By Michael Collier
A favorite New Year’s resolution for most of my cycling-loving pals is to ride more and longer and on steeper terrain.
It’s what we all want, right? But many bike riders think that all they really need to do is hop on their 16-pound, carbon-frame machine and ride like crazy. That will assure that their resolution comes true.
I know, because I was one of those kind of riders for years. I started in January with a log sheet premised on riding more miles every week until I was strong and fit enough to ride 100 miles — or even 200 miles — in a day.
Pump the legs, get them stronger! Lay down a lot of base miles. And after doing all that, I still caved on hilly, long rides. My legs cramped, my neck, shoulders and lower back hurt and I felt fatigue throughout my body.
Build core strength
The problem is that it’s not about the legs alone. It’s about the core of the human anatomy, from the hips to the head.
My advice: Find a core-strenth class right now and put it at the top of your training list. Get on Google or talk to your friends, particularly your women friends, who seem to be more hip to the virtues of core strength than many men I know. There are several such classes in every community. And the price — usually just a few dollars for an hour or more — is cheap given the benefits you will reap.
Cycling is a perfect whole-body exercise, which means that each muscle group is important — especially for endurance cyclists.
Muscles work in pairs, front and back. That means the hamstrings and quads are perfectly matched with the hams acting like pistons to lift the thighs in a powerful motion, while the quads finish the pedal revolution. Same goes for your abs and your lower back muscles. If they’re weak, so are you.
If the legs are all you rely on for power and endurance for hours on end, you will be a wreck at some point. I often see the telltale signs: A rider climbing to the top of a righteous peak with legs straining, butt coming off the saddle frequently and an anguished look on the face.
I was sold on the importance of core-building when my wife, who is an expert in anatomy, invited me to her workout class.
The instructor, Ernie Adams (www.bodyinaction.com), focuses a lot of his routines on the core muscles and very little on the legs. I was doubtful that this could help my cycling, but after a month I was sold. I rode the hardest double century of my life with extra energy to burn at the finish line. That’s because the legs had a worthy supporting cast of solid core muscles.
I rode up hills with my butt in the saddle, passing other riders on the hardest climbs. Since then I have worked my core-strength class into my weekly routine. My body is happy because I have learned about how it works — and how to avoid working it in ways that exact a price.
When you see a cyclist hammering a climb with a smile, while you struggle, think about it. That six pack, lower back, flexible shoulders, strong biceps and triceps are your best friend. Give them the love.