Cycling Mechanics and Core Stability

24 Sep

In recent years, fitness practitioners have increasingly recommended core stability exercises in sports conditioning programs. Greater core stability may benefit sports performance by providing a foundation for greater force production in the upper and lower extremities. Traditional resistance exercises have been modified to emphasize core stability. Such modifications have included performing exercises on unstable rather than stable surfaces, performing exercises while standing rather than seated, performing exercises with free weights rather than machines, and performing exercises unilaterally rather than bilaterally.

Despite the popularity of core stability training, relatively little scientific research has been conducted to demonstrate the benefits for healthy athletes. Based on the current literature, prescription of core stability exercises should vary based on the phase of training and the health status of the athlete. During preseason and in-season mesocycles, free weight exercises performed while standing on a stable surface are recommended for increases in core strength and power. Free weight exercises performed in this manner are specific to the core stability requirements of sports-related skills due to moderate levels of instability and high levels of force production. Conversely, during postseason and off-season mesocycles, Swiss ball exercises involving isometric muscle actions, small loads, and long tension times are recommended for increases in core endurance.

Furthermore, balance board and stability disc exercises, performed in conjunction with plyometric exercises, are recommended to improve proprioceptive and reactive capabilities, which may reduce the likelihood of lower extremity injuries.

A recent study in the National Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research outlined the importance of core training for cyclists. The title of this study was “Relationship Between Cycling Mechanics and Core Stability”. The purpose of the study was to determine whether cycling mechanics are affected by core stability. The foundation behind core training for cyclists is that pelvic stabilization maintains a natural curvature of the spine. The core is defined as the collection of primary stabilizing muscles for both the front and the back of the pelvis and lower back. A weak core could potentially inhibit power production, since the pelvis is the “lever” for the 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.

Hip, knee, and ankle joint kinematic and pedal force data were collected on 15 competitive cyclists while cycling untethered on a high-speed treadmill. The exhaustive cycling protocol consisted of cycling at 25.8 km x h(-1) while the grade was increased 1% every 3 minutes.

A core fatigue workout was performed before the second treadmill test. Total frontal plane knee motion (test 1: 15.1 +/- 6.0 degrees ; test 2: 23.3 +/- 12.5 degrees), sagittal plane knee motion (test 1: 69.9 +/- 4.9 degrees ; test 2: 79.3 +/- 10.1 degrees), and sagittal plane ankle motion (test 1: 29.0 +/- 8.5 degrees ; test 2: 43.0 +/- 22.9 degrees) increased after the core fatigue protocol.

No significant differences were demonstrated for pedaling forces. Core fatigue resulted in altered cycling mechanics that might increase the risk of injury because the knee joint is potentially exposed to greater stress. Improved core stability and endurance could promote greater alignment of the lower extremity when riding for extended durations as the core is more resistant to fatigue.

During a cycling event, 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 wattage will suffer. So even if the legs are ideally prepared and adequately tapered, a cyclist could still have subpar results. Core training then has become an essential part of the cycling training regimen.

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