Pilates Training for Triathletes and How Flexibility Can Change Your Training
I’m telling you right now that Pilates training in triathletes will improve your performance. But let’s start back at the very beginning. I bow down and take my hat off to any triathlete training for any distance triathlon. As humans, we have been running and swimming for thousands of years. Cycling, being a slightly newer invention, may be only a few hundred. When competing at distance, they’re all challenging in their own right. Now, whose crazy (or sadistic) idea was it to bring all three together to create one super race? Well I’ll tell you, it was Don Shanahan and Jack Johnstone back it 1974. 42 years later and the sport is stronger than ever. Statistics show that over 100,000 people participate in the triathlon in the UK alone annually. With the numbers ever growing, it doesn’t look like you crazy guys are going to slow down any time soon. Triathlon is such a fast growing sport, with new equipment and training programs being brought out all the time, designed to give the competitive edge. But have you ever stopped to think how Pilates could help improve your training?
Now, I’m a runner myself and I find it hard sometimes to fit in all my training around work, family, social life and still find a good balance. And I am only training for one sport. Training for three sports at the same time… like I said, I take my hat off to you all. You are super humans! Racing regularly (or at least trying too), I know that feeling of absolute exhaustion when I’m finishing a tough race. I can’t even imagine how that would feel having already cycled and then swam before even putting my trainers on. As a Sports Rehabber, I work with a lot of triathletes, because unfortunately training for three disciplines consecutively can certainly take its toll on your bodies.
Although it can be argued that training different disciplines is better for the body due to the variation of movement, that is not always the case due to the sheer volume of training required to be prepared for race day. That goes for sprint distances let alone Ironman athletes! Training for a triathlon takes a lot of commitment, effort and time, which in turn puts a lot of strain, stress and fatigue on your muscles and joints. This leaves you susceptible to injury. From my experience, the first thing that will start to slip or get forgotten about quickly is flexibility and stretching. I know I am guilty off this too. Fitting in training sessions when we can, quickly showering and returning to work. Then usually sitting for too many hours, sound familiar? However, neglecting flexibility will be effecting your training and your race performance.
When repeating the same movements over and over again, e.g. arm stroke in swimming, leg cadence in cycling or foot to pavement in running, as your muscles contract, the connective tissue will shorten and tighten over time losing its elasticity. This, with the build-up of lactic acid over prolonged exercise, gives you that tightening fatigued feeling in your legs and arms. Often, your muscles will lose elasticity as they rarely go through full range of movement. This isn’t necessarily due to bad technique, but full range might not be required in that movement, e.g. you wouldn’t want to land on an outstretched knee when running – ideally it should be slightly bent. Due to this repetitive nature, if your joints are continuously not going through full range of motion, your muscle will start to learn this pattern and actually shorten over time. UNLESS you actively work on your flexibility. Improving your flexibility will help advance your performance and decrease your risk of injury, as gaining healthier range of motion will allow your muscle to work more efficiently.
In more recent times, triathletes have turned to Pilates to help with this flexibility crisis. Pilates focusses on improving flexibility, strength and postural and body awareness. Through specifically designed exercises, it teaches correct spinal and joint alignment control through even, fluid movement. Pilates aims to strengthen muscles through elongation and lengthening, which helps recover elasticity and joint mobility, keeping the body balanced. It is the perfect session to be used as a ‘recovery session’ or potentially on a rest day. Compared to the other training session in your schedules, it is relatively low level. It will give your body the rest it needs, alongside regaining some flexibility and balance.
Benefits of Pilates
The issue with Pilates is that it still has a stigma attached that it is a form of exercise only partaken my middle aged women or women after having children. I agree you can sometimes walk away from a session feeling that you haven’t done much or broken a sweat, but the aim of Plates isn’t to necessarily reach the point of fatigue or muscle soreness. (However, a good class can make you do this, trust me I’ve been there.) Nevertheless, you may walk away having learnt quite a lot about your body and where its imbalances may lie. It can be quite surprising to learn that you can complete a triathlon fairly at ease. Then again, you can’t sustain a shoulder bridge for more than 10 seconds without your hamstrings cramping. Who would ever have suspected it?
Everyone can reap the benefits from Pilates, but none more so that endurance athletes. Just think what you are asking of your bodies, the stress and strain you are putting on them. It’s pretty amazing what they can do – like I said before, I would go as far to say ‘super human’. But just think what more you could achieve if they had the flexibility and strength to work as efficiently as they can. The world is your limit.
At Bodymotion, we offer one-to-one mat Pilates sessions. Whether you’re a complete novice and want to learn the basics before joining a class, or you’re more advanced and want a more challenging session specifically designed for you, give us a call and book in a session. Alternatively, if you would like any further information, please contact our rehabilitation therapist and Pilates instructor Em Manaton.