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STOTT PILATES® for Cyclists: Breathing and posture to avoid injury and increase power

In the first installment of our STOTT PILATES® for Cyclists blog series, we’ll explore how breath promotes greater mind-body or sensory awareness. This will help us gain a better understanding of how optimal and non-optimal breath and movement patterns affect training and how focusing on posture can affect our ability to increase cycling power.

Breathing is a tool that promotes concentration, centering, awareness of self, and supports the body through motion. It is also the mechanism used to provide gas exchange between the lungs and circulatory system. Oxygen is then transported to the working muscles and used to create energy, which is necessary for muscle contractions.

The main muscles of respiration – diaphragm, transverse abdominals, pelvic floor and multifidus – maintain the pressure gradient in the thoracic and abdominal cavity. This promotes inflow and outflow of air in the chest and modulates appropriate stiffness of the lumbo-pelvic region to create optimal stability when performing tasks.

Athletic trainers and health care professionals all agree that optimal posture and alignment while cycling can prevent injuries and are essential to maximize breath control for increasing power and performance. Good posture is necessary for an optimal breath pattern to occur whether you are a pro cyclist or recreational cyclist, cycling indoors, outdoors on trails, or on the road.

The importance of bike fit: First, your bike setup must be a good fit to ensure maintaining proper posture and alignment of the entire body, from head to toe, is even possible. Injuries can occur due to the repetitive movement of pedaling, especially on an indoor cycle trainer, or on long outdoor rides where you’re holding your torso in one position for extended periods of time. The lower body may also be affected, resulting in misalignment of the hips, knees and ankles.

Posture and alignment: It is important to ensure the diaphragm is able to function without restriction in order to ensure the lungs efficiently take in oxygen-rich air and expel carbon dioxide waste generated by your cells. Ideally the diaphragm and pelvic floor should be parallel to ensure optimal intra-abdominal pressure to support the posture and allow for a full breath pattern.

Shoulder girdle mobility and placement, in unison with the arms, wrists and hands, also play a part. Tension can be developed when alignment is not ideal, or the cyclist is trying to get into an aerodynamic position, especially if the handlebars are too low, too high, too narrow, or too wide. Likewise, the pelvis, hip joint, lower leg and foot will work more effectively if the hip joint has enough freedom of movement to release power.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be releasing three more STOTT PILATES for Cyclists blogs exploring targeted movements that are designed to create an awareness of optimal and non-optimal breath patterns and how these affect posture, with additional exercises to help you integrate control in the rest of the body.

Additional reading:
Physiotherapist’s Point of View: How Does Cycling Affect Our Bodies?
Common cycling injuries, treatment and prevention

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