Pilates for Cyclists
Cycling, as both a mode of transport and as a sport, is currently experiencing a major boom. A record number of people in the UK have taken to their bikes in the past year, valuing the cardiovascular exercise, the escape from public transport and the sense of freedom that can be found whilst cycling, even during a lockdown. The Department for Transport’s (DfT) ‘Road Traffic Estimates Great Britain 2020’ reported “the highest level of cycling on the public highway since the 1960s” with pedal cycle traffic 45.7% above levels from 2019. RideLondon (unfortunately cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic) would have taken place May 30th 2021. In honour of this event, we turn our gaze towards the many benefits that the Pilates method holds for the cyclists among us.
Is Pilates good for cyclists?
Pilates is a great conditioning option for elite, recreational and commuting cyclists alike. Pilates can be utilised as specificity training, to improve alignment and core strength in order to boost speed, endurance and form whilst on the bike. Conversely, Pilates also offers many benefits when used as a cross-training method for cyclists: offloading overused muscle groups, targeting poor posture and deterring common injuries. For any keen cyclist, an investment in a regular Pilates practice is invaluable for longevity in the sport, complemented by the body awareness that Pilates helps to develop and the balancing effect that it has on the body as a whole.
When any underlying conditions or injuries are present, consult your doctor before beginning any new form of exercise.
Benefits of Pilates for cyclists:
* Increased core strength: Pilates with focus on strengthening the abdominals, back muscles and pelvic floor muscles (the “core”), helps a rider to stabilise their spine whilst cycling. This translates to less impact on the lower spine, minimising back pain, improved balance and endurance, and the ability to generate more power in the legs, when the trunk is stable and the core is strong.
What are the best core strength exercises for cyclists?
The BASI Systems Reformer provides the perfect setting to challenge the core strength whilst working on a moveable carriage. The Knee Stretch group of exercises is particularly effective at teaching the cyclist to stabilise the trunk, whilst moving from the hip joint. The wide footbar gives a steady surface to hold for good shoulder stability and can be adjusted to mimic the height of the handlebars.
* Postural awareness on the bike: Depending on the individual, and their choice of bike, the trunk will be flexed forward over the handlebars to varying degrees. This can cause tightness in the neck, upper back and hip flexors and place strain on the spine.
What are the best postural awareness exercises for cyclists?
Pilates exercises that focus on articulation of the whole spine train the cyclist to distribute this forward flexion evenly throughout the spine, thereby avoiding undue stress placed on any one segment. The Spine Corrector has an ergonomically designed curved surface, with two different depths of curve available. The Spine Corrector can be leant backwards over to mobilise extension in the thoracic spine, such as in the Overhead Stretch exercise. Lying on the front over this curved surface, provides a supportive setting to strengthen muscles in the upper back, in movements such as Swan Prep, counteracting postural tightness without overloading the lumbar spine.
* Good limb alignment: Pilates can help fine-tune movement patterning in the hip, knee and ankle joints, which is key to increasing efficiency, force generation and maintenance of good form throughout a ride. Proper alignment in the limbs can help to avoid torsion in the knee or ankle joint, a common cause of cycling injuries such as patella-femoral syndrome and Achilles tendonitis.
What are the best limb alignment exercises for cyclists?
The Trapeze Table (Cadillac) and Wall Tower allow the use of leg springs (two differing levels of resistance – long yellow springs and long purple springs) in the Hip Supine Series and Single Hip Supine Series. Highly adjustable and precise spring placement options can be used to execute bicycling movements under spring tension, with emphasis on hamstring control and good limb alignment in a large range of motion.
* Injury prevention: There are a number of muscular and postural imbalances that often occur in cyclists over time, due to fixed posture on the bike and repetitive motion of the legs. A well-trained Pilates instructor is able to detect and analyse these imbalances and select exercises that reduce their limiting impact on movement, improving function in areas otherwise vulnerable to injury.
What are the best injury prevention exercises for cyclists?
One particularly problematic area for cyclists is the hip flexors. Proper, consistent stretching of this area, combined with other strengthening work, can deter injuries such as patella-femoral syndrome, ITB syndrome and patellar tendonitis. The Ladder Barrel and Reformer provide ample opportunities to stretch the hip flexors in both passive and dynamic settings, respectively. The Ladder Barrel accommodates those with limited range in the hips particularly well. Hand-controlled adjustability, and smooth movement along the longest track in the industry means that the equipment itself can be adapted to the degree of stretch best suited to each individual.
* Improved bone health: Whilst regular cycling offers many health benefits, the lack of weight-bearing in this form of exercise means that cyclists often have lower bone density than other athletes. Low bone density poses a greater fracture risk as and when accidents do occur.
What are the best bone health exercises for cyclists?
Resistance training, by use of the Enhanced Pulley System on the Reformer and the springs of the broader Pilates equipment (Trapeze Table, Wall Unit) can aid bone production and improve overall bone health. Strengthening under one’s own bodyweight on the Pilates Mat, or in standing exercises, also promotes development of bone density. One such example of this would be Lunge Forward on the Wunda Chair.
The pedal on the award-winning BASI Systems Wunda Chair extends mobility, supporting weight-bearing through the whole range of motion in the hip joint for good bone health, whilst the adjustable springs offer a challenge to the gluteal muscles. The Wunda Chair also comes with removable handles, aiding balance in standing exercises.
Cycling requires form and function, both in the bike and in the cyclist themselves. For many cyclists, Pilates proves to be an incredible tool for maintaining optimal condition in the body, encouraging optimal performance on the bicycle.
Rika Brixie qualified as a Pilates instructor through Pilates Therapy and BASI Pilates CTTC. She is proud to be BASI Pilates Faculty, teaching the BASI Pilates Global Comprehensive Program, and her own BASI workshop ‘Pilates for Scoliosis’. Rika’s first and enduring passion in life is movement, which carried her through a career as a professional ballet dancer. Her personal experience of living with scoliosis has given Rika a unique insight into the deep workings of the body and ultimately led to her specialising in scoliosis. She is based in London, where she teaches alongside the phenomenal BASI UK team at The Pilates Clinic (Wimbledon).