Ask a Pro — Diane Stibbard
– Coach, Personal Trainer, and Two-Time Canadian Duathlete of the Year
A: Being a good cyclist requires fitness, correct nutrition, proper recovery and rest, periodization training, as well as leg and core strength.
What is core strength or conditioning?
Core conditioning integrates and co-ordinates movement and stability for the entire body. It combines the strength, balance, agility and flexibility of all the muscles that control the trunk, spine, and pelvic regions. The core is made up of two units: an inner and an outer unit.
The inner unit – or more precisely the “true core” (the muscles that attach to the lowest vertebra, lumbar 5, or L5). These muscles are the transverse abdominis, anterior pelvic floor, multifidus, and diaphragm. The inner unit also includes the deep fibres of the psoas (hip), the deep external rotators of the hips, and the lumbar portions of the longissimus and the iliocostalis muscles. The inner unit acts as an anchor, which stabilizes the back and the body. However, the inner unit can’t do its job unless it’s strengthened through specific exercises.
The outer unit – or the more superficial or global muscles involved in the core are the internal and external obliques (muscles of the waist), erector spinae (lower back), deep fibres of the gluteus maximus (butt), quadratus lumborum (right and left lower back muscles) and pectineus and adductor brevis (inner thighs).
You can see that many muscles are involved in the core, all of which are recruited when cycling. Becoming strong and stable in these areas will lessen your chances of injury, and allow you to ride strongly for extended periods of time without muscle fatigue. Most people think of fatigue as the feeling of being exhausted physically, but fatigue also occurs within the muscles of the body. When a muscle fatigues the result can be a strain (tear) of the muscle fibres.
How does this happen? Cycling involves the repetitive use of many muscles. The core muscles support the major muscles involved in the pedaling motion. As we ride and force the muscles to continue to fire, they become tired and fatigue sets in. Once that happens, the muscle can break down, and a strain can occur. The following exercises will help you to prepare your body for riding, prevent injury from occurring, and train you to become a better cyclist.
Execute these moves at least twice per week during the winter, and during the outdoor riding season. Do 2 sets of 10 – 20 repetitions.
Inner Unit core stabilization exercises:
1. Place your elbows on the floor underneath your shoulders.
2. Now place your toes on the floor with legs hip width apart.
3. With back straight, lift your body off the floor and pull in your belly button toward your spine
4. Hold this position for a count of 30 to 60 seconds.
5. Relax, placing your body back on the floor. Repeat for 3 to 5 repetitions.
1. Lie on the floor with back flat, knees bent and feet on the floor.
2. Place your hands on your lower abs, about where a bikini would cover, and place your thumbs on your navel.
3. Now pretend you have to zip up a really tight pair of jeans and pull in your belly button toward the back of your spine.
4. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds, then relax and repeat several more times.
1. Lie on your side with both knees bent to a 90-degree angle.
2. Keeping your feet together, lift your top knee up and down at a fairly good pace.
3. Do until exhaustion, or until you cannot lift the knee up to the same height.
Bird Dog [athletiek.com – photo credit]
1. Begin on the floor on your hands and knees.
2. Raise right leg out straight behind you while maintaining a position parallel to the floor.
3. Raise left arm straight to the front while maintaining a position parallel to the floor.
4. Continue to alternate right and left side for 20 repetitions.
Outer Unit Core Stabilization exercises:
1. Lie on your stomach with your hands at your temples.
2. Keep hips on the floor, and raise your upper body up, using the muscles of your lower body.
3. Hold for 2 seconds, then lower down gently.
4. Repeat for 10 to 12 repetitions.
1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and squat down to a 90-degree angle. As you squat, load all your weight over your heels, not over your knees.
2. Pause at the bottom of the squat for 2 to 3 seconds, then press back up to a standing position.
Side lying adductors
1. Lie on your left side with your left leg straight, right knee bent and right foot placed in front of or behind your left knee.
2. Steadily lift your left leg up as high as possible by contracting your adductor muscles. Slowly lower your leg, repeat for a set of reps, and switch sides.
1. Starting position for mountain climbers is the same as for the plank, except here your arms are straight, not bent on your elbows.
2. Begin by bringing one knee up toward the same side elbow (for example, left knee to left elbow).
3. Alternate for 10 to 15 repetitions on each side. A variation of this exercise, which involves the obliques, is to bring one knee toward the opposite arm—a more rotational motion.
So before you get on the bike, go to the gym or your basement and do the above core strengthening exercises. Be strong and ride well.
Diane provides training programs for recreational and competitive cyclists, duathletes and triathletes, including nutritional counseling and personal training. Does your company need a fitness consultant? Get in touch with Diane to discuss fitness seminars for corporations
Check out Diane’s e-programs: Keeping Fit in the Off-Season and Training For a Two-Day Charity Event For the Time-Starved Cyclist.