As cyclists we have a need for speed. We shave ounces off our bikes, we periodize our training, we train for muscular endurance, strength and power in the weight room, and we focus on core stabilization in order to have a strong platform from which to generate power.
Paul Chek, a long time mentor of mine says “you can’t shoot a canon from a canoe”. The same holds true for cycling - if you want maximum power on the bike you have to have a strong core. Not the outer unit musculature (think six pack abs), but the inner unit musculature: transversus abdominis (TvA), multifidus, pelvic floor and diaphragm.
For many years we asked our clients to perform a “drawing -in maneuver” or activation of the TvA. Then we progressed to teaching abdominal bracing. Both techniques, while useful in a variety of situations, treat core stabilization from the outside in. To maximize core stabilization we have to reverse our thinking, and train from the inside out.
The King (or Queen…) of the “inner unit” is the diaphragm - not a muscle we traditionally consider when training the core. Because of the fascial connections the diaphragm shares with the inner unit musculature, psoas and the quadratus lumborum, if it is dysfunctional we won’t have maximal stabilization.
A key component of core stabilization is intra-abdominal pressure. The diaphragm when working well contracts and pushes down into the abdominal cavity, which combined with the resistance created by the pelvic floor, and an eccentric contraction of the entire abdominal wall, increases the pressure in front of the spine. The pressure from the front is counteracted by contraction of the lumbar extensor muscles and the spine is fully stabilized.
- Lie on your back with your feet flat on a wall, and knees and hips bent at a 90/90-degree angle.
- Place a 4-6-inch ball between your knees.
- Place your right arm above your head while holding a balloon in your left hand.
- Inhale through your nose and as you exhale through your mouth, perform a pelvic tilt so your tailbone is raised slightly off the mat. Keep the lower back flat on the mat. Do not press your feet into the wall; instead, pull down with your heels.
- You should feel the back of your thighs and inner thighs engage, keeping pressure on the ball. Maintain this position for the remainder of the exercise.
- Inhale through your nose and slowly blow out into the balloon.
- Pause for 3 seconds with your tongue positioned on the roof of your mouth to prevent airflow out of the balloon.
- Without pinching the neck of the balloon and while keeping your tongue on the roof of your mouth, inhale again through your nose.
- Slowly blow out as you stabilize the balloon with your left hand.
- Do not strain your neck or cheeks as you blow.
- After the fourth breath in, pinch the balloon neck and remove it from your mouth. Let the air out of the balloon.
- Relax; then repeat the sequence four more times.
For more breathing exercises review last week’s post: “Take a deep breath…well maybe not to deep!”
Regarding that need for speed - you already have all the gear you need…