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Pilates for cyclists: 6 moves to make you a stronger rider

A simple Pilates routine designed specifically for cyclists to help improve posture and power on the bike

‘As cyclists we’re always concerned about our legs as the driving force, but it’s your trunk that stabilises you on the bike, so forgetting about your core and back muscles can lead to injuries,’ says Hannah Attenburrow, former elite racer turned cycling coach, Pilates instructor and founder of Beyond The Studio Pilates.

‘Pilates keeps you strong and in a good position on the bike. It helps with correct posture and uses functional movement patterns to maintain flexibility.’

This 20-minute routine has been devised by Attenburrow to prevent injury, enhance flexibility, improve muscle strength and help to correct muscle imbalances. It can be done at home and doesn’t require any specialist equipment (if you don’t have a stretch band you can always use a spare inner tube). Nor does it require you to have any previous Pilates experience.

‘It’s easy to do and accessible to anyone,’ says Attenburrow. ‘My aim with Pilates is to build functional strength so you can go faster for longer. It’s easy to spot a tiring cyclist. As fatigue sets in their body starts to roll from side to side. In contrast, riders who are still moving efficiently will have their legs turning the pedals smoothly while their head, shoulders and body remain still and secure.’

Aim to perform this routine once or twice a week. You can shorten or lengthen the session to suit your fitness level by changing the number of reps for each exercise.

‘It will take time for the benefits to become apparent,’ says Attenburrow, ‘but by rebalancing yourself you are eventually going to make yourself a more efficient cyclist – giving you more power for less effort.’

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Six Pilates moves to make you a stronger cyclist 

1 Shoulder bridge

This is a fantastic move for cyclists because it stretches out your quads and builds strength in your hamstrings and glutes as well as being an excellent mobility exercise for your spine.

• Lie with feet hip-width apart
• Slowly roll up into a bridge position, starting with your pelvis and through each vertebra. The weight should be on your shoulders, not neck
• Keep your hips lifted but don’t overextend your back. Hold at the top while you inhale
• Exhale and slowly return one vertebra at a time back down
• To make this exercise harder, lift a heel at the top of the bridge position or do a single leg bridge

Repeat 6-8 times

2 Dart

This reduces the chance of neck strain when you spend long periods in the saddle.

• Lie on your front and engage your core muscles, drawing your belly button towards your spine
• On exhaling lift your head, neck and shoulders off the floor, stretching your arms out by your side with your palms facing in
• Inhale and hold, drawing your shoulder blades down your back. Keep your eyeline down to the ground
• Exhale and return slowly to the start. Watch out for pushing your belly down into the mat

Repeat 4-6 times 

3 Clam

Improves activation of the hip muscles and develops better hip stability, which helps pedalling efficiency and reduces the possibility of hamstring strain and hip pain. 

• Tie a resistance band around your thighs and lie on your side. Keep your knees and toes in line
• Bend your lower arm beneath your head so it is supporting your head and neck
• Engage your core muscles
• Slowly open the top leg by moving your top knee away from the bottom leg, keeping your feet together
• Hold at the top for 2-3 secs before lowering slowly, with your back and hips still

Repeat 6-8 times on each side

4 Swimming and curl up

This move stabilises core muscles, which help with your position on the bike. It strengthens glutes and hamstrings for more powerful legs, and improves coordination.

• Start in the four-point kneeling position and engage your core muscles
• Keep your eyes looking down and slowly stretch out your left arm and your right leg
• Hold then bring your knee to meet your wrist beneath your chest before stretching your arm and leg back out again
• Think about the length not the height of your arm and leg
• Keep your pelvis neutral by imagining you are balancing a tray of drinks on your back

Repeat 6-8 times on each side 

5 Back stretch

This simple stretch releases tension in the spinal column, hips and shoulders and relieves discomfort in the lumbar spine.

• Lie on your back and stretch both arms outwards along the floor to open the space between the shoulder blades
• Bring your knees into your chest, inhale and engage your core
• Exhale and roll your knees to the side, resting them on a pillow if needed
• Keep your shoulders and arms flat on the floor
• As the lower back gradually releases you can straighten your legs out slowly, aiming to eventually have your toes touch your hand

Repeat on the other side 

6 Hamstring stretch

Helps with hip pain and hamstring strain by maintaining the length in your hamstrings while also stabilising your trunk.

• Lie with your back flat and feet on the ground, knees bent
• Slowly bring one leg up to straight, either holding it with your hands or a band or inner tube
• Hold for 30 seconds
• Gently pull back to increase the stretch, pointing your toes down towards your face. Hold for a further 30 seconds
• Guide the leg over the other bent leg. Hold for 30 seconds, then let the leg fall out to the side and hold for a further 30 seconds

Repeat on the other leg

Meet the expert

Hannah Attenburrow is an elite mountain bike racer with a love for all things endurance whether it’s a marathon, stage race or 12 and 24 hour race.

Hannah loves long gruelling miles and the reward that comes with completing personal adventures on the bike.

She believes in the power Pilates brings to her training, using it to strengthen her body and stay injury free (most of the time).

Hannah is a professional cycling coach and guide as well as a Pilates instructor who specialises in sports Pilates and women’s health and fitness. She’s worked with several athletes competing at international level using Pilates as a way to improve their performance and efficiency on the bike.

Instagram: @beyondthestudiopilates

Facebook: @beyondthemud

Website: Beyond the studio Pilates / Beyond the mud

Pilates photography: Jon Golden

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