Humans were not made for sitting. Our ancestors where active and on their feet hunting, gathering and playing… The trouble with our 21st century life is we have become addicted to sitting we sit at work from 9 to 5 we get in and sit down with a nice cup of tea before standing briefly to make dinner before then sitting again to eat. I know isn’t quite like this and a lot of people make a real effort to exercise.
The trouble with sitting is it causes our abdominals to weaken, muscles in the back of your legs to shorten, your spine to slump and your shoulders to round forward. This can lead to lower back ache, and neck and shoulder pain. Doesn’t sound great does it!
Now, we all must sit for periods of the day there is no escaping that, try and think about your posture as you sit. Think about engaging your core pulling your belly button towards your spine, dropping your shoulder blades almost as if they were melting down your back and imagining you have a piece of string from the top of your head to the ceiling that is pulling you up making your spine longer.
Improving your core, back and hip strength will help you sit more comfortably and decrease the pressure you put on your spine. Pilates is the ideal exercise program to promote good posture and a well-balanced body.
Functional strength is the strength we need in our daily lives to live. To be able to pick up our kids, shopping, go cycling or running we need a balance between strength and flexibility. Pilates exercises build functional strength, by creating a balance between strength and flexibility you do not compromise your body alignment and therefore posture. Often heavy weight training can mean a shortening of your muscles which compromises your flexibility and posture.
Squats and lunges are great examples of functional strength training exercises. These integrated exercises use lots of muscles, whereas isolated exercises, such as leg extensions, do not.
Why do you need functional strength?
Here’s a scary stat: your muscle mass and strength will decrease 30 to 50% between the ages of 30 and 80. So start using those muscles if you want to do at 80 what you can do at 30!
Doing resistance exercises and movements that help you become stronger, more flexible and agile means you are better equipped to handle day-to-day tasks as well as helping you be less injury prone.
Functional fitness incorporates muscle groups across the whole body it is beneficial to nearly everyone no matter what your fitness goal is. It builds lean muscle and can help you lose weight if that’s your intention. Right up to high performance athletes functional strength training brings a well rounded training session to your otherwise highly targeted weekly routine.
I am going to post some good functional strength training exercises on my youtube channel that you can do in your house and garden.
Parents who are cycling enthusiasts and are keen on going on mountain bike holidays with their children will have to first teach their little ones how to ride a bike. However, as many mums and dads know, this is easier said than done.
Lots of children are nervous about riding without stabilisers for the first time as they are scared they will fall off, which is why encouraging them to trust their balance can be extremely difficult. Here are some tips on teaching your child how to ride, so the whole family can enjoy bike trips in no time.
Get rid of stabilisers
While stabilisers offer children the feeling of security as they stop the bike from tipping, they prevent the child from balancing on the bike.
Former British national championships medial holder Isla Rowntree told Bike Radar: “[Stabilisers] hold the bike in a rigid upright position, so they don’t lean the bike in order to balance and steer.”
Get the right bike
To provide the right conditions for your child to learn quickly and confidently, it is important the bike is appropriate for them. Get a bike that is not too big or heavy; and position the saddle so the balls of their feet are on the ground to get their balance, but they cannot place their feet flat, as this makes pedalling and steering difficult.
We work with children’s bike brand Frog who develop children’s bikes with sports scientists at Brunel University. Every detail of the Frog bike is designed to instil confidence from day 1. Lightweight bikes mean riders can balance, pedal, and stop with more control. Plus easy to reach brake levers make controlling speed a breeze.
One of the easiest ways to learn how to ride is to do so without pedals first. This will teach your youngster to scoot along on the bike using their feet. While they will still need to learn to pedal later, encouraging them to ride and lift their legs every ten metres or so will improve their confidence with balance.
When getting them to pedal for the first time, hold the child’s body, not the bike. After they release the brakes, get them to look up and pedal, while you continue to walk alongside them holding on to their back. After a few metres, let go and show your youngster how far they have travelled by themselves.
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.
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.