Integrated Training for Improved Cycling Performance: Corrective Exercise/Stabilization Training

As the previous article (Integrated Training for Improved Cycling Performance) looked at how cycling uses a repetitive motion and position that can lead to muscular imbalances, this article will take a look at how to correct these imbalances to allow the body to work more efficiently through a type of strength training known as corrective exercise.

Before we define what corrective exercise is, let’s develop a quick understanding of how the body works. The body works as an integrated functional chain (kinetic chain)with The nervous system and muscular system work together as an integrated functional unit called the kinetic chain. If one link in the kinetic chain is weak, the rest of the chain is affected. For example, the cycling position places the hip flexors in a chronic flexed position. As these muscles become tight, their antagonists muscles become weak, in this case the abdominals (transverse abdominals) and glutes. In this weakened state the core cannot reduce, produce or transfer force developed from the quads and hamstrings during pedaling.

Traditional strength programs for cyclist focus on working the muscles of the quads, hamstrings, chest, and lats. This is where most cyclists make their mistake when starting an off-season training program. By strengthening these muscles without proper core stabilization, the lumbo-pelvic hip area (core) cannot stabilize the pelvis. Therefore a sound training in the off-season will focus on strengthening the core (muscles that stabilize) and gradually work toward the muscles that produce the force to drive the pedals (legs). With that in mind corrective exercise is defined as a phase in an integrated strength to improve muscular imbalances, neuromuscular deficiency, and improve the integrity of the kinetic chain.

Corrective Exercises are selected to improve flexibility, core strength and balance. Why balance you say? Balance is what keeps you upright on the bike. Core strength is the key to good balance. By incorporating balance into this type of training, core strength is enhanced. By improving these three key components, we can increase the efficiency of the kinetic chain and decrease the likelihood of injury to the lower back, upper back, neck, and knees.

The program is divided into 4sections:

1. Warm-up (flexibility).

2. Core Stabilization

3. Strength

4. Cool – down

The warm-up includes cardiovascular and flexibility exercises. Spend five minutes of light cardio activity to increase blood flow and raise core temperature. Without proper levels of flexibility, it is impossible to have an efficient functioning kinetic chain. Focus on stretching the hip flexors, quads, hamstrings, scalenes, sternocleidomastoid, calves, pectorals, lats and glutes. Hold each stretch for at least 20 seconds without bouncing.

The core stabilization training is next. The muscles of the core are slow twitch muscles and therefore need more repetitions to fatigue Repetition ranges are generally 15-25, 2-3 sets with a slow tempo to increase their ability to stabilize the spine. Exercises used to correct postural imbalances should emphasize eccentric and isometric muscle actions. Exercises used here are planks, bridges, and cobras. Balance exercises are used here to enhance proprioception and increase stability of the hips, knees, and ankles which will allow for a more efficient pedal stroke.

The strength section works the prime movers of the body while using a slow tempo to allow the muscles to stabilize the body and joints. Bodyweight and dumbbells are commonly used here with stability balls. Repetition and set ranges are the same as the core section (15-25 reps, 2-3 sets). Exercises are chosen to improve stabilization and strength of the shoulders, chest, back, and legs. The cycling position puts a lot of strain on the muscles between the shoulder blades due to the rounded, hunched over position. Therefore the exercise selected are to improve the strength and stabilization of the rhomboids, lower traps, lats, and external rotators. Exercises here include: stability ball dumbbell rows, single leg dumbbell scapcions, and external rotations. These exercises will improve the strength and stability of the shoulder allowing for decrease muscle soreness during long rides. The lower body exercises are designed to improve overall function of the leg as a “pedaling unit.” Exercises are as follows: single leg squats, stability ball leg curls, and tube walks.

Technique and form are the key to any exercise program and this one is no different. On every exercise, your core should be “braced”. To perform a abdominal brace, pull your bellybutton toward your spine, tighten your abs without moving your body (as if you were about to be punched in the stomach). Once you have this basic position, think about “pushing” your abs down into your pelvic region and hold. This position has been shown to reduce back strain by around 40%.

After you have finished with your workout you need to cool-down. Cool down should focus on static stretching of the same muscles that were stretched before you started to work. This allows the muscles that have tightened up to return to their normal resting position and enhance recovery.

Corrective exercise is the beginning part of an overall strengthening program. As your off-season gets longer, the intensity of the strength program will increase and become more specific to cycling activities that will improve strength and power.

Dave Radin is a Personal Trainer in the Lake Norman region of North Carolina. He is certified through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) as a Certified Personal Trainer (CPT). A former mountain bike racer and competitive road racer, Dave became a certified cycling coach through the USA Cycling.

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