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The best cyclists have strong body awareness and a solid core that keeps their spine long and limbs in control. That’s why cyclists benefit from strengthening not just their primary mover muscles—such as the quads, hamstrings, and glutes—but also their stabilizing muscles, like the obliques, inner thighs, and back.
To help you strengthen these muscles, build better body alignment, and improve your ability to stay upright through long miles, we pulled together these Pilates ring exercises. Designed to improve your muscular endurance and target your stabilizers, these moves will test your body in new ways so you gain for strength through every part of your pedal stroke.
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The Benefit of Pilates Ring Exercises for Cyclists
Cycling is a full-body workout and the primary muscles used are those of the legs and core, Liz Hilliard, certified Pilates instructor, and creator and owner of the Hilliard Studio Method in Charlotte, North Carolina tells Runner’s World. Core strength, as well as balancing the muscles of the legs, is key not only to cycling more efficiently and effortlessly, but also prevention of injury, says Hillard.
One major benefit of Pilates? A focus on deep breathing. “Breathing deeply in through the nose and expanding the lungs, then exhaling through the mouth, engages the abdominal muscles and will stabilize and strengthen the back,” explains Hilliard. There are countless benefits of better (deeper!) breathing for cyclists, including helping to stave off fatigue in the later miles of your ride, keeping your posture upright, and helping you get oxygen so you’re not huffing and puffing your way through every turn.
While many Pilates classes take place on the mat sans equipment, the Pilates ring adds an extra challenge to each exercise. Also known as the Magic Circle, it helps you target muscle groups that include the pelvic floor, abdominals, back, chest, shoulders, arms, legs, neck, and even the feet, Nicole Smith, a certified Pilates instructor at Core Love Culture, a Pilates, fitness, and rehab studio in Philadelphia, and creator of this workout tells Runner’s World. So consider it a good go-to when you want to work the entire body—deep down to the center of your core.
“This is a stellar tool that travels well,” Smith adds. “This circular resistance tool can improve your workout by creating more awareness of the body’s alignment and posture, while also deepening your strength.”
How to use this list: Perform each exercise for the recommended number of reps listed below. Move slow and with control, keeping your core engaged through every exercise and each rep.
Each Pilates ring exercise is demonstrated by Smith in the video above so you can learn the proper form. You will need a Pilates ring, but if you don’t have one, you can use a folded towel or small exercise ball.
1. Standing Roll Back on the Wall
Why it works: This move improves spinal articulation or moving the spine in segments, one step at a time, which can help with alignment and full range of motion. It also stretches the hamstrings and back and strengthens the core muscles.
How to do it: Stand with back against a wall, feet together and about a foot’s distance away from the wall. Hold Pilates ring in hands with arms straight out at chest height. Squeeze the ring in and out as you peel the spin away from the wall and roll down, reaching the ring to the floor. Move slowly and with control. Then, reverse the motion, moving slowly to roll back up. Arms finish at chest height. That’s one rep. Repeat. Do 10 reps.
2. Standing Relevé
How to do it: Stand with feet together, holding the ring in both hands, down in front of you. Pulse the ring inward to create tension in arms, while lifting them above head. At the same time as arms lift, lift heels off the ground. Move slowly and with control, core tight and shoulders down. Then lower arms and heels back down, continuing to pulse inward on the ring. That’s one rep. Repeat. Do 10 reps.
3. Articulation of Feet
Why it works: Feet always need a little more TLC than we give them. This move strengthens the muscles of both the feet and the ankles, while targeting your overall stability.
How to do it: Start standing. Place ring horizontally between ankles. Evenly create pressure on both sides of the ring. Slowly lift heels, one segment at a time, coming up to toes. Pause, then slowly lower heels back down, one segment at a time. Repeat. Do 10 reps.
Why it works: Push-ups provide a core and shoulder stability challenge, while strengthening the upper body. Doing the traditional move on a Pilates ring helps with the press back up, while keeping your spine aligned.
How to do it: Place the ring on the floor and lie on it with the ring in center of chest. Come into a plank position, shoulders over wrists and forming a straight line from head to heels. Bend the elbows and lower body down toward the floor. Pause, then press back up to plank. Repeat. Do 10 reps.
5. Seated Roll Back
How to do it: Sit on floor with knees bent feet hip-width apart. Place Pilates ring between knees and hold back of legs with hands. Press into the ring with inner thighs to activate the adductors. Tuck pelvis slightly under you, core engaged, and slowly roll back, one segment of the spine at a time, stopping when the shoulder blades touch the ground. Keep chin tucked. Slowly roll back up. Repeat. Do 10 reps.
6. Pelvic Lift
Why it works: A must-do for all cyclists! This move betters pelvic stability, glute strength, and hamstring strength—all crucial for powerful, stable strides. Because it targets the posterior chain (or back of the body) it also counteracts our typically seated position.
How to do it: Place legs inside the Pilates ring and lie faceup on the floor, pressing the head, back, and hands into the floor with the feet flat and knees bent. Evenly press outward against the ring. Slowly lift the hips off the floor, one segment of the spine at a time. Pause, then slowly lower back to the floor. Repeat. Do 10 reps.
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