Tuesday, May 3, 2011

At The Core of the Matter

Core Strengthening

In another blog, I spoke to the benefits of stretching and flexibility for cyclists. This one will focus on core strengthening and how it effects cycling.

In the recent years there has been more focus on core strengthening and its overall benefits for athletes. It helps with balance and stability. The term “solid foundation” comes to mind. This is true in cycling, although we tend to focus almost exclusively on quads, hamstrings, calves and “glutes.” 

I learned a personal lesson of the benefits of core strengthening in my early 40's after about 5 years of morning back pain. I was helping coach my daughter's soccer team. As we trained with some focus on core strengthening, my back pain disappeared. About 2 weeks after the season's end, it reappeared. It did not take much to put the two together and quickly I found that the core work we had done was the key. Now if I am extremely busy and go several days without some core work, my back tells me.

Again, this is an area that cyclists tend to ignore because we just want to cycle. For those of us past 30 and those that compete at a higher level, ignoring the core is a mistake. On longer rides, you fatigue sooner and your back hurts. As you tire, your pedal stroke becomes less efficient as your pelvis starts to rock back and forth. You put more weight on your hands often leading to numbness. Here is a good link to an article in Bicycling that has some rationale and exercises. (It even includes some core work you can do while riding.) Just Google “core strength exercises for cyclists” and you will get tons of workouts.

Often starting a core program is discouraging, especially if you start in on one of the hard hitting ones with names like Ab Ripper or Insanity. Like most activities, we need to start small and build. You can modify the exercises so you can do them comfortably at first (like do your planks on your knees or just sit up part way) and then expand your workout. Make sure you do a variety of exercises so that you work your whole core, central abs, obliques and back muscles. Similarly, you don’t have to do the whole workout every day or every time. Realistically, very few of us have the time to work out for hours a day. Most of us can manage 10 minutes, or maybe 5? By picking a few routines that last about 5-15 minutes each day and rotating them, you can get a great overall workout for your core and avoid the drudgery of doing the same thing every day. I think the benefits are easily seen in both cycling and every day life.

 Dr. Bruce

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