Like I have been told again and again by athletic coaches, yoga teachers, doctors etc. the core muscles in our body’s is what provides the foundation for the effectiveness in our athletic training or any other physical activities that we do. In addition to this, I have recently learned that development of the core is also vital in injury prevention in many if not all areas of the body. However, do we know what the core really is? With a recent Q & A with one of my cycling coach’s that specializes in sports physiology, I had discovered there is so much more to what I thought was “The Core”. Before the conversation with my coach, I thought of the core as the central area of my body, which is completely understandable considering core means center. What I found out was that it goes much deeper than that. I think a lot of people including myself overlook that not only are the core muscles that provide stability, agility, and balance found on the exterior of our core area but there are also muscles that lie underneath that we don’t often target when exercising. Some of the most important core muscles that a human poses are actually the smallest. All core muscles are extremely important but the Pelvic Floor muscles, which span the area underneath the pelvis, and the Erector Spinae muscles, which extend the vertebrae column are the primary muscles that protect the spine and provide a solid foundation for basic body movements. Other core muscles that are most widely targeted for the “six pack “ look include the Rectus Abdonimas, External Oblique’s etc. Although these muscles are important, they are not the only core muscles that one should focus on. Another thing that I have found that most people often miss is that exercises that are often performed are done so in the same plane of motion. When participating in a traditional sport, the body has to be able to move in different planes to be effectively stable, agile, and balanced. So why do we work out in one plane of motion? Training and working out in different planes will efficiently enhance performance in a given sport by targeting all the muscles one would use in a real athletic situation.
I was planning this post on being an inspiring outlook on how to eat healthy at Sodexo but it turned into more of a rant. I think this is how it was meant to be.
We as students athletes all know nation wide that Sodexo doesn’t exactly serve us a top-notch nutrition rich plate at every meal. We are doomed to be fed our pre-purchased food at least ten times a week as freshman or else we are throwing away hard earned money. As athletes we work so hard to keep that non-efficient fat off of our bodies and at the end (and start) of the day we get a selection of Sodexo’s finest put before us. Every day I walk into Sodexo I feel that I have to scavenge for a nutritional meal by working my way around the cafeteria and picking at side options to create a Frankenplate of food that my friends give me weird looks for. Even though I almost always find a nutritious meal there is virtually no variety in the food and I find myself getting the same things continuously. This gets very old after a month or two. I feel that especially because of the environment that we live in, a progressive and active school in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, there should be some changes in the food that we are all subject to eat. This being said, I have hope. There have been days where our school has participated in the Real Food Challenge, which provides sustainable and local fresh foods to our campus and it was a huge improvement to our current option. I think this is a big step forward and should be seriously promoted for everybody’s sake.
So, because I’ve seem to get accustom to the academic life of a college student and everything has started off great this year I’ve made the decision to not wait for the spring semester to start racing/ training. Hmm, what kind of racing starts between fall and spring? It’s Cyclocross season! This is going to be my first season racing cross and I’m super excited. I have zero expectations for myself, which makes what I’m about to embark on AWESOME. This stage of being able to see yourself progress at a rapid pace and almost learning how to ride a bike again, I think, is going to be super fun and exciting. However, after my first cross practice, I think I’m going to have a lot of work to do. In reference to other racers on the team, I’m just going to say that I wasn’t exactly in the top 25% when doing hot laps around the home course. Even though my fitness on the bike has not gone completely, after being off the bike for an absurd amount of months I neither have skills on a cross bike (correction: *any bike) or an elite level cycling base which you need for top-end racing. Nevertheless, what I do have is a fantastic fitness base that I have been working on and fresh legs. Lets go ride some bikes!
I feel that there are many people that have negative feelings about “the gym” and I want to share my thoughts on that. I’ve been in a place where I did not want to touch a weight, the thought of going for a run made me cringe, and I felt like everyone who was more fit than I was was judging me. I don’t think of myself as “Joe Athlete” and that everyone should be at my physical level. This is a common stereotype of fit people at the gym. Being healthy is not an achievement but rather a daily choice and practice in which everyday I want to improve on. A common goal of most humans is to be happy and working out makes you happy. Although it may not be the easiest thing on the world, most good things worth doing don’t come easy. Physically, not only does it increase endorphin levels to give you a natural high but it also allows you to feel great throughout the day because you don’t get as tired as you would if you didn’t have a fitness base. Mentally, it gives you confidence and a sense of accomplishment when reaching new goals. Everyone on this planet is different which means that in the gym, everyone has a different background and everyone has their own goals. If you don’t feel comfortable at the gym, although it may be hard overcome, there’s no reason to feel this way. If you want to go to the gym, then you should go to the gym. Some things that I can recommend for someone that wants to feel more comfortable in the gym is to do research. Find out exactly what you want to improve on and make a plan. This will keep you busy focusing on your goal and not worrying about what everyone else is doing. I have respect for people that are working their butt off in the gym, regardless of their shape or size. Not everyone has this same mindset but you don’t want to be friends with small minded people like this anyway.
P.S. Good form + Consistency = Success
Being that I am an exercise physiology major, I want to go into depth with my last post about my training program. The first thing I want to cover is how this time off the bike will eventually help me in the future. I want to point out that I don’t think that the resistance training is physically helping me be a better cyclist currently. I’ll go on a team-training ride and I’ll be sucking air just to stay on the coaches’ wheel. I just know that at some point, every once in a while, there comes a time where an athlete just has to stop and press the reset button on their training to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses so that he/she can overcome and improve. “Innovate or Die” is a motto that the successful company Specialized lives by when creating their world-class bicycle racing products and it portrays the idea perfectly. This also relates to the Training method of Adaptation. Specific adaptation training is something that I’ve been lacking my past four years of racing. Not to go into extreme physiological details, it basically means to take a specific work out and to work on it over the coarse of the season while changing frequency and intensity. By doing this the body will adapt to whatever the athlete wants to accomplish at that time in the season. These workouts are worked into traditional training. Another point I want to explain is the idea of weight training and how this will help with my cycling. The elevated amount of strength that the muscles have to produce to compensate for the abnormal weight loads help provide further neural stimulation and muscle strength that you can’t always get on the bike. Some may argue that once you get back on the bike that it will not translate and the amount of effort put into the workout is better spent on a bike. I’ve concluded that this is not always true. These efforts, if done correctly can “provide a stronger nervous system ‘base’ for future muscle development (on the bike).”
This semester I’m taking a new approach to training that will both increase my mental and physical capabilities. When I was a sophomore in high school I took off in my cycling career and I have a theory of why it happened. I believe it was a combination of a few different things. The first was that I had taken the off-season completely off of racing. By the time I got back on the bike, I had a newfound hunger to compete. The second reason was that I had decided to take that off-season to play a new sport for fun, water polo. At the same time, I was also enrolled in an intensive CrossFit based weight training class. I physically changed dramatically after the season was over. This transferred into my cycling and catapulted my physical ability on the bike. I believe that this type of a full body base fitness is what really makes an athlete succeed and reach new limits when focusing on their sports’ specific workouts. Based on these experiences I decided to make a full body gym plan for myself that will target areas of the body that are most used in cycling but use stabilization and other methods to get a full core physical base. One might argue that I should just do more cycling specific workouts and gain physical performances in that regard. I think this method works for a lot of people but for me I feel that it’s different. After getting physiologically tested I found that my cardiovascular abilities (Vo2 Max) far outweigh my capabilities of producing power. Because of this, I’ve decided to focus on an accelerated power and strength program that will greatly increase my power input, and in time, make me a better cyclist.
If you notice in the phrase student athlete, the word student comes before the word athlete. This is exactly what I was confronted with this week but I don’t mind… that much. A large reason why I’m taking this semester off of training is for this exact situation of debating whether to train or to get a start on homework. I made this decision for myself before I even arrived at this school. Am I glad I did? While talking to other racers who were thrown into racing on the first weekend of school and don’t stop racing until midterms, I’ve noticed a trend in there lack of motivation for getting work done. This made me wonder if going to either extreme in the spectrum of being a student athlete was really healthy. Thankfully, this weekend I was able to get a small one hour ride under my bars with my friend to clear my head. I had a refreshing thought. It’s all about balance. This is an obvious concept to imagine but executing it with success is not as easy. Balancing takes focus, strength and motivation to push past failures that you might otherwise find yourself stuck on. This works for both the physical and mental sense. If I was to be able to go to yoga more than like once last week, I probably would have reached this conclusion a lot faster. Finding this sweet spot of being a student athlete in college is going to take work but I accept the challenge.