It is an accepted fact that cyclists spend many hours in the same position while pushing hundreds of watts through the pedals. This type of constant activity can result in issues (pain) in both the lower back, the knees and even the neck. The solution for some may lie in having their cycling position analysed and adjusted appropriately, for many the issues are a result of weak core muscles. Since the late 1990’s core stability has received considerable attention in an effort to develop functional strength in the vast majority of sports. In the modern sporting world core strengthening is now recognised as a fundamental component of any training regime by the athletic community for performance enhancement and by medical professionals in respect of injury prevention. In essence all core stability/strengthening programmes focus on strengthening the abdominal, gluteal and paraspinal (those muscles that run next to & parallel to the spine) muscles. From a performance perspective a strong core provides not only stability and control to the torso and spine during activity, but also creates a platform for greater force development and leverage for all upper and lower limb movement. In respect of injury prevention a strong core helps establish effective stabilisation which is essential in respect of preventing injuries to the lower back and the body’s extremities.
The Muscles of the Core
In general the muscles of the core run the length of the torso (The central part of the body including the thorax & the abdomen). The list below includes the most commonly identified core muscles as well as the lesser known groups.
- Rectus Abdominis - situated along the front of the abdomen, this is the most well-known abdominal muscle commonly referred to as the "six-pack"
- Erector Spinae Group - This group of three muscles runs from the lower back to the neck.
- Multifidus - situated under the erector spinae along the vertebral column, these muscles help to extend and rotate the spine.
- External Obliques – situated on the side and front of the abdomen.
- Internal Obliques - situated under the external obliques.
- Transverse Abdominis (TVA) - located under the oblique muscles. The TVA is the deepest of the abdominal muscles, it wraps around lower spine providing both protection and stability.
- Hip Flexors – found in the front of the pelvis and upper thigh area. The muscles that make up the hip flexors include: Psoas Major, Illiacus, Rectus Femoris, Pectineus & Sartorius.
- Gluteus Medius & Minimus- situated at the side of the hip
- Gluteus Maximus, & Piriformis – found at the back of the hip (buttocks).
- Hip adductors - situated in the inner thigh area.
The Core Muscles and Cycling
As previously stated the core is essential in providing dynamic stability, therefore a strong core is a fundamental necessity for effective cycling. In essence while it is the lower body that is pushing the power through the pedals, it is the core that keeps the body stable on the bike. Cyclists who effectively utilise the correct muscles for both power generation and stabilisation are both efficient and effective as they create a stable base for the powerful gluteals, quads and hamstrings to work off. It is this stability which helps protect the back and knees from injury. Cyclists who cannot hold a position where there is little or no movement of the pelvis during pedalling and who cannot maintain a neutral spine (flat lower back), are identifiable as they exhibit excessive side to side movement. This is particularly evident when climbing or when driving hard on the down stroke. The inability to hold this position is not only inefficient but it leaves the cyclist susceptible to overuse injuries caused by altered alignment of the hips and the knees.
Injuries commonly found as a result of poor core stability, leading to postural mal-alignment and a lack of effective gluteal recruitment includes:
- Low back pain; caused by a lack of support from stabilising muscles. If back muscles are not working effectively, the vertebral discs, nerves and ligaments may become stressed and possibly inflamed.
- Sciatic nerve pain; due to excessive movement through the lumbar - pelvic region.
- Hip and groin pain; as a result of excessive side to side movement of the pelvis.
- Anterior (front) knee pain; caused by the knee moving too far away from the midline.
- Excessive use of hamstrings and lateral thigh muscles to compensate for lack of gluteal strength layered over a stable pelvic base.
- Excessive use of quadriceps and hip flexors to compensate for lack of hip and spinal extensor strength.
- Stiffness and pain in the mid-back and neck regions; due to poor posture and attempts by the cyclist t to stabilise the body via the arm muscles and handlebars.
- Pins and needles in the hands, and hand problems; from stabilising and excessive weight bearing through the arms.
In essence optimum core strength results not only in improved performance but it will also minimise the risk of injury, particularly in respect of the knee, back and neck. Both being vital if cyclists are to gain maximum enjoyment for their efforts!
Hopefully you have found this article of interest & value to you. Should you require further information on this subject or wish to find out how we at Cyclissimo can help you realise your cycling aspirations please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org