I thought about writing this after I read my fellow blogger Gav Hughes’ posting last June, when he reported that he’d taken up Pilates and hatha yoga to help with back and other aches and pains. I’ve only just got around to putting it to paper…
Like most males, I suspect, the thought of attending a Pilates class where one might be the token bloke is a scary one. My wife has been attending these sorts of classes on and off for years now and I’ve always found some sort of excuse not to go. Anyway, what did I need with all this flexibility and core stuff? I’m a well ‘ard cyclist, after all, and had been a well ‘ard badminton and squash player before that. No stretching or cool-down exercises – that was for sissies.
As a result, I resemble a plank of wood over 6 feet long in terms of my flexibility. I can’t touch my toes (neither can my brother or our father before us, so it’s the genetic Walker short hamstrings – right?) and as for putting my heel up on the saddle of the bike to stretch aforesaid short hamstrings, well, I could hardly get it onto the pedal. None of this particularly worried me, as it had no adverse effect on my general health, but you can’t help marvelling at the flexibility of gymnasts and the like. Still, I chose to ignore it – after all, none of this was going to help my cycling, was it? I do sometimes do some token stretching after a turbo session, but I can’t say I enjoy it (the glute stretch is AGONY) and it just seems to be rather a waste of time.
Then, of course, you start reading about the preparation that the top cyclists put themselves through. You just had to look at Bradley Wiggins’ position on his TT bike when he trounced the field in the Olympic time trial. Body absolutely still, back absolutely straight, all that huge power just going in to turning those pedals. I am the same build, but my profile in a TT position on the bike is definitely unevenly elliptical and at the hint of any hill climbing I’m rocking from side to side with the effort. Not as much as some, but...
I’ve been very fortunate (touch wood) that I’ve never had any serious back problems. Yes, it is a bit stiff after a long ride, but it soon eases up. However, on reading further, it is very apparent that core strength is a major asset for a cyclist, helping to keep the body still on the bike so that less power is wasted, bringing in the lower back into play, firming up the abdominal muscles and easing stiff spines. Besides which, I’ve always harboured a secret desire to be able to touch my toes…..
So I decided to take the plunge. I enrolled on a short course of four lessons locally (after having established to my satisfaction that it was OK for a bloke to attend). I turned up for the first one feeling a trifle nervous, but actually found that I really enjoyed it. It wasn’t easy at all, but after just an hour of this, I was amazed at how much looser I felt (and yes, I was the only bloke!)
Confidence now somewhat higher, I enrolled on a six week course and have just completed the second week. I haven’t come across Gav’s locusts (?) and bridges yet, but I can (sort of) do table tops and hot potatoes! And actually, I’m not as bad as I thought I would be. Still can’t touch my toes, but I am definitely getting closer. It’s the feeling afterwards that is the clincher for me.
It’s interesting to note that more men are getting into Pilates. Having now tried it and felt the benefits, I can readily see why. And no, it’s not for sissies – it is genuinely tough at times, but well worth it. I’d recommend it to anyone.