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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Smart Core Exercise - Alligator Walk Suicides (Advanced Plank Progression)

Contrary to popular belief, the core was not designed to move the spine- it was designed to protect the spine from movement.  When the spine flexes, extends or rotates (twists), it places severe stress on the discs.  The goal of core exercise is to train the core to resist movement throughout all planes of motion and various loading patterns so that the entire body can operate as one single unit.

A Spine Biomechanics Professor, Dr. Stuart McGill was first to discover that the sit-up exercise places harmful stress on the spine.  A great article posted on Mens Health interviewed and covered several of Dr. Stuart McGill's ground breaking research on core training and its impact on the spine.  Check out the article below or do a Google search of his name to find hundreds of his studies on this topic.  After reading the article below, you'll learn that the sit-up is merely one of the many exercises that are dangerous to spine health.

An interesting study published by the National Strength and Conditioning Association studied the relationship between cycling mechanics and core stability.  The study demonstrated that a fatigued core negatively impacts the quality of each pedal stroke.  While power output was not significantly affected, the quality of each pedal stroke was compromised.  The study left me with one question: How does a fatigued core affect cycling economy and efficiency?  If a fatigued core leads to altered cycling mechanics, then it's likely that cycling economy and efficiency will be compromised, especially out of the saddle.

Now that you have a great understanding on how to train the core properly, here's an exercise that follows the recommended protocols to train the core safely- Alligator Walk Suicides.  This is one of my favorite cycling core exercises.

Due to the advanced nature of this exercise, consult a Doctor before attempting to do the Alligator Walk exercise.  Even after getting a go-ahead with a doctor, ensure that you meet the following criteria to reduce your risk of injury:
  • You can hold a stationary plank for three minutes without losing form.
    • Example: Dropping the hips, dropping the head, holding your breath (valsalva), protracting/ retracting the scapula often (shoulder instability) or failing to maintain a neutral back
  • You have no history of wrist or hand pain
Tips for Performing the Alligator Walk Suicide:
  • Walking backwards will feel almost two times harder than walking forward.  Anticipate this by taking your time backwards to focus on your form.
  • Do not slam or stop the hands into the ground.
  • Keep the shoulders and pelvis level to prevent rotation at the spine
  • BREATHE!  Do NOT hold your breath!

Why this exercise is effective:
  • Every time you lift a hand, an asymmetrical load is transferred from the single hand to the feet.  Preventing the hips from shifting or the shoulders and pelvis from tilting will require the core to stabilize.
  • The plank position will still require the transverse abdominis to fire and stabilize the lumbar spine/ low back.
  • To keep the hips and pelvis from dropping, the quadriceps and the rectus abdominis (six pack muscle) will have to work extra hard.
  • Cyclists will see big gains out of the saddle as a result of performing this exercise because it also trains the serratus anterior to endure the fatiguing effects caused by anaerobic metabolism.  Anytime you're out of the saddle or supported by your hands, the serratus will have to fire to stabilize the scapula/ shoulder.
If you want more videos showing core exercises for cyclists or simply want to leave feedback, please send me an e-mail (  I appreciate your feedback!  Good luck and enjoy!

Vincent is an ACE Certified Sports Conditioning Specialist, ACE Certified Personal Trainer and holds a Baccalaureates Degree in Kinesiology from Indiana University Bloomington.  He races criteriums competitively and resides in Carmel, IN.  For Personal Training inquiries, contact him at  Follow or subscribe at Strava, the ESTSmart Strava Club, YouTube or Twitter (@ESTrainSmart).

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Velocity A23 Pro Build Review

I would like to start this review with a huge thank you to Velocity and The Wheel Department for sponsoring me through the 2013 season!  In the Velocity USA website, they described the A23 Pro Build wheeset as "THE set for crits, road races, and cyclocross.  This is not an exaggeration because I rode my A23 Pro Build to three podium finishes out of five races.  Thanks guys!

When you buy a Velocity A23 Pro Build wheelset, they arrive individually wrapped inside familiarly shaped boxes.  I was too excited to open up my wheels, so I didn't get a chance to take unboxing pictures.  I only remembered to take a picture when I saw the sticker signed by the wheel builder who built my wheelset, Jacobi!  Check out his bio at The Wheel Department website.
The benefit of the Velocity A23 Pro Build is that each wheelset can be entirely customizable to the rider. Other than rim, spoke, hub and nipple color, you can choose the number of spokes and lacing pattern to fit your needs.  My top priority was on lateral stiffness.  Since I mainly race criteriums, I needed a wheelset that was predictable in the corners and strong enough for a sprint, so lateral stiffness was my number one priority.  

Since the bracing angles in the front wheel are always extremely high (most important variable in lateral stiffness), I went with radial lacing and a lower spoke count at the front to save weight while improving aerodynamics, respectively.

Lateral stiffness was the top priority in building the rear wheel.  I chose 28 Sapim CX-Ray spokes and an asymmetrical rim to allow for more uniform tension.  The asymmetrical rim allows the spokes to engage the rim more symmetrically.  This prevents the wheel from deflecting towards the group of spokes with higher tension.  To further increase stiffness, the drive and non-drive side were laced in a two cross pattern to place the spokes in a tangential position relative to the rim.  A tangential spoke position causes the spoke to pull forward on the rim versus laterally on the rim (radial lacing).  The end results is a wheelset that is theoretically very stiff.  Check out the build specifications below:
Fuji SST equipped with the
Velocity A23 Pro Build wheelset
  • 700c 20 hole
  • Road Race hub
  • Black Sapim CX-Ray spokes
  • Black alloy nipples
  • Radial lacing
  • 700c 28 hole
  • Road Race hub (black)
  • Sapim CX-Ray spokes (black)
  • Alloy nipples (black)
  • 2x drive, 2x non-drive
To test whether my rear wheel was actually stiff, I placed a camera facing the rear wheel to detect deflections.  If you haven't seen my other Lateral Stiffness Test videos on YouTube, please visit the EatSleepTrainSmart YouTube Channel to check them out.

Here's the Lateral Stiffness Test video for the Velocity A23 Pro Build:
Compared to my unreasonably heavy 32 spoke Alex rear wheel, my 28 spoke Velocity A23 rear wheel appeared to perform better!  Despite riding over bumps, the impact didn't seem to induce any deflection on my Velocity A23 rear wheel.  Before filming my A23 rear wheel, I honestly thought that I was going to see some flex, especially at such a low weight!  If you're worried about lateral stiffness, feel free to copy my build.  Nothing beats the feeling that nothing is holding you back in sprints or attacks.

Below are my race results with the Velocity A23 Pro Build.  Out of five races, I achieved a podium finish in three of them.
  • Indy Criterium Cycling Race & Festival: 2nd place (89 riders)
  • Mass Ave Criterium: 2nd place (56 riders)
  • Bloomington Cycling Grand Prix: 3rd place (52 riders)
While the engine and the driver's skills are important, the suspension is equally important.  The wheelset definitely helped me stay calm and focus entirely on what I needed to do.  Thanks to the width of the rims, I had so much grip that I never once worried about leaning hard into corners.  I often found myself exiting corners faster than everyone else.  Imagine how much energy is saved just by having to accelerate less.  With this wheelset, I noticed that I was able to approach the final lap with significantly more energy to produce podium-worthy sprints.


Equipping my A23 Pro Build with Michelin Pro 4 tires.
Custom Fuji SST with a blue Selle SMP saddle and a blue A23 Pro Build wheelset.
Side view of my custom Fuji SST road bike and A23 Pro Build wheelset.
28 Sapim CX-Ray spokes.  Two cross lacing.
Low view of my Fuji SST road bike and A23 Pro Build wheelset.
Fuji SST with a custom blue Selle SMP saddle and A23 Pro Build wheelset.
Eat Sleep Train Smart Polar CS600x display.  Michelin Pro 4 tires and
A23 Pro Build front wheel.