The Tour de France is starting at the end of this month and this week here in the UK it is cycle to work day on 6th August.
Are you one of the many people who has either increased your cycling or taken up cycling for this first-time during lockdown?
This increasingly popular sport is an easily accessible form of training, which helps cut commuting costs and the risks of being on public transport in these times of social distancing.
Today’s article explores how Pilates can improve your cycling performance, enhance stability and be useful for general conditioning as well as injury rehab.
We are also giving you our top 5 Pilates and cycling exercises that you can be doing right now at home.
How does Pilates help cycling?
Let’s take a look at the different ways in which Pilates can help!
Pilates targets the core muscles, particularly the abdominals, hips and buttocks. Being stronger in your core makes cycling much easier and more efficient.
Strengthening your core, or stability muscles though Pilates also helps you balance on your bike by keeping the spine in a stable position whilst the limbs move. This is beneficial for competitive cyclists in terms of performance enhancement, and for the amateur cycling to work or the shops making it safer and more efficient.
Having a strong and stable foundation will assist you in being able to generate more power through your legs. This in turn will make you faster and more efficient on your bike.
Improved limb alignment in cycling
As well as core stability, your performance will also benefit from the improved limb alignment that Pilates offers.
When your legs are well aligned from the hip joint down it will enable you to use the strength in your muscles more effectively making it easier to cycle. This even distribution of your muscle strength will also reduce the risk of injury on your bike.
Pilates is all about moving with ease and that comes with improving the alignment of your limbs for optimal function of your muscles and your body as a whole.
Improve your posture on your bike with Pilates
Pilates improves your posture, this is one of the most common things that people think about when we discuss the benefits of Pilates. It doesn’t just apply to when you are sitting at your desk, it is relevant and important in sport too!
Cycling can leave you stooped forward and not in the most optimum position for using your body effectively. This position can also leave your hips, neck, and upper back vulnerable to injury, even more reason to strengthen that core and improve your posture!
The posture required will depend what kind of cycling you are doing and what kind of bike you are on, but it still applies to all. You need to have good strength endurance in the postural muscles to maintain your optimum position throughout the ride.
If you are racing or on a road bike your will be flexed forwards and you need to be able to distribute that flexion evenly through the spine and hips. If you are on more of an upright bike your posture will be different, but you will still need good strength endurance to avoid overloading areas of the spine and risking injury.
Posture is not all about strength but also the length of the muscles. Pilates can help you to work on getting good range of movement through the back of your body to allow you into that perfect racing posture you see in the riders on the tour. It is no good having strength but not the range of movement to get to the required position. Pilates can help with both the length of the muscles and the strength and get the balance right for you.
Bone health for cyclists
Cyclists frequently have lower bone mineral density because cycling is a non-weight bearing exercise. This leads to an increased risk of fractures caused from crashes or falls. Part of the risk is also associated with lower body weight in competitive cyclists aiming to maximise the power to weight ratio. For our bones to maintain their density we need to be loading them with weight bearing, weighted and impact exercise.
Pilates is not a high impact exercise, but it can get you loading through your spine and hips in a way that cycling doesn’t and this can help with maintaining bone health. This will include exercises in standing and jumping exercises that will load your bones.
Even for the day to day cyclist, those getting to work or getting yourself down to the shops, Pilates can help you increase your efficiency of movement and power generation, making it a much quicker and safer journey (with probably less sweat!).
How can Pilates help me recover from injury?
Prevention is the best cure! Pilates helps you to keep well aligned, distribute the forces and load through your body and avoid those overload injuries.
If you are inured, Pilates can be used as a great way to rehabilitate, particularly physiotherapist-led Pilates. Pilates helps recovery from cycling-related injuries such as lower back pain, hip pain and knee pain. So this form of exercise can be very useful in your daily routine. You can be working on your mobility, and strength in a very safe and progressive way. Pilates can help to get you back from injury, stronger, more flexible, more efficient and cycling better.
Our top five Pilates exercises for cyclists
1. Pilates for cycling– criss cross
This is an excellent classic Pilates exercise, do it slowly and with control to begin with to really engage the muscles in the front and sides of your abdomen.
Lying on your back lift one leg at a time into table-top. Lift the head and chest supporting the head in the hands. Make sure it is the abdominals doing the lifting not the neck muscles tensing to keep the head up.
Reach one leg away and turn your chest towards the opposite knee rotating through your spine. Keep the chest lifted and return to the centre as you bring the leg back in
Repeat on both sides 10 times and try increasing the speed once you have mastered the control.
Top tips – keep your head in the middle of your breast bone – this will encourage you to turn the ribs around the spine rather than just moving the shoulders.
Cradle the head with your thumbs down your neck to get rid of tension here.
2. Pilates for cycling – side lying cycling
This is a great modification of a side lying exercise for cyclists. Get those gluts working along with the abdominals and the upper body.
Propped up on your elbow make sure that you are lifting through your waist and out of your shoulder. Hover the top leg to hip height and do not let it drop down.
Extend the leg back behind you with the toe pointed working the back of the leg and keep the pelvis and spine in neutral. Flex the ankle and then the knee and hip to bring your knee forwards in front of you. Again check that you are keeping the spine still and getting the movement from your hip not your back.
Press the leg away pointing the toe and extending the hip again. Repeat 8-10 times each side.
Top tip – imagine you are pulling your bottom elbow and bottom hip together to keep the connection through your middle and prevent you sagging into the shoulder and hip.
3. Pilates for cycling – superman variation
We have all done superman exercises of one for mor another, but this is a special one for you cyclists! Get mobility and strength through the front and back of your body in this one exercise.
On all fours come into your neutral spine position. Extend one leg back behind you and lift from the hip keeping the spine neutral.
Fold the thigh in underneath you as you allow your spine to curl and press the floor away with your hands. You should feel your abdominals are working to tuck the pelvis which in turn pulls the thigh in.
Roll the pelvis and spine back to neutral as you extend the leg away again.
Lift the breast bone forwards taking the chest through your arms as you lift the leg higher and fold your foot towards your bottom. You should feel the back of your leg and bottom working here and a stretch through the front.
Repeat 8-10 times each side.
Top tip – never lead the movement from your neck, make the pelvis, spine and chest do the work.
4. Pilates for cycling – jump to hop landing
Something to challenge your balance and add a bit of impact! Can you jump and land on one leg?
This might not seem relevant to cycling but we talked about bone health in the blog and this starts to add a little bit of impact for the lower limbs and spine. This is also a great exercise to challenge your balance and lateral control through the hip and oblique abdominals. You need this on a bike, especially when cornering!
Take off on two feet and land on one, can you stick the landing?!
Repeat 20 times each side.
5. Pilates for cycling – swan on the sofa!
The swan exercise in Pilates is done in lots of different ways on all the equipment in the studio but this is the home sofa version!
It will work the back extensor muscles and deep postural muscles in the neck so is a great one for your posture and strength endurance on the bike.
Lying over the sofa position yourself so that you can hold your upper body in line without leaning on your hands. Bend your body forwards taking the crown of your head towards the floor, this flexes your spine. From here use the muscles in your back to lift you back up as you imagine the crown of your head lengthening away from you. Your spine should feel like it is getting longer as you lift.
You can do this with the hands lightly resting on the floor or for more of a challenge bring the hands behind your head.