Are you prone to injury or protecting a weakness in the body that you fear might let you down during a race? So many people are and yet their solution seems to be to train harder – cycle more, run further or lift more weights to strengthen the body in the hope that this will carry them through. This might be what you plan to do this winter and spring in order to prepare for one of our longer events such as Gaelforce West or the Night Rider Sportif. Longer events are where your injuries and weaknesses will let you down. They are fantastic events for peaking your training, providing a goal and for huge personal achievement but in order to do this they ask something of you – you need to be ready.

Winter fix:

Two training essentials which are very specific and often overlooked are core strength and flexibility. They are extremely important in protecting the body and ensuring it can cope with the bigger stresses. They are hardly touched on by most of our regular training and therefore must be targeted specifically. This is the winter to do that. One form of exercise which gives both of these its full attention is Pilates. It is the perfect winter training option - it happens indoors, can be continued at home without any equipment and for the rural dwellers courses are often held in community halls and schools. It should not cost the earth either.


The science:

Pilates used to be called Contrology, targeting as it does the core muscles whose job it is to provide control of movement. They are the deepest layer of trunk muscles – the diaphragm, the pelvic floor, multifidus (lower back) and transverses abdominus (tummy). It has been proven that when you go to move the body this group of muscles should kick in together a split second beforehand to provide a stable base of support for the movement. If this happens then the body produces smooth, controlled, good quality movement. If they do not kick in due to weakness or past injury to the body then the movement of the body (arm, leg, etc) will be of poor quality leading to further injury or at the very least poor performance. This support system is also very important in producing good posture, balance and coordination. In conjunction with this core strength the body needs to be flexible enough to allow controlled, good quality movement to occur. This means flexibility or mobility of the whole body, particularly the spine, the pelvis and hips - not just being able to touch your toes.

Pilates combines a series of mat-based exercises which strengthen the core muscles and also work to improve mobility/flexibility throughout the body. There is a lot of thinking and concentration needed in order to do the exercises correctly and this in itself is relaxing and meditative. Pilates can also be done on large machines found in a few Pilates studios in the main towns and cities but the mat exercises are a great place to begin.

The myths:

This is not yoga, there is no spiritual side to it, there is no cardio-training involved, you will not lose weight and it is not just for Stepford wife-types with too much time on their hands! Pilates has been around for almost 100 years and was traditionally used by dancers before the media and celebrities, sports stars and others pushed it into public awareness. There is a very good reason that it has lasted close to 100 years and continues to grow in popularity with everyone from rugby players to golfers to those afflicted by injury. Check it out and make this a priority of your winter training.