Balance Training for Cyclists & Triathletes isn't Rocket Science, in Fact, It Can (And SHOULD be Simple)
Ditch the BOSU ball and pita pad for REAL performance based balance & stability training for cyclists & triathletes
When we hear balance training, we almost all immediately think of BOSU balls, “Pita pads”, sling trainers, TRX, and a number of other unstable surface toys we can throw into our programs. But the use of many of these unstable surface items won’t help you or your athlete learn how to be more stable. Instead, they’ll ingrain further poor and adaptive movement patterns that over time, will take it’s toll on the joints, the muscle balances at the joints, and eventually to a DECREASE in performance.
Let’s take a look at simple, yet devious approaches to help you train true balance while IMPROVING performance, and longevity.
Understanding the jobs of the muscles
In order to talk about balance, we have to first understand the jobs of the muscles of the body, as they relate to movement. There are 3 jobs muscles have when it comes to movement:
- To protect a joint from injury- this often happens in the form of some muscles shortening/tightening so that excessive movement can’t or won’t happen.
- To stabilize a joint while an adjacent joint moves (while your biceps shorten, your triceps lengthen while keeping enough tension to stabilize so the biceps can do their jobs
- To move a joint
Seeing these on paper, you can immediately better understand the challenge we have when we just throw a rider or triathlete onto an unstable surface: Many have extremely tight hip flexors and chest muscles, leading them to loss of their ability to extend their hips or flex their shoulders without compensating at the back.
Jumping onto an unstable surface often leads to more compensatory patterns, and a decrease in the individual’s ability to move well.
If not the BOSU, where should we start?
The first step to test, how well the athlete can balance, where do the breakdowns occur?
There are a number of tests we can perform for this, one of the easiest to perform is the 1-legged balance test.
This test allows us to assess the athletes posture, breathing, balance, and coordination, in a safe, “portable” fashion.
Many tend to think “Ha! This is crazy, you’re kidding right?!?”
But we’re dead serious.
As the saying goes “Does a bear poop in the woods?”
The video is the evidence, and for many, it’s a big wake-up call.
What are we looking for here, what makes one “good” and another “bad”
- Less than 2 inches sway side to side when lifting the leg off the floor
- Hips remain level throughout
- Foot stays flat on the floor
- Knee stay straight, or with a VERY slight bend
- Lifted foot stays either under the glutes, or slightly forward of glute
- Toes stay up on the lifted foot
- Hips and shoulders stay locked together throughout (no twisting)
It’s not uncommon to have one leg be a bit “better” (or even really good), with the other being extremely poor.
Depending on the athlete’s complaints and goals, this may be the only balance test we perform with 1 leg, and we would then include 1-2 other tests to look at balance and spinal stability. A great test, that is also an exercise (any exercise can be a test, and any test can become an exercise) is the Bird-Dog.
This test/exercise can really exposé a cyclist’s or triathlete’s inability to create core bracing to an appropriate level for a given activity, to allow for movement to ONLY occur at the hip and shoulder, and not from the spine.
For the bird-dog test, we want to have a wooden down on the spine, with 3 points of contact: The back of the head, the mid back, and the middle of the glutes. As the athlete goes through the range of motion these 3 points of contact should stay solid, there should be no separation of the rib cage from the spine, and all movement should come from the hip and shoulder.
Give these each a shot, recording yourself from the side and from the back for both of these movements. You will probably need someone to record the bird dogs for you, as we’ll want to be able to have a view looking either from the head down the spine, or from behind looking up the spine, in order to see if there is any twisting.
In Part 2, we’ll take a look at a few approaches to help TRAIN balance.
If you’re a coach, trainer, or fitness professional, and would like to learn more about strength training for cyclists, sign up for the waitlist for the Strength Training for Cyclists Certification, and get $200 off when the course opens again.