Anatomy of the Track Cyclist

14 Aug

Cycling anatomy and that of track cyclists is a whole subject matter in itself and a blog is not enough to cover everything. The subject counts as several units in some universities whereas others include it under Sports anatomy in general. I was lucky to have finished 4 units of sports anatomy with emphasis on cycling anatomy. Again, the topic cannot be condensed in one blog let alone one post. So I’ll just share with you some important points to remember in cycling anatomy.

In track cycling, the body must have a strong, solid base. To obtain peak performance the all the systems must be operating in concert and as a single coordinated unit. Many cyclists fall into the trap of thinkinf that cycling is all about the legs. Unfortunately, it is not that simple. The legs, hips and buttocks DO generate the majority of the cycling power, but to stabilize the lower half of the body, one must have a strong abdomen, back and upper body. All sections of the body must work together to stabilize the bike and deliver maximum power to the pedals.

The cyclist in motion is amazing. So many aspects of human physiology come into play when one rides the bike. The cerebral cortex supplies the motivation and plan of attack when one climbs into the bike. The cyclist effortlessly maintains the stability and direction of the bike through the unconscious balance and coordination provided by the cerebellum. The heart, lungs, and vascular system supply much needed oxygen to the mitochondria of the msucles. Through aerobic and anaerobic energy conversion, the muscles contract and perform a huge amount of work. All this work creates heat, and the skin and respirations help keep the temperature well regulated. The skeletal muscle supplies the structural foundation of the entire system. Nealy every physiologic system needs to function in coordination to allow the cyclist to complete the ride. If you stop and think it through, you realize that it’s truly remarkable!

So let’s take a look at the cyclist in motion. Because the cranks on a bike extend 180 degrees in opposite directions, one of the cyclist’s legs will be extended when the other leg is flexed. This allows the flexor muscles on one leg to work at the same time that extensors are firing on the opposite side. With each rhythmic turn of the crank, the legs will cycle through all the various muscle groups. This is why cycling is a great exercise and why the pedal stroke is such an efficient means of propulsion. In proper form, the cyclist should have only a slight bend at the knee when the leg is in the 6 o’clock position. This stretches the hamstring to the ideal length and prepares for optimal firing during the upward pedal stroke. At the same time, the opposite pedal is at the 12 o’clock position, causing the cyclist’s thigh to be nearly parallel with the ground. This optimizes the gluteus maximus for maximal power output during the downward stroke and the quadriceps for a strong kick as the foot rounds the top of the cyclist’s pedaling motion.

As the cyclist’s rotate through the pedal stroke, the ankle will the foot to smoothly transition from the knee-flexed position to the knee-extended position. Just as the flexors and extensors of the upper leg alternate as they travel in the pedaling circle, the cyclist’s calf and lower leg muscles will add to the power curve during most of the pedaling motion. The calf and lower leg muscles will also help stabilize the ankle and foot. Proper seat height plays a key role in establishing the proper muscle position.

Because of the basic bent-over postion of the cyclist, a strong and healthy back is crucial to cycling performance. This means that the cyclist will need to strengthen and care for the back if he wants to have a long cycling career. The erector spinae, latissimus dorsi, and trapezius muscles support the spine as the cyclists lean forward on the bike. When riding in the handlebar drops, these muscles will help flatten the cyclist’s back providing better aerodynamics. Cycling also stresses the neck. Both the splenius and the trapezius help keep the cyclist’s eyes on the track by extending the neck.

The rectus abdominis, transversus abdomins and abdominal obliques provide anterior and lateral support to the torso, countering the well-developed muscles of the back. If either the back, anterior or alteral muscles are weak comapred to the others, the cyclist will have poor spinal alignment, unnecessary spinal stress and pain. Back pain may have nothing to do with malfunctioning or weak back muscles. It may in fact, be caused by a lack of conditioning of the abdominal muscles.

The cyclist’s arms contact the bike for both control and power delivery. While the cyclist holds the handlebars, each arm should maintain a slight bend at the elbow. As the cyclists pedal, the flexors and extensors in the arm will aternate from contraction to relaxation. The biceps, triceps, and forearm muscle all work in unison to stabilize the torso via the shoulder joint. Because of the riding position, the shoulder is constantly under pressure. Numerous muscle groups including the rhomboid, rotator cuff, and deltoid help maintain proper stability and position.

The chest muscles support and balance the musculature of the back and shoulders. The pectoralis major and minor allow the cyclist to lean forward on the bike and move the handlebars from side to side.

From this overview of the anatomy of the cyclist, it is clear the cycling involves the entire body. Track cyclists usually do complete body training to optimize their performance. No area of the body is less important than any other area however sprint cyclists training routine usually put more emphasis on the lower extremities or depending on the coach. Balance and symmetry are the keys to proper form and the proper form is required for the cyclist to gain power and limit the risk of injury.

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