It's the height of cycling season in many areas, so grease up your chain and break out your stability ball for some amazing complementary training. The stability ball has long been heralded as an affordable, portable core strengthening apparatus and it's especially useful for cyclists. Far from punishment, this ball-n-chain combination will help free a cyclist’s body from imbalances and unleash hidden power within! Tap into some cycling-specific strength, balance and stretching movements that will release muscular tension and have you rolling down the road like a champion!
Flexibility can affect a cyclist’s ability to produce power, comfortably maintain cycling position and optimally control the bicycle, according to Chris Carmichael of Carmichael Training Systems (CTS). The posture a cyclist conforms to astride the bike contributes to imbalance and muscle tension. There’s a tendency toward excessive spinal flexion, low-back pain, weak upper body, shortened hip flexors and limited hamstring mobility. These issues can make it difficult to transmit maximum power on the bike for extended periods. To achieve overall flexibility, balance muscle groups and deliver power optimally, cyclists should include counter stretches like the first two exercises listed below.
Riding a bike requires balance especially when negotiating various terrains. Balance is defined as a state of equilibrium, a stable situation where opposing forces cancel one another. With most Resist-A-Ball exercises, balance is challenged and neuroreceptors are engaged to react to the unstable surface enhancing motor learning. When targeting one group of muscles, other muscles are working to stabilize the entire body on the ball. Deep muscles of the spine are activated as stabilizers in almost every exercise using the ball. This is the key to optimal performance in any sport including cycling and in life for that matter. The second two exercises listed enhance balance for cycling.
Scientific studies have shown that strength training improves endurance performance. If you truly want to reach your cycling potential, it’s not enough to just put miles on your bike; you’ll have to incorporate a weight training program. However, strength training and cycling don’t mix well when done concurrently. The best time to strength train is late autumn and through winter when most cyclists cut back on their riding because of weather. CTS advise that resistance training address cycling specific goals, especially if you want to see improvements in cycling strength, power and endurance. Choose exercises that mimic body positions and demands of cycling. Be sure to ease into strength training, beginning with exercises that utilize your body weight. The last two exercises listed at the end of this article are good strengtheners for cyclists.
The ball is a great buddy for bikers. There’s a vast array of Resist-A-Ball exercises to assist every level of cyclist in minimizing imbalances, enhancing core stability and strengthening all supporting musculature. Search for a certified trainer in your area or, better yet, host a Resist-A-Ball workshop for more effective ideas on training cyclists. Get on the ball, get on your bike and feel the increase in power!
Seated Hamstring Stretch
1) Begin sitting tall, core body strong, knees bent 90 degrees, feet firmly planted.
2) Press into your feet straightening your legs, pressing the back of the thighs firmly into the ball, your hips may lift off the ball, sitting bones pointing back, spine long, core body stays strong.
Variation: Add chest expansion by clasping the hands behind reaching the knuckles low and long.
Supine Trunk Traction
1) From seated, walk feet forward into a supine incline position, lean back to rest head on the ball.
2) Keeping head supported on the ball, begin straightening the legs, moving into spinal extension. Surrender to gravity.
3) Any compression in the low back, bend the knees and back off a bit.
Oppositional shoulder flexion/hip extension (Bird Dog)
1) Prone over the ball, lower belly on top with hands under shoulders, legs extended, toes touching the floor lightly.
2) Simultaneously lift and lower opposite arm and leg maintaining neutral spine, ball stays very still, abdominal wall engaged.
3) Can alternate sides in smooth, slow swimming action or work one side several times and then switch.
Variation: Same starting position as above but lift and lower the same arm and leg keeping neutral spine, ball stays still. Without feeling compression, you may add spinal extension arching the back as you lift the limbs.
Cycling Focus: Particularly effective for countering the forward leaning posture involved in cycling.
Four-point kneeling balance
1) Standing with the ball against shins feet together, knees slightly apart, hands on top shoulder-width apart.
2) Begin to shift weight on top of ball.
3) Progress to balancing on hands and knees.
Variation: Progress further to lifting upper body, no hands, into kneeling balance.
Cycling Focus: If you can balance on a bike, you can balance on a ball and vice-versa.
Tick Tock progressed to Floor Wiper
1) Lie supine on your back, arms in T position anchoring the torso, ball between your ankles, feet relaxed, legs in the air.
2) Keeping your shoulders anchored, neck relatively relaxed, lengthen the legs and rotate the lower body from the waist reaching the ball toward your right hand.
3) Repeat rotating the legs to the left hand.
1) Lie supine with a barbell in your hands held above your chest, legs extended, ball between your ankles hovering above the floor.
2) Keeping barbell stationary, perform a straight leg lift, bringing ball toward one end of the barbell.
3) Lower legs to start without resting; making a ‘wiper’ action, repeat to other side, barbell remains stationary, abdominal wall engaged drawing in and up the entire time.
Cycling Focus: To apply proper power to the cranks, your lower extremities rely on support of the rest of the body. This conditions all fundamental core muscles that provide a solid base for efforts on the bike.
Supine Hip Extension
1) Lie supine with ball under both heels, a hand's width between the feet, toes pointing up, with arms long at your sides (the wider the arms, the more support; the closer the more challenge).
2) Press heels into the ball, lift hips and spine into bridge position (hip extension) using gluteus maximus.
3) Slowly return to start, rolling the spine onto the mat releasing the pelvis into neutral.
Variation—single leg: Same start as above: feet together but lift one leg to reach up to the ceiling. Perform hip extension keeping the elevated leg pointing up the entire time.
Cycling Focus: Gluteus maximus plays a huge role in delivering a large percentage to the power stroke as you extend the hip on each pedal stroke.
The Ultimate Ride, Chris Carmichael
Cycling Anatomy, Shannon Sovndal
Resist-A-Ball Master Instructor Training Manual