Pilates & Cyclists – A Match Made In Heaven!

Most people have heard about Pilates, but are not entirely sure what it involves. In summary, Pilates is a system of exercises using special apparatus, designed to improve physical strength, flexibility, and posture, and enhance mental awareness. The exercises take a lot of precision and control and there is strong emphasis on technique, not unlike cycling.

Pilates can specifically help cyclist in these 3 areas:

(1) Core control

A solid core provides a base from which to push on the pedals. Having too much movement in the core results in less stabilisation and energy wasted. A strong core also means that your position on the bike will be consistent. When you are consistently in the right position, the right muscles will be able to work and get stronger, leading to greater muscle memory and muscle endurance, and better technique.

When fatigued, cyclist tend to round their back and rest their weight on their arms. They dissociates the upper and lower body, and the cyclist will then need to work harder to achieve the same power output. This fatigues the cyclist even further, creating a vicious cycle where the cyclist gets slower and more tired!

When people think about core work, they often think about crunches, sit up and planks. The core involves all the muscles of the front, back and pelvis. Crunches, sit up and planks only target the front of the body. For cyclists, it is especially important to also focus on the back to prevent rounding during long rides. Pilates exercises like swimming, swan dive, snake and twist are great exercises to build back strength and endurance.

Pilates For Cyclists

(2) Body Awareness

Whether it is working on technique, increasing strength or stamina, increased body awareness allows the cyclist to understand what the body needs and when it needs it. Good body awareness can teach us how to recognize which workouts lead to pain and injury and which ones improves performance, muscle strength, endurance and everyday functionality.

The brain receives constant messages from the body. The sensory receptors called proprioceptors, which are located with the muscles, joints, tendons, fascia, skin and organs, provide information to the brain about the location of specific body parts in space, as well as muscle tension and length. The brain then registers this sensory input. We often have become so used to this information that we ignore it until it becomes unbearable pain.

A good training program is designed to improve our physical fitness. However, if we can assess its effects only based on the amount of pain it produces, we are unable to maximize its benefits. We also often enter into an exercise program with existing wrong movement patterns and wear and tear from daily living. Even a balanced exercise program can exacerbate that damage, if the only bodily feeling we can recognize is excruciating pain. To exercise more efficiently and avoid or recover from pain, we have to learn to take more careful note of how the body feels.

Performed at a slower and more deliberate pace, Pilates classes encourages and teaches the student how to carefully observe their body and its’ movement and sensations while exercising. The body awareness gained during Pilates classes will then transfer over into all our exercise practices and also in our everyday movement experiences. By connecting to what you sense and how you feel during and after your physical activity, you can learn how to self-regulate and fine tune your training to get more out of each session.

(3) Flexibility

When people think about flexibility, they often associate it with extreme contortion. Flexibility is really about restoring the normal full range of motion about your joints. Having a normal range of flexibility will allow you to get into as aerodynamic a position as possible on the bike, improving performance and comfort, as well as help with muscle recovery and decrease the likelihood of injury, joint strain and soreness. Increased flexibility will also allow the muscle to contract along its’ full range of motion resulting in increased power output and performance.

The stretching done in Pilates is different from the traditional exercises that stretching is often associated with. In Pilates classes, the stretches done are often resistance stretching, which is a form of eccentric training. The spring resistance used in equipment Pilates focuses on eccentric contraction, in which a muscles goes from a shortened, contracted position to a lengthed one while under some amount of load.

Standard stretches reduce tension in muscles and thereby enhance flexibility, but the forceful, full-range eccentric muscle contractions of a resistance-stretching session don’t simply relax and lengthen muscle and connective tissues. They also help break down scar tissue, muscle adhesions and the fibers of connective tissue called fascia, all of which can significantly limit both flexibility and strength.

A commonly held belief is that the flexibility of a muscle has little to do with its strength. Stretching, after all, trains muscles to elongate, whereas strength training requires them to shorten. However by increasing a muscles flexibility, we increase its ability to maximally contract along its’ full range, resulting in a longer range of motion, increased power output and more ‘strength’.

Pilates For Cyclists

An additional benefit of increased flexibility and resistance stretching is reduced injuries. Building strength along a muscle’s full range of motion can also help prevent injury. Most people are injured when their body gets into a position where they have no strength or control. By training the muscles to contract while stretching, they are able to remain strong even when in more extreme, stretches positions, which will result in less injuries and more control.

These amazing benefits will really help up your game when cycling and what’s more Breathe will now offer NEW Pilates For Cyclists classes in all our studios starting in June. Follow us on Instagram for our announcements on upcoming Pilates For Cyclists class schedule here, all to be revealed soon!

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