You know core strength training is important. Increasing core strength and stability will improve your power and balance while increasing stamina and delaying fatigue.
Cycling is a non-weight bearing and non-impact activity. But while this may be part of what draws you to cycling, it doesn’t do you any favors in terms of bone density. Studies that show cyclists have lower bone densities than other athletes, which could leading to greater chance of injury on and off the bike. Strength training can offset this but giving your body the stimulus it needs to develop and maintain bone mass.
Athletes tell me they know strength training is important but they also have trouble fitting it into their workout schedules. Fortunately, now there are tools to make it easier to accomplish effective strength workouts faster and in a more spore-specific manner.
Suspension training is a relatively new strength-building technique that’s widely adopted in other fitness disciplines, but largely undiscovered by cyclists and triathletes. Even many coaches I’ve talked to have overlooked it, despite the fact that suspension training is proven to deliver precisely the strength and stability benefits cyclists and triathletes need most.
Here are five reason why you need to make core strength development the heart of your off-season training.
1. Learn to move your body…. not a bunch of weight plates.
Suspension training works by requiring you to move and stabilize your own body weight through a variety of movement planes. Compare this to traditional weight machines or barbells that have you sitting or lying down, core supported, locked into a predetermined path of motion, pushing a consistent mass over and over.
Think about it. Weights may help increase your ability to push a bar around, but they don’t translate into real-world (= on-bike) benefits nearly as much as doing a bodyweight or suspended pushing movement. Or any movement which requires proper core stabilization and control of your body in space (you know, the way riding your bike does).
Building strength for individual pieces of your body without teaching those piece to function together is both inefficient and dangerous. The approach contributes to poor movement and does not translate well to the demands of cycling and triathlon. That doesn’t mean there is not a place for machine work. But for someone training to support endurance performance, it should be secondary to developing the strength and mobility required to move and stabilize your body as a unit.
2. Achieve your goals more effectively, in less time, wherever you are.
Less time in the gym means more time for riding, friends and family, or just recovering/relaxing from your last tough workout. With suspension training, you don’t need to drive to the gym/find parking/check in/put your stuff in the locker, and hope it’s not too crowded to get time on the machines you want.
Suspension devices, by contrast, hang up on the door or anchor pretty much anywhere. In fact, were developed for Navy SEALS to use in barracks or anywhere they happen to be, outdoors, in barracks, or in hotel rooms.
You crank out two or three sets of 3-5 different suspension exercises covering a variety of movements. And you’re done. You do the work, you make it count, you get on with your life. Plus, suspension works while traveling, on the pool deck, in the park, wherever. Finally, a suspension trainer is a lot cheaper than the variety of weight machines or dumbbells you would need for a workout of comparable movements.
3. Get stability you can use.
Functional resistance training is more than just pushing weight around. It’s about developing motor patterns and neuromuscular timing that achieve best efficiency of movement.
Strengthening stabilizing exercises like hip abduction or side planks are a good start, but simply strengthening these muscles will not teach them when they need to fire to maintain proper body alignment while performing movements powered by larger, stronger muscles.
Here’s an example. You’ve probably watched someone do a squat or a step-up where their knees collapse inward. This is most likely happening because the stabilizers on the lateral part of their legs are sleeping on the job; failing to activate properly to create alignment of the knee, hip and ankle joints before the larger muscles contact to extend the hip and knee.
Similar alignment issues may find their way into your pedal stroke or run mechanics. Specific suspension hip movements or single leg balance work (depending on your level)will help improve this alignment. The muscles responsible for stabilization need to know both when and where to fire so they can create the stable platform enabling the prime movers to do their job. This is especially true for maintaining a solid pedal stroke on the bike when fatigued, or during the single-leg stance phase during the run.
4. Develop injury resilience.
For the endurance athlete, strength training should be less about building muscle and more about building strength and resilience. The breakdown in form that comes with fatigue not only depletes your energy reserves, but can also result in negative loads on your joints and muscles. This often contributes to acute and/or overuse injuries that slow your training or sideline it altogether.
5. Control your body through your core.
A strong core that can maintain control of both your and your bike can be a saving grace when you are hit by that unexpected gust of wind or get slammed by that unseen pothole. It will also help you maintain run form through adverse conditions or fatigue, and even drive your swim stroke.
Everything done on a suspension trainer requires that you engage your core. This stabilizes your position and develops strength. It also increases your ability to control your body in space as your arms and legs create force against resistance. And those increased core abilities deliver benefits that come from better control in all aspects of your endurance performance.