Why do cyclists need Pilates? Per the last newsletter, Pilates trains eccentric control, aka contracting and lengthening. But there’s more!
Any cyclist who puts miles on his/her bike has probably had pain. It’s really common. Common complaints from riders are low back or neck pain, anterior knee pain, and Iliotibial Band syndrome. Let’s look at each of these problems and see how and why Pilates can take the pain away – like magic. The pain will be gone, and you’ll be a better cyclist. What have you got to lose?
BACK PAIN: Any time you move your legs, your trunk muscles stabilize you. Your legs power the pedals, but your core keeps you stable on the bike. It may not look like an abdominal work out, but your trunk should be working throughout the ride.
And when the tranversus abdominus (TA) is weak, the back muscles grip, causing a gnawing tightness. If you don’t know what I mean by the TA muscle, I guarantee you will find them and feel them for a few days after your first Pilates session. That muscle is deep and low across the front of your pelvis.
A stable trunk is also important for cycling efficiency. Think about why sprinters use starting blocks; the stable surface lets them use the explosive power in their legs to advantage. Now imagine pushing off a block made of foam — it dissipates your power. In cycling, your legs push against a pedal, but also against your trunk. If your trunk is more like a block of foam than a steel cylinder (your internal starting block) your legs can’t generate much force because they won’t have a firm surface for push off.When your core is weak, your trunk moves more on the saddle (excessive side-to-side movement) or rocking. You spend precious energy moving side to side instead of forward. Watch the Tour when riders are suffering – their shoulders begin to move a lot and it’s a good indication they are about to be dropped.
NECK PAIN: The stiff, rounded upper back that most cyclists develop is a recipe for disaster. In order to see the road when your back is rounded, you have to work hard to lift your he ad. Think turtle… And when your upper back has no give, you work extra hard. Those overworked neck muscles cause neck pain and headaches. Pilates is all about proper posture with a strong focus on upper back strength and mobility. Once you develop postural awareness, you can say good-bye to the neck pain and headaches after a ride.
You may also find that your upper body, shoulders and neck ache due to the strong grip you are placing on the handlebars. That strong grip happens automatically in an effort to keep your trunk steady. A strong core will allow you to ease the grip, and decrease upper body tension.
ANTERIOR KNEE PAIN AND ILIOTIBIAL BAND SYNDROME: We’ve all seen riders who almost hit the top tube because their knees are so close to it. When your knees fall towards midline, it’s because the hip external rotators and extensors are not doing their job. Add to that the greater degree of bend in the knee with riding and you end up with a tight ITB band. We can lump these problems together because they often stem from the same imbalances.
Just to be clear, the core is not just abdominal muscle – it includes your gluteal muscles, the hip rotators and your back muscles. If those muscles are not working well, the hamstrings and muscles attached to the ITB take over and you end up with more knee cap compression, more tightness on the outside of the thigh, a displaced knee cap and PAIN.
Though the problem feels like it’s at the knee, the source of the problem is usually higher up in the leg. In Pilates, you can sort all that out and get the right muscles working at the right time.
Speaking of time, with ice on the ground and a nasty wind now and then, a work out inside sounds pretty nice. Get ready for road season by starting Pilates now. Bonus: You will no longer suck at Pilates, and your bike rides will be more enjoyable than ever.