Guest post by professional cyclist, Anne Donley
As a certified Pilates instructor and professional cyclist, what I’ve learned is that your body wears out just like your bike. When any specific component is used repetitively, it eventually gets worn. You can replace tires, chains and cassettes on your bike, but what do you do about the wear and tear on your muscles and joints? What we all want to do is just ride our bikes. However, if you want to be great on the bike, you need to spend quality time OFF of it.
Pilates strengthens the smaller stabilizing muscles that are important in whole body strength, stability, joint mobility and overall stamina. It also keeps joints flexible and balanced in case of a crash. Let’s be real… crashing and falling can happen on and off the bike. Pilates uses springs for resistance and assistance in toning muscles that are illusive, a unique way that gives the body support and feedback. And, last but certainly not least, it strengthens the core. Your core, by the way, is much more than just your abs! Your deep transverse abdominis muscles and the obliques, in conjunction with the multifidus and erector spinae along the spine, and the diaphragm make up the core muscles necessary to engage for strength and stability.
As you probably know, cyclists are quad dominant. Distributing the energy and muscle loading elsewhere in the body helps the quads perform more efficiently. The more efficiently my body moves, the more power I can create. Many of the exercises are done lying down; this facilitates the lengthening of the muscles around my hips, waist, back and shoulders and helps to decompress my spine. After I’ve ridden a lot, I often feel muscle bound. With better knowledge and use of my diaphragm, I am able to breathe better and discover more length in the front and back lines of my body.
What if I imagined my shoulders suctioned down my back and the pedals rotated smoothly from inside my hips? What if I pedaled my bike from my center? I know that sounds really weird, but when imagery is used in thinking about how one moves, it is a valuable tool. As a classical Pilates instructor, as well as a professional cyclist, imagery is key in connecting to my body. Riding the bike takes 100% concentration. When doing Pilates, I concentrate on going inside my mind to think and feel my movement and breathing! Pilates cannot be performed properly without breath and internal awareness and neither can cycling. When I finish my Pilates lesson, even my nervous system is refreshed! Back on my bike, my pedal stroke is smoother and more powerful. A renewed, lengthened and flexible spine allows me to stabilize my body and use my feet and hands with greater awareness.
Unlike changing a tire, or buying a new chain, the human body isn’t so easily replaceable. Instead of waiting for our muscles and joints to wear out, I truly believe it is a better idea to routinely maintain our bodies, which were made to do more than ride a bike. Since cross season is upon us, consider it time to start cross training. Pilates is the perfect addition to your routine!
About the Author, Anne Donley:
Before I started racing bikes, I completed my Pilates education at The Pilates Center in Boulder, Colorado in 2005 and I did my masters in 2010. This classical training program, true to the original Pilates Method, is renowned in the Pilates world. I have also had the privilege of being coached by Frank Overton and Neal Henderson, two very amazing cycling coaches. I have multiple National Criterium and Track titles, along with a handful of Colorado Road Race and Criterium Titles