How Do We Cause Our Core to Lock?
You can contract your diaphragm and simultaneously contract your pelvic floor creating a fixed cylinder. Can you envision the following:
- the top of the cylinder is your diaphragm,
- the bottom is your pelvic floor,
- the sides are made of your spine on the back, ribs on the sides and in between all bony structures, the muscles and connective tissues of the abdominal wall.
When you create a rigid, immobile, fixed cylinder in your core, what happens? First you cannot move from your core because you have totally locked your core. Second, you cannot breathe diaphragmatically because its impossible when your diaphragm is locked. Third, you cannot remain aerobic because you are not breathing aerobically so you end up triggering your sympathetic nervous system and your flight-fight-freeze reflex (when you stop breathing diaphragmatically its interpreted by your nervous systems as a sign of panic, of danger, therefore your brain and body react as if your survival is being threatened). Fourth, you generate immense internal pressure within your abdomen, effectively squeezing your vital organs (i.e. liver, pancreas, stomach, intestines, kidneys, bladder, uterus, ovaries, gallbladder, spleen, adrenal glands), as well as squeezing all the nerves and blood vessels (e.g. abdominal aorta) that travel through your abdomen.
The Crushing Pressure of a Locked Core on your Vital Organs
Picture the abdominal cylinder described above and within it your vital organs: stomach, pancreas, liver gallbladder, kidneys, adrenal glands, intestines, spleen, bladder, uterus, ovaries, prostate plus all the nerves and blood vessels that travel through.
Now, picture locking that cylinder tight by bracing your diaphragm and your pelvic floor. When this happens the pressure in the cylinder starts to increase.
Now, imagine bearing down… bracing your core harder and harder like when you are exert yourself intensely during a workout.
Can you picture the crushing effect this has on your organs? If not, then consider the images below of a car crusher. It may offer you a bit of an insight into the crushing effect you exert on your vital organs each time you lock & brace your core.
Guys… when you lock your core, your twig and berries end up literally between a rock (your bike seat) and a hard place (your locked cylinder). Unless you are making jam, placing your berries between a rock and hard place aint exactly treating the family jewels with any respect. Wonder why the general has a hard time standing up and saluting? Well, how well would you stand up and perform after being run over back and forth for as long as you were on your bike last time?
Crush Your Organs Daily When You Exercise, and You’re Surprised…
How many medical acute and chronic conditions are you causing by forcing your vital organs to have to work under such constant load and stress? How well do you think your organs function under such constant load and stress? Do you think there could be a chance that you are causing some, if not all of your injuries, illnesses, and medical issues because of how you mis-use and hence mis-treat your body?
It doesn’t end there. How much back pressure are you putting on your heart by compressing the blood vessels which travel through the abdomen? Ya think that might have an effect on your blood pressure? What about the compressive forces on all the nerves in your abdomen… like the ones going to all your vital organs, or the nerves that travel down into your legs?
Wait… let me guess, someone sold you that some smoothie, or a gluten free or carb free diet, or some newly discovered Amazonian nut, bean or berry is going to solve all your digestive, immune, and other dysfunctions. Right. Your vital organs are having the life crushed out of them day after day, and whether you are healthy or not depends on whether or not you had a massage, and a shot of wheatgrass today.
When are we going to stop with the short cuts, with the no effort solutions? Are we truly interested in our health and being healthy, or are we just putting on a show so we can Tweet or post something on Facebook or Instagram?
Its time to end the era of ignorance in training and competition in sport, among masters athletes and more importantly among age group/youth athletes. Its time for athletes, coaches, trainers, bike fitters, retailers, engineers to start partnering with experienced health care professionals who can advise all of the above in preventative health care where and when it matters… right from the beginning.
How Do Athletes Lock and Brace Their Core While Cycling?
There are two main ways that athletes end up locking, bracing and then crushing their core:
The first is because athletes lack proper technique. The reason athletes lack proper cycling technique is because many if not most triathlon and cycling coaches and let’s not forget spin class instructors have minimal – if any – appreciation of human anatomy, let alone its function. As a result, there is no way for them to know proper biomechanics, or cycling technique, which means there is no way for them to teach you to cycle properly. These trainers, coaches and instructors have to dumb-down the sport to simply grinding away, standing on the pedals where pounding out higher and higher power readings is the one and only goal. If not wattage, then they scream at you to hit your maximum heart rate (as if its any indication of how well you are doing). They profess health, yet preach a philosophy of “no pain, no gain”. When an athlete complains to the point that the risk is that they cannot continue, the go-to solution for pelvic pain, foot or leg numbness is typically either some new piece of gear or a bike fit. Problem is…
A bike fit does as much for cycling technique as new goggles do for swimming technique, new shoes for running technique… nothing!
Bike fitting does nothing to remedy improper cycling biomechanics. A bike fit is little different that a fitting for a tuxedo… a tailor can make a tux to measurements taken, but the tailor cannot change the individual who wears the tux. Proper neuro-motor learning, proper instruction, appropriate training and progression are the only ways to change an athlete’s execution of sport specific technique.
Bike fitting is not the solution for athletes who lack proper technique.
The second is when athletes lock and brace their cores as a result of being encouraged to perform Hi Intensity Interval Training (HiiT). The HiiT mania that has taken over the fitness industry and ‘coaching’ across all sports by storm, its the go-to solution for trainers and coaches alike and is the brainchild of exercise physiologists looking to cash in on the growth of the fitness industry. The pursuit of a solution for the obesity crisis has turned into a race for the ultimate short cut of short cuts, but instead of delivering solutions, HiiT is creating the exact opposite: even unhealthier individuals, individuals with greater risk of illness, injury, and chronic disease. If HiiT was a solution, then obesity rates, diagnoses of diabetes, and related chronic diseases should be diminishing in incidence not rising. HiiT may be a short cut to a fitness goal, but it is not the tool nor the process to achieving health and it is definitely not the starting point for anyone who is already diagnosed with any number of medical conditions (especially heart).
When you expose an athlete or demand an athlete to deliver power/wattage which they are incapable of producing aerobically, they have to switch to anaerobic energy production. There is no choice for athletes who do not have the background, the awareness, the experience in training, the technique to understand and appreciate their thresholds. When loaded as in HiiT sessions, these athletes lock their core in desperate attempts of delivering the results their coaches push them to achieve. As mentioned above, when the core is locked the message to the brain is that the body is under threat, triggering the flight-fight-freeze defense mechanisms in the body.
Any training that triggers your defense systems is not healthy training.
HiiT was once reserved for elite athletes, athletes who understood the dangers of HiiT and had the self awareness to make proper use of HiiT. Problem is, HiiT today is applied indiscriminately to everyone who expresses an interest in gaining any level of fitness. Novice athletes who have minimal skill, minimal self awareness, minimal experience in training for sport are prescribed HiiT from the get go. These novice athletes complete an event or two, and now considering themselves seasoned athletes start coaching other novice athletes replicating the ignorance with which they trained or with which they were trained. The result… HiiT has become the centre piece of virtually all coaching programs, and the fact that injury, illness, and dysfunction (case in point, pelvic floor issues) is the outcome goes unnoticed.
In an era of “no pain, no gain”, technique – i.e. the how of movement – has been thrown out the window as all that matters is burning calories and generating peak power for longer and longer periods irrespective of the cost to do so, and the consequences of doing so. Injuries, illness, chronic disease that developed at the same time as you started training for that marathon or iron distance triathlon? Naw, thats just coincidence… isn’t it?
Its your health that matters, nothing else.
If you got into sport or are getting into sport to get healthy, to improve your overall well-being, to gain vitality, longevity, energy, and to explore your potential, then what does training that causes pelvic floor dysfunction have anything to do with these goals?
No coach can claim to be concerned about your health and well-being as a priority, if they subscribe or teach the “no pain, no gain” mentality.
No coach can claim to be concerned about your health and well-being as a priority, if they prescribe workouts which trigger your flight-fight-freeze reaction causing your brain and body to believe that your survival is at risk.
Final note to cyclists and triathletes and coaches who believe in “no pain, no gain” thus buy-in to the belief that their pelvic floor issues are a mere inconvenience and the simplest short cut solution is the way to solve it with a seat that appears to make everything go away:
“No pain, no gain” is an impaired mental state and is diametrically opposite to the manner in which the best of the best train and compete. If your coach advises this mindset, then I highly recommend you investigate the long term consequences of this coaching philosophy and seriously consider a coach whose priority is your health, your well-being, your safety, and places performance as secondary.
Attribution of Abdominal Anatomy image from Wikipedia:
- Link: https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archivo:Abdomen_Anatomy.jpg
- Author: GilbertoASanchezA
- Image modifications: TheAthletesCloud.ca