Stabilise your ride

Ian Melvin delves into the latest thoughts in core stability as it relates to mountain bikers.
Core stability is a term that has been thrown around in the press for the past few years. It has been highlighted as a cure all for many cycling deficiencies and injuries and promoted as a must do for anyone riding a bike. Despite the publicity, many riders still question what benefit it will give them and how they should perform core stability exercises. Unfortunately, it is not just cycling that has awoken to this ‘core movement’; many other sports, personal trainers and sources of health and fitness advice are all preaching the message. This has led to an influx of poorly written material flooding the marketplace with the end result being misinformed riders performing the wrong exercises with incorrect technique. In this feature, I aim to bring you up to speed with the latest thoughts in stability training and provide some tried and tested examples of exercises that are specific to you as a mountain biker. All of the exercises illustrated are part of a progressive stability training program utilised at the Queensland Academy of Sport (QAS) by Suki Hobson, Strength and Conditioning Coach for the cyclists there.
Back to the Start
Dynamic exercises, such as cycling, place a demand on your trunk for stabilisation. Every action you make on a bike either originates in the trunk or is coupled in it (i.e. a pedalling movement in your legs is coupled to an upper body movement via the trunk.) “Being able to push harder on the pedals is of no use if you can’t control the power and as a consequence, your bike would move all over the place,” explained Hobson. “Stability training enhances the ability to apply power and be stable on one leg. Not only that, we’re connecting the entire body here.
Core Stability has been highlighted as a cure for many cycling deficiencies
We’re connecting the legs through to the shoulders, and stabilising the hips which is what bike riding is all about.” The term ‘core’ itself refers to your mid-section or trunk made up of your abdominals and upper and lower back. Deep seated within this region are 29 muscles, attached to your spine, pelvis and scapula. These are your core muscles. When trained and activated, these core muscles provide a more stable platform from which to transfer power directly to the pedals and greater control of the bike. Additionally, core training allows for the more efficient use of all your major peripheral muscles and limbs and a reduced chance of injury through the improved stabilisation of your spine and pelvis. Your natural riding position leads to muscular imbalances. Over time this can result in postural issues and compromise your ability to perform on the bike. To avoid this, you need to identify and work to overcome these imbalances and improve your core stability. Through the introduction of a stability program in to your weekly routine, you’ll find you’re able to apply greater power through the pedals while maintaining a relaxed, yet stable upper body. Those days of climbing with your head bobbing up and down while struggling to hold a straight line will be a thing of the past. When dropping down your favourite single-track, you’ll enjoy greater control over your bike and be better able to handle the bike when dropping- off obstacles.
Previous Thoughts
Core stability education has previously preached the required ability to locate and activate at demand one of the major core muscles; the Transversus Abdominis (TA). This advises Hobson, is where much misunderstanding and incorrect practice has arisen from. Trying to train this muscle in isolation is almost impossible without an expensive ultrasound scan; all you do is activate all your core muscles, which explained Hobson, is not efficient. It’s important to remember that the TA is but one core muscle. When you’re descending a loose singletrack, you won’t be worrying about whether you are getting the desired stability and correctly activating your TA as you learnt in your gym-based training. Instead, the focus at the QAS has now shifted to developing a cycling specific program that teaches athletes stability through a range of static and dynamic movements, enabling the production of force unilaterally through either an arm or leg. “There’s no reason why any mountain biker, weekend warrior or otherwise, shouldn’t be able to progress through these exercises. The key to remember is that these exercises are progressive. You have to be able to do the progression correctly before you move on, otherwise you’ll just be doing a bad technical example of the next exercise.”
Key Points:
• Take it one step at a time. Until you’ve mastered one movement, you won’t master the next progression.
• Practice each movement statically to develop correct technique, holding a fixed position for between 10 seconds to 2 minutes depending on the level of difficulty.
• Be imaginative when working dynamically with these exercises.
• When using dynamic versions of these exercises, you should be able to perform between 8 to 12 reps.

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