Cycling: It Looks Easy!


Cycling – it looks easy; you sit on a saddle and you turn your legs around and the bike moves forward!

Try doing that for 180km if you are an IronMan triathlete or 100km for roadies (cyclists not triathletes...) – if your position on your bike isn't quite right, and your biomechanics are slightly off, pretty soon you'll experience some sort of discomfort, pain and possibly injury – not to mention saddle soreness!

Cycling from the outside looks like great exercise - and it is, but when you go to the extremes of the sport more 'inside' work is needed, enter Pilates.
Do you remember as a kid the first time you took the stabilisers off your bike? Your dad ran furiously next to you helping you balance for as long as possible and then YOU WERE ON YOUR OWN!!...The feeling was incredible, you could balance! As kids we have less fear – the excitement of being more grown up on the bike overtook all else. I remember when I got my first road bike as an adult, equipped with aero bars which I had never experienced before. Out I headed full of confidence – I went down onto the aerobars and promptly toppled off into the hedge – not a good start to my triathlon career!

“I'm a Pilates trainer” I thought, “surely I can balance!” It took me a few goes to understand how to get on them and stay on them – and stay on them for longer and longer without feeling tension in my back, hips and shoulders.

Whenever I was out cycling and especially on the bars, I started to think of the work I did in the Pilates studio – how my leg turned in its socket, how to set my shoulders to avoid neck tension and whether I did or didn't need to use my core! Whenever I stood and accelerated, I realised how much I needed my core to hold me stable and provide power down to my feet.
When I then trained myself in the studio, I started adding in exercises and movements that tuned me in to how to move my hip joints and keep my pelvis still. When you are on the bike the last thing you want is your butt wiggling on or off the saddle – firstly it chaffs, secondly it is inefficient movement making you less streamlined and wasting energy and thirdly it leads to lower back tension/injury.
Pilates teaches you how to 'disassociate' the hip from the pelvis, how to let the leg move freely in its socket and how to transfer the power from your core in to the leg, the foot and thus the pedal. The more I focused in the studio, the more power I could generate on the bike and the more comfortable I was on my seat. Standing and climbing became easier as I learnt how to use the back of my legs to pull the pedal up while keeping my pedal horizontal – sparing me from tight calves (helpful in triathlons when you need your calves to run off the bike).

The more I cycled and the longer I stayed on the aero bars the tighter I found my back was getting– if I wasn't careful I walked like a little old lady with a rounded upper back. The position is great for cycling, making us low and aerodynamic, but it's not good for our posture or our internal organs, to be so squished up. Pilates gave my spine back its length – it unwound me, twisting me back into straightness and opening my body up again. This allowed me the flexibility to be on the aero bars for longer, by resetting my posture it was easier to be in that rounded position and lessened the strain on my shoulders and lower back and hips.

Pilates helped me to be a pain free cyclist, it taught me how to move, where to move from and when I started to feel niggles when I was cycling, I had the awareness in myself to change my pedaling action to not feel the niggle. The only pain I ever experienced was the pain of a race – or when I fell off!
Pilates Helps With:
• Core Stability: Keeping the pelvis still on the saddle whether sitting or standing.
• Hip/Glute Power: Transferring down the leg to pedal.
• Hamstring – Quad Balance: Important as we tend to pull up too much and overwork the front of the leg, using the back of the leg too (hamstring) means we keep the power through the whole pedal cycle.
• Flexible Ankles: The ability to keep the pedal flat throughout the pedal stroke requires flexibility in the foot and ankle, minimizing 'ankling' and keeping the power into the crank.
• Flexible Hips and Spine: To continue to provide power when on the aero bars and in a crunched in position.
• Flexible Upper Back: To alleviate shoulder tension wherever hands are on the bars (including on the drops).

Article written by Lisa Jones, Pilates Master Trainer, Triathlete and Cyclist