For years I have joked that cycling is a sport centered around who can suffer the most, but realistically cycling is about who is the most efficient- the more power you can produce with the least amount of effort the faster you can travel for longer. While putting in the miles, structured workouts, and base building in zone two will all help, Pilates is a great way to build some resilience into your musculoskeletal system and keep fatigue at bay a little longer.
When fatigue sets in we begin to see compensations- arching or excessively rounding into the low back, increased side to side push through the bike, dropping the hips, shoulders shrugging up by the ears, and much more. In contrast we are looking for riders to continue to move efficiently with an ability to smoothly turn the pedals while their shoulders and body remain secure and allow for full control of the bike. When we see this efficient movement pattern a cyclist is wasting less energy trying to control themselves and this allows them to smoothly propel their bike forward with ease.
The longer a cyclist is able to maintain their form on the bike, the more efficiently they can transfer power into their legs, and this allows them to go faster and further. Pilates helps to target the core muscles that assist in stabilizing the rider on their bike. By allowing the spine to remain in a stable position the brain can focus on power output into the legs.
While Pilates does focus on increasing core stability, there is also a focus on movement and alignment through the extremities. By creating a stable trunk for the extremities to move on we can improve the movement patterning through the legs. When we decrease the unwanted rotations in the hips and ankles this can allow for a smoother and more even pedal stroke. By improving the movement patterns we can see benefits in both force production and efficiency, as well as protection against some of the overuse injuries that are commonly seen in cyclists.
Improving core strength also has benefits for balance and therefore bike handling. This is always an advantage, especially for those group rides, gravel rides, or days crushing it in the mountains.
Last but not least after a long day on the bike we could all use a little reset for our posture and flexibility. Pilates is a great way to tackle some of the postural and muscular imbalances that cycling inevitably brings. From sore necks and upper backs to tight hip flexors Pilates can help to strengthen, stretch and lengthen these areas that are chronically feeling tight and overworked.
While many cyclists are obsessed with dialing in their bikes with the latest components to improve speed, perhaps it’s time to dial in their bodies the same way, and improve efficiency and endurance all while working to ward off injuries by adding some Pilates into their cycling program.