Why is pilates not enough for riders?
Following a post on my Instagram channel I thought I would share this important topic on my blog. Before we start this is by no means a rant or an attack about pilates or yoga. I personally practice both & love both forms of training, they have so many great benefits but often for riders just doing pilates or yoga alone is not enough.
I often speak to riders from various disciplines who practice regular pilates or yoga sessions as a structured routine but feel like they are still missing something. Potential clients, who are interested in resistance training to improve their core stability & strength for riding often ask why they should be doing strength training as well?
I hear loads of riders (both amateurs & professionals) say, "I don't need to do weights or strength training I do loads of pilates."
Whilst that is great & slightly true, that is a very limited mindset to hold. You should be training to make yourself the most athletic version of you, so only sticking to one practice won't help improve your overall athleticism or riding.
Pilates & strength training are both forms of resistance training. We apply an external force to create resistance such as resistance bands, kettlebell or barbell, or in the case of pilates a magic circle or a spring reformer.
Strength improvements & "gains" come from applying progressive overload to your training. Whether that be by adding more reps & sets, advancing the movement pattern to the next progression, or increasing the resistance or load.
The problem is you will get to a point where this resistance is no longer challenging enough for your body & you will fail to progress in your training. In order to progress in resistance training, you MUST apply progressive overload and continually challenge your body.
The SAID principle is applied in all training environments & basically your body will adapt to the stimulus you apply to it, through your training. Over time the body will adapt to the demands placed on it and will no longer find them challenging enough to grow so you must apply progressive overload to ensure you are creating new demands. The body is extremely clever!
Which is quite easy to implement in a strength training programme, you can continually increase the load & resistance or advance to a more advanced pattern of the movement. to ensure you progress your overall strength & muscle mass over time consistently.
Whereas with pilates there will always be a limit as to how much resistance you challenge yourself with. If using equipment such as a reformer you do have external resistance from the spring resistance but again you will get to a point where that resistance is no longer challenging enough & are unable to progress the exercise.
Pilates is brilliant for core strength & stability too & often riders reason for doing pilates is to improve their core strength. But the same as any other muscle group your core & abdominal muscles need to be progressively overloaded to get stronger & be trained in all directions. That's where you increase your external resistance.
We want to make sure that you are training functionally as well. Functional training has turned into a bit of a buzz word in the fitness world but all it means is that you are training in a way that will serve you functionally in daily life or in your sport (your riding). For example, a squat is a great movement for riders as you use the same movement patterns and muscles when riding. That is training for function. Or doing loaded farmers walks with kettlebells so you can be stronger to carry your buckets across the yard.
Strength training is always functional & the majority of the time strength movements challenge your body in a standing position whereas pilates you typically perform more exercises lying down. Loading your body in gravity (standing) will help improve your functional strength for your riding.
Think about it, it's not like you lie down in the saddle is it?
Both styles of training have so many benefits but its important to understand & realise which one is best for you. If your aiming to get stronger & increase your muscle mass for your riding then 100% strength training would be your best option. As we get older our body tends to lose muscle mass, especially within women, so strength training is a fantastic way to combat this process & keep your muscle mass up!
A higher proportion of muscle mass will also help to control weight. The more muscle mass you have the more calories your body will naturally burn so strength training is a great way to control your weight. For me as a trainer focusing on helping riders to improve their endurance & muscle strength is the best & most important thing about strength training as it helps riders to stay injury-free.
The stronger your bones are the less chance there is of injury & your risk of fractures & damage from falls is significantly reduced. Let's be honest falling off comes with the luxury of riding!
Falls are obviously a big part of riding so for me this is super important for all riders, training to be safer & stay injury-free. Your balance & flexibility can also improve through strength training.
One is not better than the other but for riders who want to be strong & stay injury free I would say a strength programme should be a non-negiotable. There is no reason why you can't incorporate strength training & pilates into your routine, as long as you follow a systemised plan with enough rest time to allow your muscles to recover post-training. In some aspects I would actually say pilates is better, for flexibility gains then pilates is definitely a winner but alone it will not be enough to really change your riding for the better.
Both pilates & strength training are fantastic forms of exercise & resistance training for riders but it's important to understand how each specifically works to help you achieve your goals & understand what will benefit your riding performance the most & what is the best option for you.