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.
This week I have been having a rest. After a few weeks hard training my body needed a well earned break from training for a few days. Last week I had low energy levels and found my concentration was all over the place.
It’s important to remember that while your resting your muscles are recovering and growing. This is something I struggle with as I’m not very good at chilling out, I am on the go most of the time, even on rest days I like to go on walks and stay active. So when my coach said I should have a rest week I couldn’t quite get my head around the idea of a week of no exercise. After my long ride on Saturday, when I had felt very tired, I decided to listen to my body and planned to take three days off to recover.
Since Sunday I have been concentrating on building my core strength doing Pilates, foam rolling and stretching this has been really energising and I feel like my body feels better for having a rest and a stretch.
Tomorrow is my first test of the year! An all out effort loop as flat our as I can for an hour, this is going to be fun (and by fun I mean tiring and painful).
After completing Ride London last year, high on my cycling achievements I cracked on with training for my next big event, double Hadliegh the Olympic course, twice in two months! I developed a niggle in my knee mid August in the middle of my training and frustratingly had to pull out of the nationals. After speaking to some friends in sports science and taking their advice of using rest, ice, compression and elevation (R.I.C.E) with no ease on what seems dot be a very painful knee, I went to see a physio at Optimum Health. After explaining about my lack of training for Ride London and buying a second hand road bike I was assured it was fixable but told not to ride my road bike until I had a bike fit. It also was brought to my attention that I didn’t have a knee probable I had a hip flexor weakness.
I was given some exercises to do which really worked so I wanted to share them with you.
First of all I had to learn to bend from my hips, a basic hip bend should involve you moving your glutes backwards and keeping a straight back, then to stand up you should squeeze your glutes to push you back upright. This will make you activate your hip flexors instead of bending through your back.
Then you need to build single leg strength, standing on one leg with your hips level is a good place to start and also glute bridges, I have been doing single leg glute bridges and find there a great exercise.
The body weight Bulgarian squat is great for working right into your glutes and strengthening up this muscle group. Remember to keep your knee tracking your toe and your chest and shin parallel like in a normal squat.
A normal back squat develops power in these muscles as well as working your whole body.
Then there is the magic moves of pilates, personally pilates is one of the fundamental elements in my training as it keeps my core strong. I will talk about my favourite pilates exercises for cyclists in another post.
Once i had started to build up my strength i had a bike fit at Wyndymilla which was great it turned out i needed a new handle bar to bring my arms in so i wasn’t so stretched out.
I started my recovery rides on my mountain bike as i had very little issues when riding this bike and built up slowly to start with until i noticed i didnt have a pain any more, good times!
I have tried to keep up some of my exercises and realise now how important it is to do some strength and conditioning work to not only develop better cycling muscles but also to maintain good posture.
If you have any other hip flexor exercises i would be really interested to find out what has worked for you?