Over several years, despite cycling consistently, my average speed had become lower than I wanted it to be—not particularly slow, but slower than it seemed like it should be. While a number of different factors probably contributed, one variable seemed to be a decreased ability to easily engage my hamstrings in the pedaling effort. This is not uncommon in cyclists, whose quadriceps often carry the load. The hamstrings are important, however, in knee flexion, the “pull-up” phase of the pedal stroke, and in hip extension, an aspect of the “push-down” phase of the pedal stroke. Those phases obviously take place every revolution, so I knew that I would benefit by regaining more hamstrings engagement in my cycling. What I had noticed over the years, though, was that consciously engaging and emphasizing my hamstrings on the upstroke was exhausting and not sustainable for long.
During the same time frame that my cycling speed diminished, I also experienced a troubling onset of hip and lower back symptoms. I have scoliosis, and an x-ray a few years ago showed spondylolisthesis (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spondylolisthesis), a condition where vertebrae are displaced and pushed forward. I also had quite a bit of pain consistent with piriformis syndrome (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piriformis_syndrome) and some sciatica (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sciatica). In short, my whole lower back and hip region, especially on my right side, had become a mess.
While I haven’t entirely eliminated these issues, I have found a resource that has given me significant relief and has also improved my cycling.
Over a year and a half ago, I incorporated Foundation Training (http://www.foundationtraining.com/) into my training program in the last few weeks of my cycling off-season. I had been having quite a bit of discomfort and was searching for exercises that would give me relief. I had tried yoga, self-myofascial release (http://www.mythrivemag.com/dont-be-a-tight-ass-self-myofascial-release/), with both a foam roller and massage balls, and stretching that targeted the piriformis and lower back. Short of cycling—the more I ride the better I feel—nothing really made a noticeable, sustainable difference. I ordered the Foundation Training book and did exercises from it for the first seven weeks. Within just about three weeks, I noticed a difference in both the way I felt and the way I rode. I ordered the DVD set and added to my Foundation repertoire. Since that time, Foundation Training has been a primary component of my fitness and training program. The latest book by Dr. Eric Goodman, True to Form, updated my understanding of Foundation Training and assisted me in further integrating it into my everyday life.
Foundation Training focuses on strengthening the posterior kinetic chain, the muscles on the back of our bodies that support our movements through daily life, including the lower back, glutes, hamstrings and calves. As the creator of Foundation Training explains in this video (http://www.foundationtraining.com/videos_and_blog/tedx-talk-remedy-for-back-pain/), back pain is frequently associated with improper movement patterns that increasingly weaken the posterior chain and prevent it from supporting our bodies the way it was intended to do. It is designed for everyone, from individuals with chronic back pain and conditions to elite athletes. All can benefit, and virtually anyone can do at least some of the exercises. People with chronic conditions may not be ready for all of them initially, but they can at least do the beginning exercises and build on those as their foundations grow stronger and more functional.
Foundation Training has noticeably improved my ability to engage my hamstrings, as well as to utilize my glutes more effectively, while cycling. I gained speed and had the perception of increased power (I do not have a power meter, so I don’t have objective evidence.) on my bike. I was able to ride faster and to sustain my speed for longer distances. These gains have persisted over time and across seasons. My sciatica is virtually gone, and my piriformis pain is dramatically reduced. I still have some hip pain, particularly some mornings or when I am sitting for long periods of time, but the pain is less, both in frequency and intensity.
I have given Foundation Training as gifts, and I have recommended it to others. I will continue to do so, and I will continue to practice it. I believe in its efficacy because I feel and experience the results daily. I have aspirations to get certified as a Foundation Trainer someday, so that I can share with more people the benefits of this unique form of fitness training.