Lance Armstrong has continued to shock the cycling world, working harder and getting better year after year. After the 2001 Tour, when Armstrong showed tremendous power and agility on his breakaway from Jan Ullrich and the rest of the peloton, he stated that he hadn’t specifically worked on pedal speed. Armstrong’s coach Chris Carmichael of Carmichael Training Systems© confirmed that Lance, “perhaps the tightest guy around”, had added new things to his training that season: agility drills, core work and stretching.
How do we know if and when it’s time to add something new to our training regimen for safety and effectiveness?
Most importantly, you need to understand your own unique physiology, your posture, your gait, muscle imbalances, core strength, etc… Then understanding the physical and mental demands of your sport(s) will provide some direction. It’s not until you add personal goals with any limitations, such as time or finances, as well as accountability and support measures, can you really create the healthiest approach to a training program that provides longevity. It should not be just about getting though the season. Give yourself the gift to enjoy it for a lifetime.
Research clearly shows the value in working from the inside out, physically and mentally. The confidence we build when having a stable foundation is empowering in itself. And that foundation takes time and focus to build and maintain.
When we recruit muscles deep inside the body, our interstitial layers, we often don’t even feel it. From our first steps walking, we are training to use and feel our big outer, superficial layers. These global mobilizers, i.e. the six-pack rectus abdominis, hamstrings, pectoralis major, biceps, etc… are subject to wear and tear, the most exposed and the most prone to injury- especially if the deeper foundation layers are not supporting or stabilizing them, or the structural joints.
When we talk about training from the inside out, we are talking about the core stabilizing muscles that run from the shoulder girdle to the hip joint, as well as some local stabilizing muscles underlying all outer layers in the arms, legs, neck & head. The goal is to train the body to innately recruit our inner layers before we initiate any noticeable body movement. It’s our brain’s job to tell our muscles what to do- a neuro-muscular firing pattern. The optimal process is when the brain recruits the quiet muscles deep inside to support our structure, before the outer layers ‘shout out loud’ or formalize the movement. The more the inner layers support, the less the outer layers will tighten, loosen or break.
Because of the above physiological process, training programs today often incorporate mind-body warm-ups where we visualize the sport-specific movement patterns we will be training, and mimic them in a specific warm-up protocol. The mind and body are connecting before we actually begin the workout to turn on the inner layers. Athletes are also finding pilates and yoga for strength, flexibility, stability and mental training highly efficient and effective environments to learn this process.
Marcel Vifian, former Pro Triathlon National Champion and 4x World Championship Team member, shares his experience and coaching tips for core, strength and flexibility training from 14 years racing professionally and now coaching:
‘Our core is our foundation for all body movements. We have to be balanced. Pilates & yoga are a good combination of core & general body strength… if I were to prescribe for an athlete a choice between lifting weights or doing yoga, I’d suggest yoga.’
‘You need a certain amount of range of motion to assist the movements in cycling or running, but you don’t want to get so flexible that your joints are hyper-mobile. Stretch with a warm muscle. Don’t pre-stretch a cold muscle. The best times to stretch are 10-15mins into your workout and directly after, as blood is warm, core temperature is up, and you can increase the flexibility you need.’
Develop a personal ritual that you incorporate after every workout. i.e. after a run spend about 5-6 minutes stretching lightly and gently from your feet to your head, to maintain flexibility you already have and increase what you need.
It’s never too late to incorporate training disciplines that will add length and life to your body. Ask yourselves if you continue to get stronger each year. Are you maintaining an upright posture with your training load? Do you training pain & injury free?
If not, it may be time to incorporate something new, as the best of the best, Lance Armstrong, did in 2001. Unless you are a professional athlete with time to balance all critical aspects of training safely and specifically, you may need to find some efficient ways to build the ‘have to’s’ into the ‘want to’s’ so you can enjoy life & sport for not just a season, but for your lifetime.
To contact Marcel Vifian, email firstname.lastname@example.org . Marcel will be moving back to Utah in June 2009 to work with OPT-IN: Optimal Training 4 Life & Sport, and co-founder Cari Junge as a Performance Coach for Endurance Athletes.
Core & Flexibility tips
Start core training from the inside out with Pilates once per week. You may actually feel sore for the first time from the deepest core layer, the transverses abdominus. To feel where this muscle is, draw your muscles in around your bladder and give a cough. There you have it, deep down by the pubic bone. This muscle should be innately activated to support you back, specifically for cyclists and runners.
Start with a basic yoga class especially as an endurance athlete. Ask your instructor to cue the movement patterns using your core, as many of us do not have the body awareness to do this naturally. There is a chance of hyper-mobilizing a joint or over-stretching a muscle if not performed mindfully in this environment.
Train specifically for your sport. If taking a core class, understand that muscles critical for stability on the bike and running varied terrain on the trails are the oblique muscles that line the sides of the abdominals. Build awareness into what it feels like when they are firing in class so you can mimic that feeling in sport-specific training.
Flexibility tests and tips
Soleus Muscle in the calf
Place forefeet and heels together while standing. Take a seated position and see how far you can go without falling over and without lifting your heels. The deeper you can go the more flexible you are in soles and achilles tendon, which require elasticity for effective running technique.
Quadriceps on the front of the thigh
Stand upright with your pelvis in a neutral position so the pubic bone and hipbones are in a flat plane perpendicular to the ground. Draw one heel up to your buttocks without shifting the pelvis. This requires core engagement. The quads need flexibility for running, strength & stability for cycling. The higher the heel, the more flexible and relaxed your quads will be so the soles, Achilles and hamstrings can do their job best.
Gluteus Medius and Minimus on the sides of the hips
Check the position of the muscles along the outside of the leg to see if the knees bow out from the hip joint. If so, these muscles need to be strengthened for runners. The glut med & min provide stability when landing, and should not be stretched but rather massaged. A good strengthener is to place a band around your ankles and walk sideways.
Hamstrings on the back of the thighs
Lay on your back in the supine position. Place one foot on the ground extended from your sitting bones or the center of the hip joint so that the knee is not turned in or out but tracking from hip to knee to ankle. Keeping the lower leg or tibia stable and your tailbone on the ground, draw your tummy muscles in to stabilize your back and lift the other leg into the air to a straight elongated position.
Start with your toes pointed away from your head and raise the other leg up towards the sky.
With leg straight and lifting as far towards the chest without your tail lifting or your arms helping, check the angle at the hip joint relative to the ground surface.
75-90 degrees perpendicular to the ground is ideal to show range of motion through the joint and flexibility in the hip extensors, i.e. hamstrings.
Below 75 degrees, hip extensors are shorter than ideal, so possibly tight or weak.
Above 90 degrees is a sign of flexibility through the hip joint and extensors. The larger that angle becomes, the more hyper-mobile the joint becomes which can be detrimental to the runner and cyclist.
These long flexible muscles supporting and directing joints may be too long, loose or week.
For a bit more challenge, to isolate the hip extensors in this flexibility test, flex the ankle joint into dorsi-flexion turning toes towards the body. Again with the long leg, see how great an angle from the ground you can manage with tailbone down and all control measures in place.
Short hamstrings will surely sing from this position, perhaps even into the low back.