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.
Using your core is an essential part of Chi Riding. Lets have a look at Tip 2 of Chi Riding – Use core muscles
Chi Riding – a goRide SERIES to develop or enhance an understanding of your position on your bike.
Have you heard of Chi Running? It is a running technique that emanates from the principles of pilates, yoga, and tai chi. We are going to piggyback on that concept and introduce you to Chi Riding – a riding form that emanates from some of those same principles of being relaxed, having less tension and stress when you ride, efficiency, ease, engaging your core (giving you control from your mid region) and all your senses. All things that will make time on your bike more enjoyable, easier, will give you less discomfort, it will also have positive effects and influences on other aspects of your life.
Chi Riding – forms the platform to allow you to improve your riding and challenge yourself whether you are a beginner or an experienced rider.
Use your core muscles = having core control/core stability.
Core control and core stability are terms used interchangably and mean the same thing. Lets have a look at what they mean, and their relevance to riding.
Core – It is our centre, like the core of an apple, our mid region, the region that links our arms and legs.
Core Control/Stability – Being able to control this mid region, keeping it stable so it is in a good efficient position. For you as a rider it means having control of your mid region so you can achieve and maintain the “A” riding position. See Tip 1 for more information on the “A” position
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 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.
Check out Annette in the slider maintaining her riding position while performing different bike skills using core control .
Note: 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 it includes your focus/goals before you commit.
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 specific 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.
Whether you are a beginner or experienced rider, commuting, road riding or mountain biking improving core control has benefits for us all. Those benefits go well beyond the bike to our everyday activities. In riding good core control provides the platform for you to improve your riding and challenge yourself allowing you to goRide more places, more often.
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Thanks for reading. Used together our stories and resources support you to achieve and develop as a rider.
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