January 8, 2012 cburnham

You Asked, I will Answer…

I often get questions from athletes that I think a lot of athletes would have an interest in, so I am going to start a feature on here answering your questions.  Got a burning question?  Serve them up!

Question: I noticed a common older cyclist’s physique is bent over with a large gut.  Doesn’t seem to prevent them from riding.  Some of the more middle-aged cyclists were getting to look like this too.
How do I keep from looking like that?
That is a good question with really two separate issues, even though it isn’t uncommon to see cyclists dealing with both conditions.
The one thing that is true about our bodies is that they will adapt to what we do, and people who ride a lot will start to look like cyclists both on and off the bike.  If you stay bent over on the bike for a few hours each day, commute 30minutes to work in your car, sit at desk for ~8 hours a day, then drive home for another 30minutes, chances are you spent 11 hours of your day with a bent thoracic spine leading to a condition called kyphosis.  Guess what your default position becomes in all of your activities?    Yep, that familiar hunch.  So how do you prevent from yourself from looking like the hunchback of the bike?  You have to strengthen those muscles that become weak and lengthened by poor positioning, and work on fixing the broken posture in your everyday activities.
The position on the right is something that is seen in various degrees of flexion in a lot of cyclists.  That position will cost you comfort and power.  The position on the right is very low but the cyclist has great hamstring flexibility to achieve that position with a straight back. (photos courtesy of Steve Hegg).
The best strength moves to prevent posture break down in cyclists are planks, side planks, pull-ups, dead lifts, and inverted rows.  There are a lot of other good movements to include, but that is a good start.  Although I recommend meeting with a coach or trainer to develop a program that is appropriate for your issues.  It is also helpful to camp out on the foam roller for a while and work on thoracic extension as well as working on improving hamstring flexibility.  If you follow a traditional weight room routine, make sure you are pulling with your upper body twice as much as you are pushing.
There are also a lot of easy changes you can make to your daily activities as well. One of the best changes to make is to make it a goal to sit significantly less.  Stand or kneel on one knee at your desk, and don’t try to sit for long periods with out standing for a while.  When you are sitting do as your mom says and don’t slouch.
This guy on your group ride?
The big belly issue is something that definitely transcends cycling; you can’t out exercise bad nutrition.  Proper nutrition, limiting processed foods, and eliminating refined sugar, are all positive changes you can make to help eliminate that excess girth.  I also find that most endurance athletes tend to over emphasize carbohydrates, specifically grains, which leads to a bigger accumulation of abdominal fat.  You don’t really need that big plate of pasta after every ride, or that mid-ride coffee shop muffin in the middle of a 2 hour ride.  Eat to meet your energy needs, and don’t think you deserve that chocolate croissant as a reward for completing a 45minute ride.


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