Using your core is an essential part of Chi Riding. Let’s have a look at Tip 2 which covers all you need to know about your core muscle group and how they affect your bike riding.

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Core Strength & Riding a Bike 

To use core muscles when you ride takes a conscious effort (at least until you become very proficient at it).  In fact, your body seems to find it is far easier to ride without using or using only some of your core. However with a little patience, time and practise you can learn to use core muscles when you ride and gain the benefits and efficiencies of doing so.

Learn about your ‘A’ Riding Position and then let’s get some understanding of the importance of the core muscles in supporting and maintaining this position.

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Core Strength

Your core muscles are the key muscles that enable you to achieve an ‘A” Ridng position and maintain this position through out the duration of the ride.

So what is Core Strength? Core refers to our centre, like the core of an apple, Our core is our mid region, the region that links our arms and legs. When we talk of core strength, core control or core stability we are referring to the strength/control/stability of this mid region. Being able to keep this region in a good position over a period of time.

As a rider it means having control of your mid region so you can achieve and maintain the “A” riding position.

What happens when you don’t have sufficient core strength/stability/control to maintain your ‘A’ Riding Position?

Your spine with collapse (slightly forward or backwards) causing increased load and compression on tissues and structures that are not designed to take this load. Over time this is likely to result in discomfort.

What muscles are involved in core control?

Do you remember the crunchy epidemic? Thankfully we now understand that there is far more to abdominals than attempting to gain a six pack (like that was ever achievable). One of the key roles for our abdominals is the stability and control of our mid region. We have four different abdominal muscles the deepest one, Transversus Abdominus, plays the biggest role in stability and control of your centre.  Along with some other muscles (as shown in the diagram) these muscles form the core muscles.  These core muscles are deep, that is they are close to the spine so they have the greatest ability to control its position.

They are not big powerful muscles but rather designed to be able to work for long periods of time.  This means they are able to keep your mid region in a good position, in that “A” position and stable throughout your ride.

How do we achieve use of our core muscles when we ride?

  • Step One – You need be in the correct riding position.  The “A” riding position.

In Tip 1 of the chi riding series we talked about the “A” position where both the upper and lower back is straight, not rounded. This “A” position puts you in the correct position to allow you to activate/use your core muscles.  See Chi Riding – Tip One – Riding Position.

  • Step Two – You need to maintain this “A” position throughout your ride.

That is both when seated (3 points of contact with the bike) and when you are off the seat (2 points of contact with the bike). We achieve this by keeping our mid region stable and moving the other parts of our body –  our elbow, wrist, hip, knee and ankle joints – to keep balanced when biking. In the photos below we see the mid region is stable it remains in the same position (one side of the A) and the position changes happen at the hip, knee, ankle, shoulder and elbow joints when performing different skills.

  • Step Three – Being aware of the correct riding position, maintaining this correct position, as you perform different bike skills.  Learn to be aware of what it feels like to activate/to work your core muscles. You will be amazed, by just being aware, what you will notice and the small changes you will start to make.

You can do some training off the bike to help teach your body and brain about how to activate your core muscles and work to strengthen these muscles.  There are many resources to help you achieve this.  A few suggestions include; videos and information online, Pilates, Tai chi, Yoga and some gym classes.  Others include books and personal trainers. Whatever method you choose, ask questions and make sure to include your biking goals.

Why is it important? 

The importance and benefits of core control goes well beyond the bike. Core control is essential when moving your body.  It doesn’t matter what the task is, we need core control to be able to complete the task with ease, efficiency and without causing discomfort.

On the bike having good core control;

  • Will help ease general discomfort and more specifically lower back/pelvic discomfort. We have big powerful muscles in our legs that drive our pedaling (our pedal stroke) and this stroke will only work efficiently if we have good core control. In fact these big muscles will cause all sorts of horrible shearing forces on your low back and pelvis if you are asking them to work really hard or over a long period of time without good core control.
  • Allows both your upper limbs (arms) as well as your lower limbs (legs) to be relaxed and not carry any tension when you ride. However, having relaxed limbs doesn’t automatically happen because of good core control, it only provides the platform. There are two elements here engage your core and relax your limbs, let them be loose. In Tai Chi they talk about having empty hands, both your hands and your feet need to be light and empty. What? But I need to have contact with the bike; my hands on my handlebars and my feet on the pedals. Yes, but we are saying you can still have contact and not carry tension.
  • Relaxing your limbs allows you to move them freely and transfer different proportions of weight through your arms or a single arm or your legs or a single leg, when you ride. This ability to transfer your weight between your limbs as well as move them freely is essential for balance. It allows you to manouvere and change the position of your body and/or your bike so that you can maintain balance when you ride. This may mean simply transferring your weight forward following braking to dismount your bike or leaning the bike when cornering on the trail. Whatever the riding task, balance is the primary skill required to be able to ride your bike. Having good core control and loose limbs will help keep us on our bikes as we start to challenge ourselves in different riding environments.
  • It will help you achieve bike seat comfort by encouraging the correct parts of your body to bear the sustained weight of your body when sitting on your bike seat – structures and tissues that are designed to be better at taking this weight.
  • Improved riding efficiency as core strength allows your big powerful muscles in your legs, that drive your pedalling, to work better.

 

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