If you want to be a ‘better’ cyclist you just put in ‘more miles’ right? Although to a certain extent yes, there are significant benefits to come from ‘off bike’ training such as Pilates.
Having a strong core can make it easier for you to climb and move around the bike. But many of us neglect our core muscles in favour of a few extra hours on the bike. A strong core can help revolutionise your cycling technique, whether you prefer skinny or fat tyre antics.
So, what is Pilates? Pilates focuses on the ‘inner core’ of our bodies, developing strength from the innermost structures and works outwards. Rather than working our bodies through muscle isolation, Pilates focuses on posture, strength, mobility and flexibility from head to toe. Moving the body in complete flowing movements, not isolated parts.
Why is Pilates good for cyclists? Besides the recognised benefits of taking time out to focus on you, in a calming and relaxing environment, it can actually improve your cycling form, efficiency and power. But how I hear you say?
Develops a strong core and back for stable upper body.
Builds cycling specific strength and muscle control.
Increases flexibility and helps relieve tightness in cycling specific muscles.
Reduces pain and discomfort from long stints in the saddle by building strength and stability in your muscles.
Breath work helps to speed up recovery time as well as building focus and mental stillness needed for tackling trail features.
Helps prevent and avoid injuries by creating an all-round more functional moving pattern.
Increases balance by working on muscle control, this transfers to the bike, when you’re moving around the bike.
What some cyclists I work with have to say:
“As a cyclist I fall foul of not stretching, but with Pilates it gives my body a wakeup call, stretching to relieve tension, working on my core, but also giving that hour to unwind mentally. Try it!” – Matt
“Since doing Pilates, my posture on my bike has been much improved. I feel more stable and have less pressure on my hands. My breathing is more controlled and I’m very aware of my shoulders – I consciously try to keep them relaxed and down which relieves tension in my neck and through my arms, which in turn makes cycling more comfortable. ” – Karen
How often should you do it? There’s not really a set rule to the regularity with which you should do Pilates. If you only have one hour a week, you will feel the benefits. Spend time working with a good instructor, try and get yourself into a small group, not a class of 30! Although you will still gain benefits from being in a bigger group, in a smaller group the instructor can give more hands on correction and support to you as a client helping you make the greatest gains. Most instructors will also help you with exercises you can do at home on your own as well. The stretches in a Pilates class especially can be done after any ride including hamstring and hip flexor stretch both excellent for cyclists!
What will a first Pilates session typically look and feel like? The first thing to note about Pilates is there is a lot of information; don’t panic if you come away from your first session with brain fog that is normal. Pilates is about controlled movement patterns so expect to spend time finding and engaging your core muscles. Each movement should flow and you may feel the breathing and coordination seems a little strange, don’t worry after a few classes it will become clear. You should leave feeling relaxed, energised and like you have used muscles you never knew existed!
If you would like more information on my Pilates classes or to book a bespoke session for your cycling club please send me an email.
The side leg lift engages the oblique abdominal muscles and promotes lengthening of all the major muscles. Focus on keeping your hips stacked and stable as you squeeze your glutes and lift your legs. Side leg lifts work the abdominals, especially the obliques, as well as the inner thighs. Lifting the legs together keeps the inner thighs and glutes engaged as the abdominals pulled in and up, developing core strength and balance.
Lay on your side check you can see your toes then bring your head back into alignment
Top arm either bent to support you or on a ball to add to the difficulty
Inhale to prepare
Exhale and raise each leg individually, maintaining that core contraction
As with all exercises, work at the level that works for you and only progress when you feel ready and able to up the challenge and difficulty. Side bend is great for stretching the muscles surrounding the rib cage i.e serratus and intercostals as well as strengthening your obliques, improving your balance and toning your waist line.
How to do it:
Sit sideways with your legs bent to one side, with the top foot placed in front of the bottom foot
Place the supporting hand in line with the seated hip a few inches in front of the shoulder
Press into supporting hand and straighten the legs to lift the pelvis away from the Mat, making a rainbow shape with the body
To slow down the pace of the exercise, inhale in the start position. Exhale as you bring the arm overhead and stretch into the top side of the body. Inhale and stay. Exhale and lower down.
The body should be in a line as if it is between two panes of glass
Repeat 4 times
Leave the shin of your bottom leg on the mat and lift your top arm up and overhead, imagine rocking onto that bottom knee
Keep your supporting arm bent, to decrease the range of movement
The best way to improve your strength and flexibility is to come to a class, check out the timetable and venue list here.
Here is my video of the dead bug exercise using a Pilates fit ball. This pilates exercise is a great way to strengthen your abs and core without putting added strain on your lower back, which can be a concern with other common ab exercises.
As with all exercises, work at the level that works for you and only progress when you feel ready and able to up the challenge and difficulty.
How to do it:
Lie flat on your back with your arms held out in front of you pointing to the ceiling. Then bring your legs up so your knees are bent at 90-degree angles, we call this the table top position. If this is too hard then leave one foot on the floor for stability and build up to both legs off the floor.
Find that neutral spine, so remember there should be a little gap under your lumbar spine (lower back, draw your ribs towards your hips and engage your core by pulling your belly button to your spine.
Place the ball between your knees (if you don’t have a ball don’t worry)
Inhale to prepare and take your arms and legs away from the mid line of your body. Keep your legs bent and toe tap them to the floor.
Inhale as you return to the starting position.
To make this easier reduce the range of movement or try leaving your arms in the air and just move your legs
To make it harder as I do in the video take your legs further away from your body increasing the range of movement
Use opposite arm and leg to bring in muscular coordination
Watch out for:
Keep the pelvis still and in neutral throughout the movement.
Avoid using your neck or tensing your shoulders.
Watch for doming of the abdominals as you lower your leg towards the ground. This is when the abs “pop up” and is a sign that they are weak and can lead to back pain. To prevent doming, reduce your range of movement and only send your leg towards the ground to the point where your abdominals can stay flat. Then bring the leg back.
Over the next few weeks I will share with you some of my favourite Pilates workouts to increase strength, flexibility and balance.
Balance is a fundamental skill everyone should practise. It’s something we take for granted, but as we get older balance and muscle strength can help to stop us from having falls. When you balance on one leg you use your core and small muscles in your feet to keep upright. Find a spot on the wall in front of you which keeps you in alignment. Draw your belly button to your spine and feel the length through your spine, use your toes to grip the ground. In this video I have added in some upper body work with the ball, as you increase the range of movement think about squeezing your core to remain still. Each time you open your arms imagine squashing a walnut between your shoulder blades to activate your upper back muscles. As you improve increase the range of movement and then reps. To make it harder try standing on a block, to make it easier decrease the range of movement and height of the leg. I hope you enjoy this little video. Subscribe to keep updated with more Pilates workouts.