Cycling is one of the fastest growing leisure activities in the world. With spring definitely sprung and a summer of fine weather surely on its way, many of us will be dusting off our bikes, pumping up those tyres and setting out along our lovely Kennet and Avon canal. Many more serious cycling people, my husband included, have spent their winter on their indoor turbo trainers, watching something on their laptop to alleviate the boredom!
So, with all shapes and sizes and cycling prowess emerging into the sunshine, Pilates and cycling seemed a natural topic for this month’s Vita blog. And when you think how much Pilates is all about the relationship between mobility and stability…well, that’s essentially cycling isn’t it?
Whether you like a little potter along the towpath or some serious hill climbing or endurance rides, we all have essentially the same plane of movement on a bike: Sagittal. That’s posh physiology for just moving forwards and backwards.
Basically, it’s a whole body approach as always: the neck needs to be strong to keep extended and looking forwards, you need good strong hip extensors and lumbar spine to help the legs pedal, pedal, pedal and depending on the height of the handlebars, a strong back to hold it bent over (in flexion). And then, of course, we all need strong core muscles to keep balanced, essential if you are weaving along the K&A towpath or indeed flying down an Alpine descent. Working to strengthen all these parts can help prevent common aches like lower back or knee pain.
The key with using Pilates to help with cycling is getting the balance between strengthening all the bits mentioned above and also ensuring the body gets worked side to side (frontal plane) and twisting/rotating (transverse plane) to strengthen the whole body to use on your bike.
Some recommended exercises* we can use for strengthening the natural body position on a bike are exercises that not only mobilise the spine but also challenge it to keep still, such as:
- Starfish and knee drops
- Chin tucks
- Roll downs
- Curl ups
- Spine curls
- One legged spine curls – these really mimic the movement of pushing and pedal back and open up the hip extensor
To prepare or recover from a ride, and take the spine into rotation and extension, we can use*:
- Extended cat
- Diamond press – with salutes for an extra challenge
- Cobra – adding a neck nod also feels great
- Full sky dive for a great whole body stretch
- Threading the needle and a Waist twist for rotation
And of course, let’s not forget about those shoulders, elbows, hands, knees, ankles and feet, oft-ignored in favour of the ‘big guns’ but we need to ensure we keep them strong and moving. Try for starters, starting in a good 4 point kneeling position and lift the heel of your hands up leaving your fingers to push into the mat, and aim for 3+ press ups on the fingers before returning the full hand to the mat.
So, think whole body on the bike and enjoy the sheer joy of moving if it’s a lovely pedal along our beautiful canal for a cuppa and back, or pelting along with the peloton.
(*Just remember we always recommend you have learnt these securely in our BCP classes and cannot take responsibility if you injure yourself practising at home)