Cycling and Pilates
“Pilates has tremendous benefits for athletes. On the topic of Pilates for cyclists, I asked my client, Lindsay O’Connor, to write this special blog. Lindsay is a long time Pilates student as well as a certified Pilates mat instructor. She is an avid cyclist and competes in long distance races. Having a background in both Pilates and cycling gives Lindsay unique insight into the ways Pilates specifcally enhances her cycling.” – Amy Hershey
Written by Guest Blogger: Lindsay O’Connor
Whether you are a Cat 1 racer, a weekend warrior, or a spin class enthusiast, you probably know that cycling demands core strength but does nothing to build it. The internet will show you tons of cycling-focused core regimens, but Pilates not only offers the work you need for core stability and efficiency but also remedies the muscle tightness and imbalances that frequently inhibit cycling performance. By addressing the core quandary and providing a form of performance-focused physical therapy at the same time, Pilates is one of the most effective and efficient complements to a cyclist’s training.
Pilates focuses on spinal and pelvic stability as a foundation for strong, deliberate movements, and because of its emphasis on form and precision over repetition and exhaustion, you can add Pilates to you your training regimen without sacrificing saddle time. While I would not recommend a Tower session with heavy leg springs the same day as a big ride (trust me), most Pilates mat and apparatus work does not focus heavily on the major muscles of the legs that are the prime movers in cycling, so it can complement rather than replace your main form of training. When I joined my first group rides and then tried racing, I quickly realized that a stable core from Pilates was a secret weapon that plenty of more experienced cyclists lacked. When I pass people late in a long gravel grind who passed me earlier in the day or when I dig deep for that coveted Strava segment at the end of a long solo ride, I always credit Pilates for helping me finish strong.
Iconic Pilates exercises such as the Hundred, the Ab Series, Shoulder Bridge, Rollover, and Teaser focus on a strong connection the the midline of the body and efficient movements parallel to it. Cycling demands a similar symmetry and moves the body in the same plane, so cyclists can derive greater efficiency in their form from the flexion and extension work of Pilates. These exercises do not work the larger, external muscles many people associate with core training like the rectus abdominis but instead focus on the more internal muscles that stabilize the spine vertebrae by vertebrae, forming the foundation of “the Powerhouse” from which all strong, efficient movement originates. While Pilates is not unique in working these smaller, foundational muscles, the small classes and personalized attention and modifications that a good Pilates studio offers are hard to match in the fitness world or on your own.
Core stability helps keep your energy channeled into turning the pedals and propeling the bike forward rather than rocking side to side or exhausting your arms and shoulders in stabilizing your torso. If indoor cycling is your cardio of choice, all the same principles apply. When your instructors advise you to reduce the bounce or side-to-side movement of your standing position, they’re calling on you to stabilize your pelvis so you can put more power into turning the pedals over instead of rocking side to side.
Yet, there are times when maximum efficiency and endurance aren’t the main goals. Aggressive cornering, sprinting, or just riding out of the saddle in any cycling discipline can open the hips, twist the knees, or stress the shoulders and arms, and the full-body work of Pilates can help with strength and mobility there as well. The progressive resistance of Pilates apparatus springs strengthens your muscles without exhausting them. One of my favorite aspects of Pilates is how it stretches one muscle while working its opposite, working both strength and flexibility in one efficient session. Pilates therefore not only strengthens and stabilizes where cyclists need it but also counteracts the muscle tightness and imbalances that we frequently develop.
On the road, on the trail, or in the spin studio, the slow pace and precision of Pilates and the sharp eye of an experienced instructor can help create muscle memory that translates to controlled, efficient, comfortable movements on the bike. And that makes it easier to crush whatever challenges are ahead of you or just to clear your mind on a beautiful ride.
Photo Credit: Dominion Cycling Photography