GOOD CORE STRENGTH IS THE KEY TO UNLOCKING HIGHER LEVELS OF CYCLING SKILLS AND THE GATEWAY TO ENJOYING REAL “BIKELIFE”
During many casual conversations with fellow riding friends, the topic on why I still continue to ride my street bike pops up often. While I am not the best old man street styler in town, and had my fair shares of cycling “bailouts”. I take pride in my constant core strength exercise opportunities whenever the occasion arises – which is everytime I ride any of my bicycles. Every ride, long or short of it, where depleting energy level from long rides allows, I would try to tackle some street features – be it a trash bag full of dry leaves, a kerb or a road divider. To some, this might look like a habit only street riders (Street MTB or BMX) have because we are “playful”? Not quite accurate. It’s a habit I am happy to retain throughout my bike life as this hops and pops continue to build core strength and muscle memories. For every cyclist who wish to do well in their primary cycling disciplines (mountain, road or any other disciplines along this spectrum), I suggest getting your technical foundation skills dialled and core strength up to speed. Here’s how.
WHY IS CORE STRENGTH IMPORTANT FOR SPORTS
The core muscles have two main functions (1) relief the spine from excessive load and (2) transfer force from the lower body to the upper body and vice versa. A strong, stable core helps us to prevent injuries and allows us to execute movements (sports moves) effectively.
While it is commonsensical to say that every part of the body working at its healthiest is of utmost importance when doing sports, it is also logical to say that the well-being of the back (spine) is one of the most important aspect for us to perform well in any sports. Yet, it is also highly prone to injury. As such, protecting the back from injury is also an integral part of enjoying the sports we love. In order to protect the back, we should ideally create an all-round stiffness for the spine so as to perform moves like run, jump, throw and lift effectively. Such actions transfer force throughout our body and all of the muscles in the hips, torso and shoulders work together.
CORE STRENGTH TRAINING
If you go to a gym instructor, the usual advice would be:
- Forward plank – keep a straight line through the body, preventing the hips from sagging toward the floor
- Side plank – maintain a straight line from your head to your heels in order to prevent side bending
- Hip thrust – while lying on your back, bend your knees to roughly 90 degrees and press your feet firmly into the floor. Squeeze the glute muscles to lift your hips off the floor, getting your shoulders, hips, and knees into a straight line
- Weighted Carries – a great way to practice transferring force through the body. You can carry a weight in one or both hands and simply walk for a certain distance or time.The focus is on staying long through the body and not bending or twisting in any direction. These carries can be done with the weight by your side(s) or pressing the weight overhead and reaching for the sky
MY BIKE IS MY GYM!
From a cyclist’s perspective, the above list are good exercises for core strength training when we are not riding. But should we wish to enjoy our training, then it’s simply “MY BIKE IS MY GYM”!
What better way to exercise our core muscles and have fun at the same time? … We ride. And we play as we ride. Simple.
The muscles of the core are built for endurance, not for maximum strength. As such, it is best to increase reps as strength improves. Working with a coach to help ensure safety, proper techniques and over time develop good core strengths is also recommended.
Having a stable core is important for preventing injuries and also for enhancing performance in sports. There is no need to train on specific muscles as they are all important for spinal stability. What is important is how the body moves and how to challenge the core from bending and twisting too much in any direction. A neutral spine throughout the duration of the activity is critical to executing them correctly and safely.
With regards to the most basic cycling move – pedaling: most riders lose significant power because of weak lower back and abdominal muscles. The legs perform most of the work in cycling, but a strong core will increase stability on the bike and increase power transfer to the pedals. A strong lower back will allow the rider to remain in the desired riding position for longer periods of time without discomfort or injury.
With regards to more advanced moves like pops and jumps: good core muscle strength became evidently more crucial. I would say freestyle riders (Street MTB and BMX) have quite many similar needs as those of gymnasts. When we balance, jump, turn, and overextend our bodies in different positions, our core does most of the work in keeping the other body parts in the correct positions – especially when it comes to supporting our backs. It’s not only important for preventing injuries, but a necessary component in successfully executing these elements.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
If the saying “MY BIKE IS MY GYM” is true for cyclists, then we would have to agree that “Practice makes Perfect“. Does that mean the more you ride, the better your foundation skills become? And the stronger your core muscles would be, making you good with pops and hops and other obstacles/features that would come your way? Sorry no. It doesn’t work like this.
“Practice makes Perfect” is not a term to be taken out of context.
To improve your core strength, you have to be doing actions that would improve your core muscles. You have to attempt to hop from flat or pop off kickers, aiming for more air more distance as you progress. That’s “Practice“.
Constantly practicing the moves you wish to improve, you get to understand yourself better, understand your bike better, and hopefully get your skills dialled in over time. Of course, you will need tips from coaches and friends when you hit a training deadend, but that is another story for another day.
I personally believe that young people climb up any learning curve faster. Also, getting their foundation skills correct at a young age helps in any future learning. This acquired good foundation skills would form a strong base for other skills to stack on over time. A young rider who starts off with Street BMX riding and coaching could have an early head start to developing good core strength, reflexes, body/limbs coordinations and confidence. This is beneficial to all types of sports, not limiting to cycling alone.
KEEP DOING IT
With strong core strength, enduring stamina, improved confidence and rock-solid foundation technical skills, you could easily be the envy of your riding peers. And you would enjoy every ride more – cos you have the eye and ability to make every riding spot fun. That’s real bikelife!
Having good core strength is not a one-off thing though. You have to keep going at it to keep it strong and ready. While you could have enjoyed a good advantage by starting young, you should not slag after that. Use it or lose it. So …Stay Strong and enjoy your bikelife. Keep on Riding, Popping and Jumping.