Posture, pedal cadence, and technical skill make the elite rider shine. Whether you are riding a century or tackling mountain-biking obstacles, physical and mental fitness contributes to better balance, agility, and handling skills. To maintain a low aerodynamic position and maximize pedaling efficiency, a rider must possess core strength, flexibility, and good alignment. Technical skills such as standing, sprinting, and hopping require upper-body strength. Dealing with obstacles and persevering when the going gets tough require mental fortitude. Improving your mind-body connection begins with improving your breathing.
Road cycling and mountain biking utilize the same major muscle groups yet build fitness slightly differently. Road cycling builds fitness by maintaining constant cruising speeds over long periods of time, whereas mountain biking builds fitness by placing variable demands on a cyclist’s energy and power. The cross-training needs of the two vary in that a mountain biker requires more upper-body strength, agility, and balance, while a road cyclist requires leg strength, cardiovascular fitness, and pedal technique. By participating in both types of riding, you can further improve your overall fitness and riding skills.
Whether you’re a roadie, dirt lovin’ mountain biker, or a recreational cyclist, Pilates will help you ride smoother, pedal longer, and avoid injury. While cycling improves cardiovascular fitness and lower-body endurance, Pilates boosts core strength, flexibility, and muscle balance. Core strength is essential to maintaining a still torso while the legs generate force by pedaling. If your core is weak, the force generated by your legs will be absorbed into your back. A strong core is key to achieving pedaling power and efficiency. By stretching your upper body, you will gain greater range of motion and health in your shoulders, arms, and torso. By improving flexibility and muscle balance, you’ll improve your alignment and overall enjoyment of your ride.
Here are three Pilates exercises that are sure to help you minimize energy expenditure, be less prone to injury, and experience a more comfortable ride. For best results, practice these exercises 3-5 times per week.
1. Mermaid (Pilates for the Outdoor Athlete, page 215)
Purpose: Stretches the obliques, shoulders, and hips.
Sit on your mat, bend your knees to the side. Stack your knees and ankles. Hold on to your top ankle with the hand closest. Bring the other arm up by your ear. INHALE; stretch your raised arm up over your head in the direction of your feet. EXHALE and come back up to center and bring the top hand down to the floor and the hand that helped the ankle up toward the sky. INHALE and side bend away from your feet. Repeat 3 times in each direction. Extra Challenge: To increase the hip stretch, cross your leg and place your top foot beside your knee.
2. Snake (Pilates for the Outdoor Athlete, page 190).
Purpose: Strengthens the back and muscles along the spine. Stretches the chest and the front of the shoulders. Improves balance.
Begin sitting on one hip, extend your legs out long with your top foot in front of your bottom foot. INHALE and rotate the back of your hips up toward the sky so your arms and legs are straight and you are on your toes. EXHALE and extend through your spine. Lift your sternum and draw your shoulders down, and knit your ribs together. Repeat 3-5 times and switch sides.
3. Pigeon Pose(Pilates for the Outdoor Athlete, page 216).
Purpose: Stretches your hip flexors and extensors, chest, shoulders, and abdominals.
Begin on your hands and knees with your shoulders slightly behind your hands. Bring your right knee toward your right wrist and angle your ankle toward your left wrist. Slide your left leg behind you back so the front of your thigh is on the floor. Press up with your arms, draw your shoulders down, and lift your sternum. You may also do this stretch by lowering your torso and resting it on your inner thigh Keep your core engaged. Switch sides.