Most people have heard about pilates, but are not entirely sure what it involves.
In summary, pilates is a system of exercises using particular 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 a strong emphasis on technique, similar to cycling.
Pilates can specifically help cyclists in these three 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 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, cyclists tend to round their back and rest their weight on their arms. This poor posture dissociates the upper and lower body, and the cyclist will then need to work harder to achieve the same power output. As a result, 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.
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 recognise which workouts lead to pain and injury and which ones improve performance, muscle strength, endurance and everyday functionality.
The brain receives consistent messages from the body. The sensory receptors called proprioceptors, which are found within 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 an 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 maximise 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 natural feeling we can recognise is excruciating pain. To exercise more efficiently and avoid or recover from injuries, we have to learn to take more careful note of how the body feels.
When 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 these pilates classes can be transferred 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.
When people think about flexibility, they often associate it with extreme contortion. Flexibility is really about restoring the usual full range of motion in your joints.
Having a reasonable range of flexibility allows 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.
The stretching done in pilates is particularly useful for cyclists as it is mainly dynamic stretching, taking the body through a nearly full range of motion, preparing the joints for movement and muscle for optimal activation.
4. 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 can remain strong even when in more extreme, extended positions, which results in fewer injuries and more control.
In this series on pilates and cycling, we will introduce various pilates exercises that help in areas such as performance enhancement, rehab and injury prevention. So stay tuned for more!