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Pedal Science Blog: Cycle Specific Core Strength Without The Gym

Welcome to Pedal Science, the weekly bike fitting blog by Nick Thomas of The Endurance Coach. This week our resident bike fitter Nick Thomas talks about cycle specific core strength, without the gym!

For the purpose of this article core strength refers to the body’s ability to support itself, maintain optimum posture and enable biomechanical efficiency to be maintained for the required duration of the intended event.

I often refer to it as postural endurance as it requires more than the ‘core’ muscles to maintain efficiency when fatigued. Achieving and maintaining good postural efficiency is essential as you’ll be able to maintain your optimum power for longer. For a triathlete this is also relevant as the run split will be affected as he same muscles then need to help maintain an effective running gait.

The debate on whether land training is an effective way to develop core strength rumbles on but there are several ways to improve core strength while on the bike. The following points provide ways to train the body to maintain efficiency for extended periods with increased fatigue:

  • Hill training:

Climbing hills with a high resistance puts greater strain on the core muscles. Hold the bars lightly (don’t grip tight), keep the upper body relaxed and you’ll instantly require more muscle activity to maintain efficiency.

  • Maintain posture:

Previous articles have discussed this in more detail but lifting the chest will prevent excessive posterior pelvic tilt and require more core muscle activity. Slumping back in the saddle causes a drop in power and also excessively stresses the lower back muscles, often resulting in back ache.

  • High resistance turbo sessions:

These sessions simulate hill climbs but specificity can be increased by achieving the following:

  1. Perform the efforts with the wrists resting on the top of the bars so you can’t grip. The upper body should be still and correct posture maintained
  2. Progress by sitting up without holding on at all. The temptation will be to rock the upper body to achieve more momentum but keeping still will require greater core muscular control.
  • Unstable training:

Postural muscles are aerobic rather than dynamic as they’re required to work for very low intensity for extended periods. By being unbalanced postural muscles are required to provide the necessary balance and stability. Here are two ways to achieve this:

  • Mountain biking/cyclocross:

The more challenging and unpredictable the terrain the more core muscle activity there will be to maintain balance. The winter is often an excellent time to develop this as road riding can become less practical due to the weather.

  • Rollers:

Again, this would be a practical option during the winter. The unstable nature of rollers can initially be very off-putting but they provide an excellent alternative to riding outdoors.

  • Time in the saddle:

This is perhaps the most obvious and overlooked way to improve cycling-specific core strength. The more often you ride your bike the more effective you’ll become at maintaining efficiency when fatigued. For people racing in longer events this will mean gradually increasing riding time so you’re used to being on the bike for the required amount of time.

  • Riding position:

If you intend to race on a time trial bike you need to spend time training on it as the stress throughout your musculature will be different (although not necessarily greater) than when using a road bike. The same consideration should be given to tribars being fitted to a road bike: don’t fit a pair to your bike before a key race unless you’ve trained with them extensively beforehand. Regardless of what bike you use it’s essential you train in the same position you’ll be in when racing.

Conclusion:

Land training can be effective in developing core strength but it can’t replace sport-specific training. By using the points described above you can increase postural endurance while riding. The more effective you are at maintaining optimum posture the longer you’ll be able to ride to your potential.

Nick Thomas is the resident bike fitter at The Endurance Coach. He is a fully qualified bike fitter and expert in lower limb mechanics, holding a BSc (Hons) in podiatry. You can contact him using the email address: nickthomas@theendurancecoach.com or see more about his fitting services by GOING HERE.



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