Before I risk provoking your wild side, I”™m referring to your stomach. The riders in my classes can be the best informants as to what is circulating around the indoor cycling industry. They are hungry for knowledge and some are even taking workshops to become instructors. It is common for one of them to approach me each week and ask about something they”™ve read or seen about indoor cycling (or cycling in general) that confuses them. This week the question was “should I suck my stomach in when I ride?”

The answer….NO.  That”™s right, I didn”™t say “it depends” or “only when…” Simply, No. Usually it is someone who participates in or teaches another fitness discipline that believes the abdomen needs to remain contracted “always”. But this time it was another indoor cycling instructor — no, don”™t say that!

Breathing is Good

The most important reason to keep one”™s stomach “relaxed” while cycling is to be able to breathe optimally. When your abdomen is contracted it restricts the movement (contraction) of the diaphragm and the expansion of your lungs. The diaphragm is a muscle between the abdominal cavity and thoracic cage. When you take a deep breath in, the diaphragm contracts creating more space in the thoracic cage allowing the lungs to expand. If your stomach is sucked it, the diaphragm is pinned by the contents of your abdomen. Thus, your breathing is severely restricted.

Breathing properly also includes the ability to exhale.  Exhalation (particularly when your training and riding hard) will contract the rectus abdominis. If your stomach is already sucked in, it will very hard to contract the rectus abdominis and exhale fully.

But I Thought Cyclists Need a Strong Core?

Yes we do. However, there is a difference between a strong (or tight) core and sucking in your stomach while riding. It is often thought that the stomach is responsible for supporting the upper body while riding. There is more to the “core” than just the stomach.  The core (to cycling coaches) also includes the other upper body muscles such as the back, obliques, chest, shoulders, etc. Although we do not want to voluntarily contract any of these core muscles either, we do need them to be conditioned to support our posture, movement and transfer of power.

What a Waist

Yeah, I know you”™re not going to look nearly as sexy in the mirror while you ride, but you”™ll be able to work harder and perform better and longer.  Not sucking in your stomach will also help you in 2 other ways.  First, tightening your stomach while riding requires that your abdomen be contracted. Contracted muscles require fuel and oxygen. In this case, both are being “waisted” in order to restrict your breathing. Second, if you are an outdoor rider, tightening your stomach while you ride will hinder your ability to respond quickly when bike-handling skills are required.

So, breathe! Let it hang out and enjoy a full deep breath in and long exhale.  Experience the additional endurance, power and performance from utilizing your full aerobic capacity. And keep working on that core.  Just don”™t work on it while you”™re riding.

Originally posted 2012-01-05 13:18:26.

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