For a growing number of people in Australia, weekend mornings mean an early wake up call, putting on lycra and joining the masses to participate in one of the most popular recreational activities – cycling.

As a physiotherapist, the benefits of cycling are countless and I am sure most of us have prescribed to our patients a regular spin for various reasons including:

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  • Cardiovascular fitness
  • Lower limb strength endurance
  • Low limb range of motion
  • Low impact exercise

Sadly, for some cyclists, low back pain (LBP) becomes a limiting factor to their riding. In fact it has been recently reported that 50% of recreational cyclist report LBP (Schulz & Gordon, 2010). Unfortunately for us health professionals there isn’t a lot of research into the possible reasons some cyclists develop LBP. However, a couple papers may shed some light on how Pilates can help get our clients back on their bikes.

It appears that in some cyclists with LBP, they tend to cycle with greater lower lumber flexion, more lumbar rotation, less anterior pelvic tilt and reduced lumbar multifidus activity  (Burnett, Cornelius, Dankaerts, & O’Sullivan, 2004; Van Hoof, Volkaerts, O'Sullivan, Verschueren, & Dankaerts, 2012). So in essence they ride their bike in a more rounded position in their lower back. How this posture specifically leads to a pain experience is a little more complicated, and perhaps something for a latter post. Though if we look the act of cycling as a postural challenge, one that some people do better than others, it provides clinicians with a starting point for management using Pilates.

Ever since I completed my training in Pilates, I always felt the advantage Pilates had over other exercise forms is the way Pilates is taught. The tactile feedback, the visual images and verbal cues all enable our clients to achieve a quality of movement that may not have otherwise. So in order to keep Pilates for Cyclists as evidence informed as possible, I use Pilates to address a couple key postural points:

1.       Improve lumbo-pelvic-femoral (i.e. spine-pelvis-hips) awareness and co-ordination so as reduce the level of lower lumbar flexion.

2.       Improve the muscular strength endurance of the lumbar extensors including lumbar multifidus.

Using these two starting points, I can then develop an effective Pilates for Cyclists programme. Once my client has developed their ‘riding position’ awareness and control, then I can move on to the challenge of loading the system up and building their lower limb strength in a systematic fashion i.e turn their legs into formidable pistons (I will discuss some of the muscle strength aspects of Pilates for Cyclists in another post).

So in summary, riding a bike isn’t at all ‘like riding a bike’. It is a postural skill and one that requires an element of endurance. Two qualities that we as Pilates teachers are in an ideal position to address.




Burnett, A. F., Cornelius, M. W., Dankaerts, W., & O’Sullivan, P. B. (2004). Spinal kinematics and trunk muscle activity in cyclists: a comparison between healthy controls and non-specific chronic low back pain subjects—a pilot investigation. Manual Therapy, 9(4), 211-219.

Schulz, S. J., & Gordon, S. J. (2010). Recreational cyclists: the relationship between low back pain and training characteristics. International Journal of Exercise Science, 3(3), 3.

Van Hoof, W., Volkaerts, K., O'Sullivan, K., Verschueren, S., & Dankaerts, W. (2012). Comparing lower lumbar kinematics in cyclists with low back pain (flexion pattern) versus asymptomatic controls–field study using a wireless posture monitoring system. Manual Therapy, 17(4), 312-317.