The ironman story
During an awards banquet for the Waikiki Swim Club, John Collins, a Naval Officer stationed in Hawaii, and his fellow athletes began debating which athletes were the fittest: swimmers, bikers, or runners. Later, he and his wife Judy, who had both participated in new competitions known as triathlons in San Diego, decided to combine three of the toughest existing endurance races on the island. On February 18, 1978, 15 competitors, including Collins, came to the shores of Waikiki to take on the first-ever IRONMAN challenge.
“Whoever finishes first, we’ll call him the Ironman”
“Swim 2.4 Miles. Bike 112 miles. Run 26.2. Brag for the rest of your life.” – John Collins, IRONMAN co-founder ”
There is an ironman or woman inside us all! Maybe Pilates will be the key to unlocking it! An ironman athlete demands mental and physical strength, endurance and stamina. To achieve an ironman everything needs to be just right- carrying an injury could be the difference between success and failure.
“I will never forget the day I was swimming and a lightbulb went on- I had finally found my core”.
Says four times Ironman finisher and world championship qualifier Michelle Landry.
Let’s face it- if you are planning to embark on an ironman then every little piece of the jigsaw needs to fit together. In order to complete the 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and 26.22 mile run, then you need to be seriously fit. Your training will need to be carefully planned, thought out and executed. To say that this is a challenge is not paying an ironman justice. Each discipline requires completely different muscle groups to be strong, a different skill set, and different training methods. Training requires perfect balance- overtraining in one part can actually be detrimental to another due to a risk of postural imbalances, muscle strain and potential injury. So how can Pilates play its part?
Pilates works on your powerhouse, the CORE of the body by enhancing strength, flexibility and control, key aspects for aspiring triathletes. Specifically, Pilates works on your transverse abdominus, rectus abdominus, erector spinae, obliques and gluteals.
Pilates allows you to simultaneously improve your core without gaining undesirable bulk and weight yet tones pure muscle. Increasing core strength results in better posture, increased power efficiency and output and potentially reduces your risk of injury. Pilates isolates and integrates muscle groups which assist functional movement patterns improving alignment of the pelvis giving you a stable base of support. Consequently, postural awareness and balance control reduce the risk of low back pain and other potential injuries.
Many triathletes will say that swimming is their weak spot. Why-because it’s so technical and harder to make improvement gains than running or cycling. An effective streamline position is crucially important to prevent drag caused by poor body position in the water, and also to prevent injury.
To adopt a good streamline position, the main focus will be on flexibility. You must have good flexibility of the shoulder, upper back and hips to adopt that amazing fish like position. Pilates focuses on exercising in excellent posture, and many of the exercises on your front will replicate the streamline position adopted in the water. Pilates also encourages flexibility in the key areas mentioned to adopt a streamline, and if you can achieve this position on land you will be better placed to get there in the water. Finally, endurance of the muscles holding the streamline position is essential- and you guessed it- Pilates works these muscles too!
Pilates also works the core muscles or the powerhouse. A strong core increases the connection between upper and lower limb, improving the power of the stroke, and allowing for increased efficiency of your stroke, and ultimately increased speed.
Cycling: Often leads to dominant leg development and less core and upper body muscular development. Core strength is key to reducing the levels of fatigue and getting through those long rides. Pilates improves muscular imbalances, alignment, core and upper limb strength enhancing pedal stroke and power output.
The kyphotic (hunched) posture that is required for cycling is less than desirable, prolonged periods in this position can potentially lead to injury if preventative corrective measures are not utilised. The posture allows for excessive forward flexion of the lumbar spine, forward rotation of the hips and pelvis and often there is a shortening of the neck muscles too due to looking forward during riding. This posture is one of the leading causes of low back pain in cyclists. Shortened hamstrings and neural issues along with Itb/gluteal/piriformis injuries are often seen in both cyclists and runners. However, there is evidence to suggest that Pilates can improve and prevent low back and other common injuries by improving core, restoring postural alignment and muscle imbalances.
Running: It’s all about economy and efficiency – it should be smooth and effortless. The repetitive movement of specific muscle groups during running can result in muscular imbalances. Pilates can improve muscle flexibility which can not only prevent injury but lead to improved stride length potentially giving you the ability to run faster and longer! Pilates also works on your breathing which is integral to a good running technique.
The ironman is coming to Edinburgh! The swim starts in Preston Link, the cycle route through East Lothian and the run finishing in Holyrood Park. It’s a bit late to start training for it this time round but who knows- it might just inspire you to go for it in the future.
“You can quit if you want, and no one will care. But you will know the rest of your life.” – John Collins (Founder of The Ironman).