By Olivia Lennox, February 24, 2012
Improving Strength and Performance with Pilates
Cycling is a great way to stay fit and healthy, whether you enjoy road racing, mountain biking, cycling with friends or just commuting to and from work. As with many sports, pain and injuries are quite common and should be dealt with immediately. By ignoring a niggling pain, even if it is more irritating than painful, you may risk further injury.
Prevention is of course, better than cure and there are many things that you can do to prevent injuries and improve your cycling experience.
Checks before you start
The first thing to check is that your bike fits properly. Pain and muscle strain can be caused by a poorly fitted bike. Wrist and hand pain is caused by putting too much weight on the handlebars and lower back and neck pain can be caused by wrong positioning of the saddle or handlebars. Having a bike fitting will improve your positioning, and make cycling easier.
Another cause of pain is sitting incorrectly on the bike, bad posture can cause repetitive strain syndrome, pins and needles in your hands, neck strain and backache.
Benefits of Pilates
Pilates is an exercise which focuses on stability and postural alignment, strengthening muscles around your abdomen and spine to give both support to your back and freedom of movement. The gentle stretching exercises can loosen tight, overworked muscles in your neck, back and limbs.
It is essential to ensure that your riding posture is good and your muscles are strong enough to support your riding position. This may not be the case if you are new to the sport or have not cycled for a while. Even those who ride regularly may benefit from working on their upper body strength.
The seated position of a bicycle means that, even during an intense cycle ride, you are not working the muscles of your upper body.
Those who cycle regularly usually have well developed muscles in their legs and buttocks but without sufficient upper body strength you are likely to develop pain in your back, neck, arms and wrists. This is due to most of your weight being supported by your lower back and on your hands while holding the handlebars, rather than being supported by your back muscles and spine.
What Pilates does for your body
During a Pilates workout you will focus on your body’s core muscles, which are the chest, back, abdomen and buttocks. The stretching and breathing exercises will strengthen your body and improve your flexibility and fitness levels.
Neck and shoulder pain can be caused by riding with your head too far forward, it can also cause pain, or a tingling feeling in the hands. By strengthening your upper back your muscles will naturally pull your head into correct postural alignment.
Poor posture or misaligned joints can cause lower back pain by pinching the sciatic nerve, this can create intense pain in the back and thighs. By strengthening the muscles and improving joint mobility the pressure, and the pain, can be released.
During a cycle ride, the cyclist spends a long time seated in the same position, this can create back pain or repetitive strain syndrome in the hands and wrists. When cycling, consider your posture and reposition your hands on the handlebars to release pressure on your wrists. Pilates stretches are a great way to warm up before a bike ride, injuries commonly occur through not warming up properly, such as strained or pulled muscles. Cooling down stretches will ensure that you don’t suffer from leg pain and ease the damage caused by over working certain muscles.
When fatigue begins to set in during a cycle ride it is easy to slip back into poor posture habits. By using Pilates you can improve your core body strength and posture so that your body is perfectly aligned. Using these stretching exercises you can improve your strength, speed and endurance.
Certain areas of the body can be targeted during a Pilates workout and they can be tailored to your own specific needs. Whether you choose to join a group Pilates session or have one to one tuition, your Pilates instructor will be able to give advice on the best exercises for you.
Many things to keep you safe while cycling focus on external elements such as wearing a bike helmet, high visibility clothes and ensuring your bike is safe and covered against damage by bike insurance. However ensuring that your body is strong enough to endure training without injury is just as important.