By: Ben Greenfield is an Ironman athlete and coach. A few years ago, a study was published that outlined the importance of core training for cyclists. The purpose was to determine whether cycling mechanics are affected by core stability. The study concluded that core fatigue resulted in altered cycling mechanics—and end result that might increase the risk of injury by exposing the knee joint to greater stress.
The rub? If your core is more stabile, the rest of you will be better aligned and more resistant to fatigue.
The core is defined as the collection of primary stabilizing muscles for both the front and the back of the pelvis and lower back. On the bike, pelvic stabilization helps maintains a natural curvature of the spine. A weak core could potentially inhibit power production, since the pelvis is the “lever” for your psoas and gluteal muscles, both of which are your cycling power muscles. If your lower extremities are not aligned properly and the lever is in an incorrect position, then power is compromised.
A stronger core will enhance a cyclist’s force transmission from the hips and pelvis to the lower extremities.
During a long distance cycling event (such as Ironman), the pelvis is fixed in a constant position, and subjected to tens of thousands of muscle contraction repetitions. If the core breaks down during this time (due to fatigue) then the pelvis will shift and power (watts) may suffer. So even if the legs are ideally prepared and adequately tapered, a cyclist with a weak core could still have subpar results. For the triathlete, this problem is compounded by the fact that the core is already pre-fatigued by the swim.
So, how can a cyclist prepare the core properly for the rigors of triathlon? Crunches alone will certainly not do the trick, because the low back is supported by the ground during a crunch—definitely not the case while cycling. Instead, here are three effective functional core training moves for enhancing pelvic stability and core endurance.
1. Brick Walls. This is a strategy I will use during a long hilly ride or a hill interval workout, and can be performed on your indoor trainer or during an outdoor ride. Climb an entire hill in the standing position. While this may not be ideal for efficiency, it really works your core. As you climb, try to breathe from deep in your core, just behind the bellybutton. At the same time, visualize your abdomen as a “brick wall”, and maintain a tight core, especially as you drive your knees up to your chest. If you do this properly, then every the leg comes past the top tube you’ll feel your abdominal muscles contract. For added effect, avoid bouncing on the handlebars.
2. Mountain Climbers
Your focus during this exercise is very similar to the Brick Wall, except now you should be off the bike, in a push-up position, driving your right knee up towards the left elbow and vice versa. Again, maintain focus on a tight abdomen and deep stomach breathing.
You will also need to focus on maintaining a straight line from the shoulders to the wrist, and hips that are close to the ground. These can be performed slowly, as in the video, or quickly, mimicking a rate closer to a cycling cadence.
Ben Greenfield is an Ironman athlete and coach at the Rock Star Triathlete Academy, where he’ll be going into Ironman recovery in even greater depth during an upcoming group coaching call. Visit his website to find other tips just like this, along with dedicated support from the Rock Star coaching staff.