Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Things Learned from the Philly Bike Race: Part I

For the past 12 years, I have been the race doctor for the Philadelphia Intenational Cycling Classic. The sports medicine that I have learned from watching professional cyclists ride 156 miles is way beyond what I can find in textbooks. Some of the things I have learned have become topics of great interest to me, leading to writing of my books and directing the practice of sports medicine for cyclists at the Performance Lab p/b Rothman Institute.

The next few posts will share some ot the endurance sport specific problems that affect even the most seasoned of athletes.

First, a favorite topic of mine: core strength in endurance athletes.

The medical car follows closely behind the main pack of riders. At the back, I can see who is suffering and why. Although it sometimes has to do with fitness, more often than not, it is easy to tell what else is preventing someone from keeping the pace, especailly going up hills.

The "core" is a group of muscles that stabilize the trunk while the arms and legs are moving. Core weakness is especially noticeable when standing out of the saddle. As I tell most of my patients with overuse injuries, "Overuse injuries occur when the exercise demands exceed core strength or endurance capacity."

The same is true for exercise fatigue. A stable core will allow for more efficient power transfer to the pedals, especially when standing out of the saddle.

The medical car passed a group of riders, all of whom had been dropped. As they stood out of the saddle, their hips were wobbling back and forth. Instead of pushing on the pedals, the pedals were seemingly pushing back at them!

Core fatigue occurs even faster with improper bike fit. Most often, the bike fit isn't matched to the core strength. Although low back pain can occur, it is usually weakness and decreased power that results in poor fit.

First Lesson from Philly: Focus on core strength in the off season and make sure that your bike fit matches your core strength. Bike fit for comfort is one thing, but bike fit for power is another and needs to be adjusted accordingly.

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