Several years ago, I wanted to place in the top 3 in the Mount Evans Hill Climb, so I spent every spare minute on my bike. Cross training did not cross my mind (pardon the pun). That same year, I took my then boyfriend on a trip home to Montana. I wanted to show him Glacier National Park and do some hiking. True to form, we hiked the steepest trail we could find, passing as many other hikers as possible. We reached a beautiful vantage point in record time, took some pictures and started hiking back. Within a quarter mile (maybe less) I had developed “sewing machine legs.” I looked like someone with a neurological disorder. I stumbled the rest of the way down, mostly peg-legged and collapsed on the nearest bench.
What in the world was wrong with me? How could my tree trunk-like legs give out so quickly as I started downhill? The answer – I had (like most cyclists) a complete lack of eccentric control. My leg muscles could not lengthen and contract at the same time (think lowering yourself down a step – your thigh muscle stretches but contracts).
When cycling, the shoes attach to the pedals and pedals to the crank – essentially making the bike provide eccentric control so your legs don’t have to. Poor eccentric control is common with cyclists, but is it a problem?
Here is why:
- You get stronger faster with eccentric exercise.
- Heavy eccentric exercise releases more growth hormone to combat the bone loss that happens with cycling.
- Eccentric exercise strengthens tendons – so if you struggle with tendonitis, this might be your solution.
- Eccentric training increases flexibility more effectively than static stretching.
- Eccentric training builds fast twitch fibers – so you have faster cadence with less effort.
I know, it sounds too good to be true. But you cyclists who are really serious about being faster, stronger and more flexible on the bike should get really serious about Pilates. Eccentric control can come from just about anywhere in the body, and in cyclists, it often comes from their already tight, already overactive, low back muscles. Pilates puts eccentric control in your legs and hips automatically, right where it belongs and right where cyclists need it. And we haven’t even started talking about posture, core strength, and muscle imbalances that Pilates addresses. Sure, you may suck at Pilates, but you really need it.
In next month’s newsletter we’ll tell you cyclists all the other reasons why Pilates can help you be better, faster, and fitter. Imagine your big, strong, tree trunk-like legs anchored in a glob of Jell-O when you are powering up that climb. Stay tuned! If you absolutely cannot wait until our next issue to get started, give ALTA a call and express your interest in a cyclist-specific Pilate’s class. We are working on it and the more interest, the better!