Pilates & Cycling, A Perfect Duo.

If you’re serious about cycling, you should pedal to the Pilates reformer!

Training for a cyclist has been traditionally very simple, the more miles you do the better – just hop on your bike and ride.

As an avid cyclist myself, I know that this approach will definitely prepare you for any cycling event.  However, I also believe that the introduction of reformer Pilates to a cyclist’s training routine can result in increased efficiency as you ride. This can lead to an overall improvement in your cycling experience and ultimately see you achieve better results.  It will also leave your body in a much happier place the day after a challenging ride!

For any cyclist, from commuter to elite competitor, the end goal is to produce as much power as possible with the least amount of effort.  Basically, if we can achieve more power with less effort we can ride faster for longer, right?!

So, where does Pilates come in, I hear you ask!  

One of the main focuses in Pilates is on strengthening our deep core muscles. These are the muscles that help to stabilise the body on the bike. When our legs begin to fatigue as we cycle, our bodies will start to look for other muscles to take over the effort. If our core muscles are strong, we can continue to ride efficiently and smoothly for longer. Deep core strength can help us to continue turning the pedals while staying strong and still through our bodies and this means we are wasting less energy to propel the bike. If we are strong through our core muscles, this will also improve our balance as we ride. This means better bike handling which is so important in a race situation and for safety as we cycle in traffic.

Due to the repetitive nature of our movement as we cycle, some muscles do trojan work while others get to sit back and relax!  Pilates can help to redress this imbalance. To maintain a balanced body and to remain injury free, it’s super important that we work to engage the muscles that are relaxing as we cycle.  Pilates can help release and lengthen the tight muscles that are being overused and strengthen those that are being underused.  The work we do on the reformer in group class or in a private setting will contribute positively to create overall balance in the body.

The benefits keep coming. 

Another benefit of Pilates for cyclists relates to posture. In the cycling position, the spine is consistently rounded over the handlebars while the chest and the shoulders can often be tight as we end up holding tension there. To counteract this repetitive movement pattern, it is important to open the chest and strengthen the back muscles. In our reformer Pilates class you will work to do just that. We work to extend the spine and create openness across the chest as part of a balanced class. Hamstrings and hips can also be tight due to the “leg heavy” nature of cycling. Practising Pilates will help to stretch and lengthen these muscles and it will also work to strengthen them to alleviate tightness. This is an excellent preventative measure to avoid injury.

As cyclists, we move in the one plane of movement continuously. By contrast, in Pilates we aim to move through all planes of movement in our classes. We work to rotate and twist through the body, we laterally move through the spine and we also work in flexion and extension. Working through all planes of movement is extremely beneficial to our bodies as it encourages freedom of movement through the joints in everything we do. It is especially beneficial to cyclists and indeed runners as these activities primarily focus on movement through the one plane.

Strength without bulking. 

Reformer Pilates also works to improve muscle strength without increasing bulk. This is important for cyclists as extra bulk is definitely not our friend – look at how light our bikes are!! In spite of our aversion to adding bulk, it is a positive thing to add some resistance based training to your weekly routine. Here’s the science bit!! Because of the lack of impact as we cycle, we can end up with lower bone mineral density than sportspeople who train in other disciplines. By adding some resistance based training, load will be put through the bones and joints which will in turn increase the bone mineral density and resilience and this could also reduce the risk of a fractured bone if you are unfortunate enough to crash.

From my own perspective, I have really noticed a difference in my cycling as a result of practising Pilates on the reformer. I’ve noticed an improvement in my strength and endurance in both road cycling and mountain biking. I would highly recommend trying to incorporate a couple of classes into your weekly training regime, particularly the day after a long spin or race.  Your body will thank you for it.