Activate your core for a stronger ride

 

What is Core strength?

 

A common assumption is that core strength comes solely from the abdominal muscles.  But the major core muscles also include the pelvic floor muscles, transverse abdominus (the muscle which wraps around the torso from front to back) and multifidus (the small muscles that run up the length of the spine), along with other muscles around the hip and mid/lower back.

 

Core strength refers to both stability and coordination which help to control force, increase efficiency in movement and reduced the risk of injury whilst exercising.

 

 

Why is it important for cyclists?

 

As with most sports, cycling involves the transfer of energy along the kinetic chain, in cycling terms this runs from your hand on the bar, to your feet on the pedal. Each time this transfer of energy happens from arm to leg, or from leg to leg, the core is the common denominator.

 

A strong core will give stability on the bike and increase power transfer to the pedals. Core strength also helps to maintain a strong and effective riding position, a cyclist with a weak core will often experience low back fatigue which could lead to lower back pain or even injury.

 

 

How to activate your core


Before doing any type of core strengthening program you must first learn how to activate your core muscles, and it’s not as easy as you’d imagine. You’ll need to concentrate on correct technique when performing this exercise, and remember that 10 good repetitions are more effective than 25 bad repetitions.

 

We’ve broken down the basics into three steps so you can learn to activate your core correctly, try them individually first and then put them all together.

 

Start by lying on your back, on a firm surface, with something behind your head (such as a rolled up towel) to keep your neck in alignment. Bend your knees and put your feet flat on the floor.

 

Core strength 1

 

 

Part 1:  Place your fingers on the boney points on the front of your hips, then move them inwards and down a couple of centimetres. They should now be on a soft area.  Next perform a 'cough'. During the cough you should feel the muscle under your fingers, the transverse abdominus (TVA) activate and become firm, before relaxing. Repeat the cough a couple of times, until you are happy with this feeling, then try to activate the TVA without coughing. Be careful that your abdomen does not blow outwards, think about drawing your belly button towards the floor.

 

Part 2:    Draw up your pelvic floor, as if you are stopping yourself from passing urine, and try to keep your buttock and thigh muscles relaxed.

 

Part 3:    Swell out the muscles either side of your spine (mulitifidus). To check this is being done correctly ask someone to place their hand under the lower arch of your back.  They should feel a slight increase in pressure on their hand. Make sure to concentrate on activating your multifidus, as opposed to tilting your pelvis. If you’re unsure how to activate these muscles, try standing and placing your own thumbs either side of your lower spine. Stand with one foot a small pace in front of the other (as if walking) and rock gently and slowly from the front to the back foot. You should feel the muscle swell out under your thumbs as you move and when you’re familiar with this feeling, try to replicate while lying on the floor.

 

Finally, progress to doing all three steps together for a proper core strength activation.  To work out the correct level of activation without straining, activate all the steps together at your maximal level, then reduce by 50% and then reduce by another 50%.

You should then be at a maintainable level of around 25%.  It is important that you keep relaxed when doing this exercise, don't allow your shoulders or legs to tense.

 

When you’re able to active your core correctly, try doing two sets of 5-10 second activations daily, with the same amount of rest between each repetition.

 

 

Progressions


Once you’re able to complete two sets of basic core activation, progress to raising one foot off the floor whilst keeping your core activated.  Make sure that your hips remain level when you do this. Finally progress to raising your foot and then straightening your leg, whilst your leg is raised. 

 

Core Strength 2

 

 Core Strength 3

 

 

The Plank


Once you are able to activate your core you should incorporate core strength exercises into your training regime and complete them 2 to 3 times a week. Our next article will provide you with a number or exercises but first of all start with the Plank.

Start by lying on the floor, resting on your forearms.  Push yourself up onto your forearms and toes.  Aim to have a straight line from your ankles, through your knees, to your hips and shoulders.  Do not allow your back to arch, or your buttocks raise up.

Hold this position for 10 seconds, then relax for 10 seconds. Repeat 10 times. Good luck!

 

Core strength - plank

 

 


 

 

 

This article has been written for Bike Envy by Cassie Gledhill , who is a competitive cyclist specialising in treating athletes and non-athletes with musculoskeletal pain and injury, postural dysfunction and post/pre operative rehabilitation.

 

She has a degree in Sports Rehabilitation and has specialised in injury prevention techniques. In particular, she identifies weaknesses in posture and lifestyle, and then seeks to improve these via a combination of corrective exercise training, manual therapy techniques and functional education. Her clients range from desk-bound office workers, through to elite athletes, from children through to older adults.

 

She has supported professional basket ball teams and international hockey players, as well as working with athletes at the London Marathon, endurance motorcycle championships and a number of football and rugby teams.

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