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.
I have been doing Pilates for over 10 years now after getting a kite surfing injury to my lower back, Pilates was my way back to being able to lead a ‘normal’ life. I now use Pilates as an additional workout which strengthens my whole body and supplements the physically demands of my cycling training. On the flip side I work in an office 9 to 5, working at a desk all day this constant leaning over position can cause all sorts of problems including lower back pain. As I am aware that my lower back has been under stress in the past I work hard to maintain good posture, core activation and thought a blog post with some tips may be useful to others.
Eye line – avoid looking down at the ground or your phone when walking. Try and look to the horizon (where possible), chin pointing down and tucked in slightly to keep the neck/upper spine in neutral. This will reduce neck pain – remember, we are carrying our heads which weight about 10 pounds.
Shoulders and shoulder blades –If you draw back and down your scapulae slightly this will ‘lift’ the chest, which is a good position to be in. This will also assist in tightening the stretched muscles. Many people suffer from a rounded kyphotic position so stretch the tight muscles such as the pectorals and anterior deltoids
Back straight – think about standing tall, lengthen the spine and lift up. Imagine you are being pulled to the ceiling like a puppet. Try and avoid sticking your bum out, keep the hip bones level to keep the pelvis in neutral, and tail bone pointing to the floor
Tummy muscles – imagine you have a put a belt on and have done it up one hole tighter than normal. Pulling in the belly button to your spine will exercise the rectus abdominis as well as activate the TVA muscles which will take the pressure off the back. This will seem strange to some people but eventually the abdominals will become stronger and it will become automatic. If you work in an office try sitting on a ball instead of a chair.
Foot strike – lead with the heel and roll through the foot onto the ball of the foot and push off using the toes. Placing the toes/ball of the foot down first can put additional stress on the knees and ankle joints. Walking barefoot is great but not always possible so check that appropriate and fitted shoes are worn so that the feet can move inside the shoe/trainer
Breathing – During Pilates we talk about wide thoracic breathing which helps us focus on the movement and encourages concentration. This also will help relax tense muscles and you will take in more oxygen with longer deeper breathing so have a go whilst your walking around the supermarket or sitting at your desk.
Bag carrying – try and use a rucksack on long walks as this will distribute the weight evenly across the back as opposed to a shoulder bag, if you use a shoulder bag swap shoulders and don’t carry the kitchen sink!
Baby carrying – for younger children you could use a carrier or sling on the front or back this, like the bag allows the weight to be distributed evenly. If you tend to carry baby or toddler on a hip then try and swap regularly.
I hope these tips will help you improve your posture and reduce and niggles. The best way to improve your core is to get to your local Pilates class! Take a look at my Pilates page for Pilates classes in West Sussex and Hampshire.
The shortest day of the year may be behind us but winter is in full swing! Winter is a great time to put in some base training and work on your overall fitness for the spring/summer.
Here are my top tips:
Running: I am not a natural runner, but during the winter I like to put on my trainers, wrap up warm and head out for a 20/30 minute run to stretch my legs, release some endorphins and enjoy being active outside. Try adding some squat jumps or lunges to your run to build leg strength.
Strength & Conditioning in the gym: Working on your general strength is really important, cycling is a non-load bearing sport so putting in some time during the winter to build on your bone strength, build bone density and do some resistance training could really pay off and improve your cycling.
Pilates: Pilates is a fantastic way of keeping your core strength up. Your core muscles keep you in a good riding position, with correct alignment enabling you to ride for longer.
Fartleck Training: Fartlek is Swedish for “speed play,” and that is exactly what it’s all about. Unlike tempo and interval training, fartlek is unstructured and alternates moderate-to-hard efforts over a period of time. After a 15 / 20 minute warm-up, play with speed by cycling faster for short efforts (how short and how hard is up to you), then use an easy effort to recover, this should always be slightly longer than your hard effort. This can be great fun in a group to bring in a competitive element sprinting to the next lampost or end of the road. (Please be aware and careful of the traffic and obstacles)
This session mixes up working anaerobically and aerobically.
Anaerobic exercise is a physical exercise intense enough to cause lactate to form. It is used by athletes in non-endurance sports to promote strength, speed and power.
Aerobic exercise is any physical activity that makes you sweat, causes you to breathe harder, and gets your heart beating faster than at rest. It strengthens your heart and lungs and trains your cardiovascular system to manage and deliver oxygen more quickly and efficiently throughout your body. Aerobic exercise uses your large muscle groups, is rhythmic in nature, and can be maintained continuously for at least 10 minutes.