Cycling Center Dallas Blog
Cycling Center Dallas Blog
Here we talk about all things cycling - training, wattage, group rides, bike rallies, triathlons, weather, coaching, coaches, nutrition, ponderings, musings, and equipment! If you have a topic or a question, send us a note and we'll try to answer for you!
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Abdominal Training and Cycling - Why the CORE is so CRITICAL.

Sprinting Quick question - what is the FOUNDATION for Power Generation in the body? Answer: THE CORE!!!! Now - WHAT THE HECK IS THE CORE?! I mean, there are SO MANY DIFFERENT ideas out there. What are we really talking about?! In a further discussion with Coach Kurt, we'll begin at, of course, THE CORE!!!! "To me, the Core is the link between Upper and Lower Body. This Link tranmsits force, back and forth. In most sports, energy is translated from the legs, through the core, to the upper body and arms. Most 'Striking' and 'Throwing' sports, as well as contact sports, are like this. For example - in a pitcher, a great pitch begins on the base plate. The foot is planted, the legs begin the windup, the energy is transmitted in to the torso as the pitcher literally becomes unbalanced, and the shoulders wind up the arms, to the point that the final extremity to touch the baseball, is literally the edge of the fingers. Imagine doing this 200x/day, for a 20 year career. It's absolutely astounding, especially when the pitcher can intuitively place the ball where he wants, and with different speeds and spins. For cycling, the exact opposite takes place. Energy and the source for high effort begin AT the core, as the body seeks a platform or foundation for stability up above and propulsion down below. The object is to get as little movement as possible in the bike, and get as much energy transmitted from the pedal platform in to the drivetrain. You're not trying to move the bike laterally, and  you're not trying to over-emphasize movement in the sagittal plane of the body as well. A STABLE body is an EFFICIENT body. In a sport where literally millimeters and fractions of a second make a difference, as well as economy from an energy expenditure "angle", having a strong, stamina-related torso, will definitely translate in to more Speed, More Strength, and More Stamina. This post will be all about the abdominal muscles and how improving their performance can lead to better cycling. Image This is an overview of the musculature of the abdominal region in the human body. The outer layers consist of the external obliques, and the rectus abdominis. Image Image These are muscles of the outer unit of the abdominal region. The reason they are in the outer unit, is that they are large muscle groups, and are responsible for what we call "Global" stability. Think about it - the 'Guy Wires' that keep telephone poles upright, are critical to our infrastructure's daily maintenance. So, the Abdominals are critical in helping keep us upright and they're important when you're generating a lot of force. EMG's reveal that the abdominals are engaged in just about every single resistance training activity. However, it's important to note that they are engaged much more significantly when individuals are standing, versus sitting or lying. A bike, however, does not translate in to a seated position. You're still transferring force from the arms to the legs, and vice-versa. The next layer is the internal obliques, also considered an outer unit or global muscle. Image The final layer, and the deepest is the transverse abdominis. ImageImage The transverse abdominis seen above is part of the Inner Unit, which includes the diaphragm, the muscles of the pelvic floor, and small intervertebral muscles of the lumbar spine, called 'maltifidi'. This is a circular muscle, as it wraps around the body, from back to front, above the hips and below the rib cage, almost like a girdle. When it contracts, it literally squeezes the organs and creates a smaller circumference. Image As you can see here, the multifidi, are attached to the vertebrae, crossing one or two each. They are responsible for 'inter-segmental stabilization' of the lumbar spine. Image This is a side view of the muscles of the pelvic floor. When they contract, they tend to LIFT the organs of the lower abdominal cavity upward. Image The diaphragm provides the 'Cap', or 'Cover' musculature for the abdominal cavity. When we take a deep, belly breath, the diaphragm pushes DOWN on the organs of the abdominal cavity. The transverse abdominis, the multifidi, the muscles of the pelvic floor, and the diaphragm, compose the 'inner unit'. The inner unit works like THIS: A deep belly breath is taken, the diaphragm expands and pushed down on the viscera. As we activate our transverse abdominis, a circular girdle is formed around the viscera, compressing it inward. The muscles of the pelvic floor, also on the same neurological loop, LIFT the viscera upward, and the multifidi, also on the same loop, activate to stabilize the lumbar spine. This creates a noncompressable "cylinder" that supports the lumbar spine, and allows for the reliable, transfer of force, between the lower body/pelvis, and the upper torso/arms. If you've ever wondered why it is that your entire 'gut' is THERE, this is the reason. NONE of this will compress, but when you perform high-force pedaling, this unit is a CRITICAL part of the pedal cycle! Now, all of this is overthinking it a bit. BUT, you HAVE to know this, in order to better apply exercises that will optimize this portion of your body. Here are a few questions for you:
  1. Which of the four abdominal muscles do NOT attach to the rib cage at some point?
  2. Which of the four abdominal muscles to NOT attach to the pelvis at some point?
The answer...... CORRECT!!! Because NONE of them DO NOT attach to the pelvis and the rib cage. So now what you have is a better understanding of the entire "Force Loop", which dictates in to propulsion. It's NOT all legs and lungs and heart! You have to have a dyamic, non-compressible center which will reliably transmit force while still keeping everything else functioning!!!!! The question you should be asking yourself now is - Is the abdominal training that you were taught or are currently doing, reflective of how the abdominal inner and outer units ACTUALLY WORK?! In our experience, cyclists are chronically under-educated about just how to PROPERLY train the CORE for propulsion purposes. Now, don't forget - most of you who will read this are NOT professional cyclists or athletes. BUT, you have many other activities in  your life which will require a strong core. As I sit here and type, I find my shoulders to become slouched, and my breathing more shallow. I blame that on gravity, but it can be easily reversed over time with proper core training and functional movement. We refer to this at CCD as isolation/integration/3-Dimension training. We begin by Posture Analysis and Movement Assessment (see previous post). Transverse abdominis/ inner unit function CAN be assessed. Some of the things that can affect this function include:
  • Pregnancy/C-Section,
  • abdominal trauma or low-back trauma,
  • any surgery to the abdominal or low-back area,
  • a bike crash or injury to the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex,
  • and even extrended, chronic gastro-intestinal disfunction (because these organs literally plug in to the same neuro-muscular 'socket').
If ANY of these apply to you, or you have chronic back pain, have trouble controlling your pelvic position while cycling, feel unstable in the core area when doing anything, be it cycling or otherwise, or if your performance has truly hit a wall, including a weight-loss plateau, then you should definitely consider a core-function assessment with Coach Kurt, at Cycling Center Dallas. So now you know just how important we think CORE training really is. That said, every individual is unique, and it's too easy to fall in to the trap of following a dictated plan from a magazine or a trade journal. The worst thing you can do is follow "Joe Knows" program from the gym. You know "Joe", he's the guy who's always at the gym, and when someone asks about something with regard to training, the answer is always "Ask Joe, Joe Knows. He's been training here for over 30 years!" However, Joe doesn't have 30 years of experience. Joe has 3 hours of experience, because he does the SAME THREE WORKOUTS and has been doing them for 3 hours a week, FOR THIRTY YEARS!!! There IS a better way. And that begins with time spent with Coach Kurt, having him perform a professional assessment, both off and on the bike. Once that's done, you'll both perform a series of exercises under his professional supervision, so you can better understand which muscles are engaged at each part of the propulsion program. We are going to continue to expand upon this, but that should leave you with plenty of food for thought. We haven't even touched on how this all works in cycling and other sports, but realize that as much as we love to watch cyclists pedal, every pedal stroke has it's foundation in the trunk. You have to have a platform for the physics of the muscles to contract and move the legs and expand and contract the lungs. Contact Coach Kurt directly for a free 15-minute core assessment, so that we can help you determine the best course of action for your improvement. When I was racing mountain bikes, and then road bikes, people frequently remarked on my lack of motion, and efficiency. I contribute this directly to the years of core training Coach Kurt provided me, and I am convinced that it can help you as well. Coach Kurt can be contacted at: 214-533-2634, or at He is also available late mornings on Tuesday and Thursday at the Cycling Center Dallas North Location, as well as by appointment.