Pilates was originally designed to prevent injury and strengthen the bodies of ballet dancers. Since then Pilates has been celebrated as an injury preventing, core strengthening, performance enhancing training tool for all sportspeople & gym junkies. Pilates can re-train muscle activation patterns, increase mobility and improve postural alignment. And if you really want to sum it all up, Pilates is control & precision of movement. And we want all our movements on the bike to be controlled and precise right? Not sloppy and awkward? At the elite level, one bad move or weakness can mean your place on the podium.
So as a mountain biker, Pilates instructor and a gym junkie myself, I’ve put together the BEST Pilates exercises for mountain bikers and I’ve added in a few stretches, because we all know how stiff and tight a cyclist’s hips are! (and most of you probably have some sort of back or knee pain, right?) It might not be as exciting and thrilling and adrenalin pumping as riding your bike but I think that’s exactly what the Dr. ordered!
1-2. Tight hips – lizard stretch + reverse lunges with hip flexor stretch
3-5. Core Stability & Strength – The purpose of these three exercises is to maintain neutral in a lengthen box shape (just like a bike) and on an unstable base (just like a bike) and when moving limbs (just like a bike!). Shoulder strength and stability and total core strength is trained as well. The ball roll out (image 2) also strengthens the lats.
6. Thoracic strength and mobility – Designed to strengthen the shoulder stabilisers and improve posture (when shoulders are in external rotation), strengthen the neck muscles and develop strength in thoracic. It’s important to keep your neck in neutral, and lift with your thoracic not your lower back muscles. Keep your lower body and glutes completely relaxed.
7-8. Challenge core control while moving on a small base of support, multifidus activation (deep back), chest and arm strength, alignment, scapula stability
9-12. Weak Glutes – Retrain muscle activation patterns with prone swimming, then strengthen the glutes with shoulder bridges and side lying bicycle kicks. However, shoulder bridge should only be done if stabilisation from the Core (Transverse Abs, pelvic floor, multifidus, diaphragm) is established first.
13. Stabilising the torso with hip movement – This exercise also strengthens the core, the rectus abs and external obliques, and increases hamstring flexibility
14. One leg circle – mobilises the hip socket, challenges the core to remain neutral and stretches the hip flexors while still maintaining neutral pelvis in all planes of movement. This is crucial for cycling and mountain biking.
15. Chest release is designed to mobilise the chest + thoracic spine and stretch the chest, while maintaining a sense of centring the core.
16. Side plank – This exercise challenges stability and strengthens the obliques, lats and QL muscles and shoulders.
There is a whole range of more Pilates exercises that can benefit mountain bikers and cyclists. It is best to seek the guidance and assessment of a physiotherapist before joining a pilates class. A physio can assess your core activation, your weaknesses, your alignment and develop a program unique to you. Jumping on board with pilates in a large group fitness scenario may not address your needs – especially if your alignment is out, your glutes are not firing, if you have pain & injury (especially low back or hip) or if you are unsure about how to ‘activate’ your core. (Many do not do it right).
If you want to enhance your bike riding and want some guidance then feel free to start chatting with me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a program sent to your inbox! I am a Pilates instructor, mountain biker, indoor cycling instructor and women’s (pre/postnatal) exercise specialist with over 10 years experience.