While mountain biking has a lot of positive benefits, one thing it isn’t good for is your core. That’s right, this beautiful sport that we all love is slowly eroding your core function and strength, setting you up for back pain and decreased performance.
Let me explain why this is. First, mountain biking finds a lot of riders in a mostly seated, forward leaning position. When you sit down your core isn’t as engaged and it is hard to not round at the lower back, which means you are creating a lot of fitness on top of a weak, misaligned core.
In addition, pedaling a bike tends to be an ipsa-lateral movement. This means that we use the same side of the body to create the motion, using the right side upper body to anchor down for the right foot to pedal for example.
The problem is that our bodies are made to use contra-lateral movement. This is where you use the opposite sides of the body to create movement. Think running, walking, jumping or throwing for example.
Now, all of this wouldn’t be a huge problem if we didn’t live in a sedentary society and we didn’t specialize so much in our play time. But we do sit around too much already and most riders tend to do little else other than ride their bikes, which adds up to a weakened core and poor basic core function.
Of course, this isn’t really news to a lot of people. There are countless books, articles and videos geared towards core training for cycling/ mountain biking, which means that a lot of riders already recognize the need to improve their core strength.
However, it takes more than some planks and other “core training” exercises to fix the real problem. In order to really improve your core strength and function there is one thing you need to be doing…
That’s right, getting down on the ground and moving around is one of the best ways to restore core function and strength.
The reason that crawling is so good for us is because it 1) re-connects the X patterns in the core and 2) re-establishes your basic core function.
Like I mentioned earlier, your body is made to use contra-lateral movements. When you connect the opposite sides of the body you come up an X pattern. In the world of performance and health improving this X pattern is a main goal of core training.
Most of the crawling variations you can do require you to use these X patterns to move and stabilize the body, which helps to improve their strength. While there are other ways to target these X patterns, crawling is by far one of the easiest and most effective ways to do it.
These X patterns also represent the foundational core strength that all your other movements were built on. As a baby, crawling didn’t just get you around, it was also acting as core training to give you the core strength and function you needed to start standing, walking, running and jumping.
As you get older and become more sedentary this basic core function tends to erode. Now you have an adult who can still do these high level movements like run or ride a bike but can’t get down on the ground and crawl effectively. This erosion of foundational core strength will start to catch up with you, costing you performance and pain at some point.
The easiest and best way to get started with crawling is to do a series of “marches”, where you stay in place and just focus on the limb movements and core position. While it may not look like much, you’ll be surprised how hard it is to crawl without actually moving anywhere.
After you master the basic crawls in place you can start to add in forward, backward and side to side movements. You can also set up things to move around while crawling, creating a kind of obstacle course to challenge your crawling skills.
And while crawling doesn’t have to be complicated, there are a few coaching cues to keep in mind…
– When crawling it is important that you focus on 1) keeping the shoulder blades tucked into your back pockets and 2) keeping a long spine, looking for length between the top of the head and the tailbone. Any loss of this position means you are not getting what we want out of the movements.
– You also want to keep your elbows locked out when they are supporting your weight. Learning how to let your bones hold your weight is one of the keys to efficient crawling.
– Breathe. This may seem obvious but you’ll be surprised how hard it is to remember to breathe when you are in an unfamiliar, uncomfortable position.
A few more things to keep in mind with crawling…
1 – Stick with the ABC’s of crawling. While there are a lot of great crawling variations out there you should start off with the basics, which are the Ape Walk, Baby/ Bear Crawl and Crab Walks. These three represent the basic crawling patterns that everything else is built on and, like everything else in life, mastering the basics is what will make you successful in the long run.
2 – Go slow and aim for balanced, graceful movement. Just getting on the ground and scooting across it is better than nothing but if you really want to enjoy the benefits of crawling then you need to slow down. Speed covers up technique flaws and core instabilities and doesn’t allow you to strengthen your weak links.
3 – Have fun. While you do need to focus on a few things when crawling, it isn’t rocket science. Yes, you will look like a dork at first but that’s alright. Just don’t take yourself too seriously and remember to smile.
Hopefully I’ve convinced to you get down on the ground and give crawling a shot. A strong, functional core is one of the most important things for you to have as a mountain biker and crawling is one of the best ways to develop it. Spend just 5-10 minutes a day working on your crawling skills and in just a few weeks you’ll notice the difference both on and off the bike.
Until next time…
MTB Strength Training Systems