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Core Stability in Cycling

27 Mar 2017
Randall Cooper
Core stability is a frequently used term but often poorly defined. I like to think about it as the ability of the trunk, lower back, pelvis and hip regions to efficiently and effectively generate and transfer force and the ability to deal effectively with external load acting upon it.

The ideal cycling position is one of a (semi) comfortable flexion with the pelvis supported by the saddle and arms supported by the handlebars. Add to this that cycling is non-weight bearing and does not involve large external or internal forces acting on the body (relative to running), then the question must be asked… how important is “core stability” in cycling?

During the pedal stoke movement coupling of the spine, pelvis and hips occur in all 3 planes; flexion-extension, lateral flexion and rotation. This movement seems to be necessary for stability (dealing with forces generated from the lower limb and opposing left and right pedal forces) and power production (transfer of power generated in the upper body to the lower limb) however, the inability to control this movement and attenuate forces associated with it may be a cause injury.

What does the evidence say?

Cyclists reporting lower back pain have been found to have an increase in lumbo-pelvic flexion (Van Hoof et al (2012) and rotation (Burnett et al 2004). An inability to control the movement and position of the lower back and pelvis, especially lumbar flexion, may cause undue strain on the lower back and pelvis, leading to pain and pathology (Burnett et al 2004).

Interestingly the cyclists with lower back pain had greater flexion in all cycling positions and spinal posture did not change from start to finish. Ie. They started in more a flexed position and stayed that way, even during the development of lower back pain. Leading to the suggestion that the cause was due to positioning error rather than fatigue in the ‘core’ (Van Hoof et al (2012).

Abt 2007 investigated the link between “core stability” and cycling. 15 highly trained cyclists were cycled to exhaustion before and after a core-fatiguing workout. Motion of both the knee and ankle increased following the core fatiguing work out. Unfortunately only knee and ankle motion were measured so it difficult to know whether reduction in control of movement in the lower limb was due to reduced control and stability in the trunk and pelvis. However, it does suggest that reduced control of lower limb movement was due to poor stability and force transfer from the truck and pelvic region.

Training the ‘core’

The list of ‘core’ exercises is endless. I would recommend choosing a variety of 5-6 exercises that challenge trunk-pelvic-hip control and stability through different ranges and movement patterns. Think about what you need to achieve on the bike and create exercises from there.

Here is a selection I like to use for cyclists.

The repetitive motion of cycling and the relatively fixed position of the pelvis and feet require efficient movement patterns to avoid excessive stresses being applied to the musculoskeletal structures of the lower extremity (Abt 2007). Improvements in ‘core stability’ could promote greater trunk stability leading to improved force transmission to the pedals, aid in the maintenance of cycling posture and effectively attenuate loads, improving performance and reducing the risk of injury.

Photo Credit: Graham Watson/Cycling Australia

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