Why should runners and cyclists practise Pilates?
Pilates more than any other activity focuses on addressing the muscular imbalances that we all have from one side of the body to another. If you are a runner or a cyclist, there are a number of reasons as to why these imbalances can become more pronounced and put you at risk of injury:
Running and cycling are activities that work the body in one plane of movement - the sagittal plane ie. forwards and backwards. There is no movement in the frontal (side to side) or transverse planes (rotation) that other sports such as tennis or golf provide. This one-dimensional movement can lead to weakness in those muscles that abduct or rotate the hip causing instability.
The repetitive nature of these activities means that participants are using the same muscle groups over and over leading these muscles to become stressed, strained and over-worked which in turn can lead to injury. In turn, this means that any muscular imbalances that may have been present to start with are just enhanced and made worse.
Both of these activities, tend to focus on lower body movement. However, with regard to running bringing awareness to upper body posture through Pilates exercises such as Swan and Swimming can greatly enhance technique and improve run times. Good running body posture has a slight forward lean (from the ankles, not the hips) with length through the spine and head upright. As we start to fatigue, the upper body posture may start to become more kyphotic (more flexed) bringing tension into the shoulders, compressing the lungs and making breathing harder.
Cyclists on the other hand, can't help but spend much of their time with their upper body in a flexed position due to the position of the handle bars. It's therefore important for them to do strength work and stretching to counteract this position when not on the bike, such as Dart or stretches over a Pilates small ball.
It is also worth noting that when trying to improve performance, there is a tendency for those undertaking these sports to 'just do more' - longer run times or getting out on the bike more often - rather than undertaking appropriate strength work to help support and complement their running or cycling.
So what will Pilates provide a runner or cyclist to help improve their performance and prevent injury::
Strong Core and Stable Pelvis - strength and stability around the pelvis is key to driving and extending the legs forward. A strong core helps to keep the body in neutral spine and provides a solid foundation from which the arms and legs can move.
Triple Extension of the leg - both of these activities require a powerful driving leg to move the body forward. To achieve this you need to train the muscles that give effective hip extension, knee extension and ankle plantar flexion
Posture Awareness - Pilates will help to increase body awareness generally. It will teach them how to move better, make them aware of aligning the body so improve biomechanics, improve their breathing and give them core strength and awareness.