Unfortunately, triathlon isn’t quite as simple as just running, cycling and swimming. It could be, but it is very likely to lead to some bad injuries due to postural imbalances. If you think about it, each of the three disciplines uses a completely different set of muscles and movements for a significant amount of time and it therefore doesn’t take long before problems start to arise. Pilates helps to create an evenly conditioned body, assists with injury prevention and improves flexibility.
Lets start with the swim. Swimming requires a good level of shoulder mobility and strength. Hours in the pool lead to large amounts of tension, affecting shoulder and back mobility, and as a result, strength. Without a fourth discipline (queue Pilates!) it becomes a vicious circle. Pilates classes will almost always include shoulder retraction exercises, back stability work, and thoracic stretches to properly mobilise/stretch the shoulders and back – which prevents injury in those areas.
The longest part of the triathlon is the bike. If you have ridden for any significant amount of time then I am pretty sure you will have suffered with a sore lower back at some point, if not during then after getting off the bike. Sitting hunched over a bike for any amount of time with no support naturally puts pressure on the lumbar spine, especially combined with the pressures from pushing and pulling up and down on the pedals.
During Pilates sessions the key focus tends to be on core strength, especially the muscles that support the lumbar spine. This helps to reduce the tension we put through our muscles in the bike position, thanks to a more stable pelvis. Keeping the spine in a stable position whilst the legs move can increase the power output too, which is of course an added bonus. Stability generated from Pilates is also key for improving the movement pattern in the legs (stopping any twisting and turning of the knees and feet) and preventing any potential knee injuries, which can be quite common in cycling.
Finally, lets talk about the run. Find me a runner that hasn’t been injured and I will request that they share their secrets immediately! Pilates however, can work to reduce the risks. Pounding the pavements with your bodyweight hitting the ground over thousands of strides has a serious impact on joints and muscles, only made worse by poor posture – which is an inevitable result of fatigue from the swim and bike!
A strong core encourages correct muscle activation and improves functional dynamic stability, meaning the body can hold itself in the correct (or better) posture for longer, even when we are tired. Maintaining this proper stability prevents the legs from rotating and enables them to continue to work effectively as shock absorbers to protect our bones and joints from injury under the impact.
If you are a runner, cyclist or triathlete, I couldn’t recommend including Pilates into your training routine enough. Not only will it help with injury prevention, but you will also see benefits from improved posture and mobility.