Cycling and Core Stability

Improving your core stability can vastly improve your cycling performance. Although the concept of core stability has been embraced by the majority of health professionals for some time now, it is worth pointing out its importance with different sporting and training activities. A recent study printed in the “Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research” looked at the relationship between core stability and cycling performance.

The US researchers recorded data on pedal force and hip, knee and ankle joint motion of 15 competitive cyclists during bouts on a high speed treadmill cycling. In between the treadmill cycling bouts the cyclists where taken through a 30 minute workout designed to fatigue the core stabilizers – basically the researchers where interested in the effects of CORE fatigue on cycling technique and performance.

The CORE fatigue workout involved a circuit style session of 40secs on and 20secs off with a combination of seated upper torso rotations with a medicine ball, side bends with weighted plates, standing torso rotations with pulleys (like a woodchopper) and incline sit-ups with weighted plates.

physio bike fitting Ben HendersonThe results showed that core fatigue did affect and alter cycling mechanics – especially in regards to knee motion – in a way that may increase the risk of injury. Indeed, a particular study found that if knee excursion moved more than 2.2cm away from the midline, cyclists were 3 times more likely to experience anterior knee pain. Not only does excessive translation away from the midline predispose the cyclist to knee pain, but it will also be a less effective force production on the pedals compared to driving directly upon the pedals.This study promotes the need for improved core stability and endurance to ensure correct alignment is maintained during extended cycling sessions.

In our bike fitting assessments at Sport & Spinal Physiotherapy in Gungahlin and Canberra, we have often found that cyclists with poor core stability will have excessive pelvic rocking during the pedalling. The goal is to have sufficient core stability to have what is known as “silent hips”. This is where there is little to no movement of the pelvis during pedalling whilst maintain a neutral spine or flat back providing the cyclist an optimum platform in which to activate the gluteals and drive the pedals. The analogy we provide to Canberra cyclists to understand the concept is –“imagine running on soft sand and the higher energy output required to move forward on this unstable platform, well consider the same applies to the other end (of your leg motion) if your core is unstable. Furthermore, not only will an optimum core result in improved performance but it will also minimise the risk of injury, particularly with knee and back pain.

Although this particular study looked more so at the abdominal group, the gluteals (maximus and minimus) need to be looked at as well to make sure the cyclist is applying the optimum force to the pedals. This commonly is noted as excessive medial translation of the knee towards the top tube during long training sessions or hill work. Some cyclists even comment that their knee will actually hit the top tube.

So in summary, make sure your abdominal group, back muscles and your gluteal group are activating optimally during cycling as this will help improve performance and reduce the risk of injury. Indeed, when I was training for the 2010 World 24 hour Mountain Biking Championships in Canberra my training routine included 2-3 sessions per week of core work and gluteal strengthening. Make sure you too include some core work and gluteal strengthening into your training program.

If you have any issues with cycling in Canberra and would like to improve your cycling performance AND/OR help with any cycling related back or knee pain – CALL SPORT & SPINAL PHYSIO NOW ON 6262 4464. Our physios can help get you back on the bike FAST. A bike fitting session can also help you get the most out of your bike.

About Craig Honeybrook

Craig is the practice principal of Sport & Spinal Physiotherapy. He attained a Masters in Sports Physiotherapy degree in 2000 at Sydney University studying foot injuries in runners and anterior knee pain in cyclists. He has been working as a physiotherapist for over 20 years and moved to Canberra over 12 years ago. He has been consultant physiotherapist for Balmain Rugby League, Eastern Suburbs Rugby, Australian Track & Field and Brumbies Rugby. His special interests include lower limb biomechanics, spinal instabilities and malalignments, bike fitting, running assessments, shoulder injuries and knee injuries. Craig was a former international level middle distance runner but now enjoys endurance mountain biking achieving a 2nd placing in the 2010 World Solo 24 hour Mountain Bike Championships. He also enjoys skiing, swimming, kayaking, gym work and spending time with his family.