Written by Bea Alexander of Bea Alexander Pilates, Edinburgh.
“Being on your bike is the ultimate, I know. To get even more of ‘that feeling’ and avoid ‘the other feeling’ of a sore back or knees, just add Pilates. Cycling mags frequently have articles about how professionals, such as Chris Froome, use Pilates to improve their ride, or give you a list of six exercises to try at home as a sure-fire way to improve your cycling.
Sir Bradley Wiggins practised Pilates during his cycling career and now in his new incarnation as a rower. “Without a solid core you can’t transfer power efficiently.”
True, Sir Bradley, and Pilates has become synonymous with core stability and strength. It does give you this, and so, so much more. Just doing ‘core exercises’ will not give you the full benefits of Joe Pilates’ technique. This is why, as a Pilates teacher, I don’t really like seeing those lists of six exercises to do at home. It makes good magazine copy with pictures, but cannot give you a real insight in to how doing Pilates feels.
It is not the exercises per se that make Pilates so effective, it is the technique itself. Do any exercise using the principles of Pilates and it becomes a Pilates exercise. If you aren’t practised at using the principles, you get a very diminished Pilates experience.
The six principles sound simple enough: breathing, control, concentration, precision, flow and centre (core).
Keeping conscious track of all of these during each exercise is a mental and physical challenge. The process of learning Pilates asks to your bring these factors in to your consciousness and gain control over them. With a lot of practice, you slowly put them back in to your subconscious, and they become second nature. You find you always breathe in time with movement in an effective way, you know how to notice and control an eccentric muscle movement and how to position your body for optimum efficiency; everything flows and you get ‘that feeling’ on your bike.
Using Pilates’ principles gives you fantastic proprioception. ‘Proprioception’ is your body’s ability to judge where it is in space at any given moment. We are not told about this sense when we learn the ‘five senses’ at school. It is the ‘sixth sense’ and can be practised and improved. Learning to ride a bike is not just ‘balance’ (information from the inner ear) but proprioception. Proprioception comes from proprioceptors located throughout your nervous system, which work with motor neurones to give rapid feedback about your body and limb position. The better these give you information, and the better you know how to listen to it, the better your movement control.
Do yourself a favour and don’t try to learn Pilates exercises online or go to one drop-in class. Go and find a really experienced Pilates teacher doing progressive classes or one-to-one work. Realise it takes time to learn and is well worth the effort to improve your ride, and diminish your chances of injury. If only Strava could measure proprioception.”
Bea Alexander Pilates runs a weekly Pilates for Cyclists and Runners class on Mondays 6pm at the Eric Liddell Centre, 15 Morningside Road, EH10 4DP. They also teach one-to-one Pilates with the apparatus Joe Pilates invented. They work with many cyclists and runners.