The Power of Pilates and the Spinning® Program
by Sara Talbert
Joseph Hubertus Pilates was an extraordinarily outspoken, vibrant person, who was driven to help people live healthier lives. His exceptional and powerful fitness techniques continue to rise in popularity while other mind-body formats have grown tired. In more recent years, Pilates fusion classes have burst onto the fitness scene, especially in athletic clubs that house Pilates studios. Such fusion classes literally “fuse” the elements of cardiovascular training and core work with a mind-body focus. Proper breathing, correct spinal and pelvic alignment, smooth flowing movement and stability are highlighted in these fusion classes.
At Greenwood Athletic and Tennis Club in Greenwood Village, Colorado, the Spinning® program and Pilates are both very popular. Knowing that many cyclists want to increase their performance on the bike, I created a program that combines both Spinning and Pilates, all in one hour. It is hard to believe that these two different exercise modalities complement each other so nicely, but I assure you, they do. Spinning is an essential class for every cyclist, and by adding Pilates into their current program, cyclists can improve overall body awareness.
At Greenwood, we have a popular Pilates/Spinning fusion class. Athletes ride for half of an hour on a stationary bike in the cycling studio, followed by a half hour of Pilates in the Pilates studio, usually on the reformer, once the body is warm from the cardiovascular work on the bike. Knowing our athletes have a limited amount of time, the class is designed to be intense and specific. According to Chris Carmichael, founder of Carmichael Training Systems, 45 minutes of indoor ride time is equivalent to one hour of ride time outdoors. Along with other weekly workouts, this format helps the cyclist avoid boredom and helps them to become a “Pedal Powerhouse” in no time!
While riding on a Spinner® bike, you can focus specifically on your workout, because you are able to ride continuously without worrying about unforeseen changes in terrain, traffic or weather, and you are able to maximize the use of your limited exercise time. Because the cycling portion of the fusion workout is short, the workout is intense, with a rate of perceived exertion between a 6-8 (for most riders). By working in this zone, the goal is to increase power output and to train your body’s ability to delay lactic acid accumulation. Over time, by working in this zone, you become more efficient at using available energy, allowing you to ride at a higher cadence for longer periods of time.
The selected Pilates exercises in the fusion workout increase the flexibility of key muscle groups used during cycling, including the legs, buttocks and back. While Pilates may not increase your power output, it will teach you how to pedal more efficiently because it works on movement control and pelvic stability. Your abdominal and back muscles are called “core muscles” for a good reason—they are the foundation of the body’s stabilization and strength. Because much of the power in your pedal stroke comes from using these core muscle groups, developing a strong core is essential to your cycling success. If your pelvis and spine rock and shift inappropriately as you pedal, you can strain or even injure the muscles in your hips and lower back. Pilates will teach you how to keep your pelvis appropriately stable during movements like pedaling. From the Pilates concepts and exercises, you will learn how to protect your body from injury, increase your comfort on the bike, improve muscle performance and challenge your extension on the bike.
A recent study of 15 competitive cyclists found that when abdominal, back, and oblique muscles fatigue, pedaling mechanics falter. Your core is the platform from which your legs push, so when the core is weak, so is your pedal stroke. Pilates fusion classes address this issue and help keep your center rock-steady by following three Pilates concepts:
Heel-to-Buttock Connection: (ex. footwork on the reformer with heels on foot bar)
Rib-to-Scapula Connection: (ex. pulling straps on the long box and the long stretch)
Three Anchors: 1) low abdominals, 2) inner thighs, and 3) gluteus/hamstrings (ex. using the Power Circle between the knees to engage and connect the three anchors and standing side splits)
These three concepts can be applied in almost any Pilates exercise. During the fusion class, as specific reformer exercises are taught on the reformer, the athlete is continually reminded how to incorporate the feel of the Pilates connections back on the bike to avoid pain in the neck and lower back.
Let’s not forget the mental part of sport. Once you have established the physical strength and functional mechanics, you need to finish “mentally strong.” Your mental fitness is what sets you apart as an athlete. By incorporating the elements of mind/body/spirit into Pilates fusion classes, athletes are able to practice “keeping their cool” under workout stress by incorporating two Pilates principles— concentration and breathing.
Through concentration you can focus on the task at hand, such as pedaling as hard as you can even when your legs start to burn. Proper breathing helps you avoid gasping by expanding your lungs and using your diaphragm more effectively. This will help you find your rhythm, rid yourself of undue stress and increase your energy and power output.
Through Pilates fusion classes, you will challenge your cardiovascular system, work your core control and stability and improve your mind/body connection. When you complete your next ride, you should have enough energy to smile and enjoy the moment. Ride within yourself to be the best athlete you can be.