation of the hips will help to reduce the risk of hip problems too.
Improved Flexibility – Cyclists are renowned for having tight hip flexors, necks and upper backs caused by being hunched forwards. Stretching and lengthening these muscles will help. If they stay tight and short, then injury is more likely. Pilates will help to address muscular tightness and imbalances brought about by sometimes endless hours on the bike.
Pilates is undoubtedly the perfect addition to any cyclists training programme and as a Pilates instructor it’s important to understand where the majority of cycling injuries lie and create programmes to specifically benefit the cyclist. In the off-season work can be done on building strength and alignment and in-season more work can be done on stretching and releasing tight muscles at the same time as improving core endurance. If you want to prevent injuries, improve performance and cycle for longer… practice Pilates!