As a cyclist, you know how important it is to have a strong aerobic base and powerful legs. You spend hours sweating it out in the saddle and sculpting quads and calves that a Greek god would envy. But do you find that after a while your lower back starts to ache, your shoulders become tense, and your position starts to suffer? That’s where a strong core comes into play. We delve into why a strong core helps with cycling and give you the best core exercises for cyclists.
You may be so preoccupied with sweet spot training and improving your FTP that you’ve never considered how important having a strong core is for cyclists. Your core keeps you stable and provides the foundation for a strong pedal stroke.
One of the ultimate goals for a cyclist is a smooth pedal stroke. This is achieved by reducing side-to-side movement, which is stabilised by a strong core. If you’ve worked hard to increase your power output, it’s important to make sure all of that energy is delivered efficiently through the pedals and this is why a strong core is so important in cycling.
A well established cycling position will strengthen your back over time and hours in the saddle will build your legs, however your core does not get worked through cycling alone, so you will need to supplement your training with core strengthening exercises.
The core and the abs differ slightly in that the abs refer to the abdominal muscles at the front of the body, whereas the core refers to the entire trunk. Doing traditional abdominal exercises like sit-ups and crunches will not be enough to build a strong core for cycling. Instead, you should focus on functional movements which include twists and balances, as these will really increase your core strength and help keep your core engaged throughout a ride.
The best way to get results and strengthen your core for cycling is by doing resistance exercises. The added resistance will really stimulate your muscles and give better results than using body weight alone. Resistance can come in many forms, such as a medicine ball, dumbbells, or kettlebells.
Photo by Ryan De Hamer
A great test to see if you need to work on your core strength in cycling is to sit on an indoor smart bike trainer in your normal cycling position. Keeping everything else the same as usual but squeezing your core tight, carefully take the weight off your hands until they are hovering over the handlebars. See how long you can maintain this position using only your core strength. If it’s only a couple of seconds, you know you need to strengthen your core.
The legs and the core work very differently in cycling. The legs are needed for fast, dynamic movement through pedalling, while the core needs to maintain a stable, static position. As such, most of your core training should play to this by incorporating isometric holds. One of the best and most obvious isometric core exercises is the plank. This stalwart classic of the exercise world requires patience, dedication and concentration, and will strengthen your core perfectly for cycling. It’s an exercise you can do every day, and you can try to hold it for longer and longer each time you do it.
Photo by Sergio Pedemonte
Taking the isometric hold one step further, mountain climbers are among the best core exercises for cyclists. This is because the movement of a mountain climber mimics the movement of cycling on a bike - with your core stable and engaged while the legs move up and down.
To perform mountain climbers, adopt a press-up position on straight arms. Make sure your shoulders are aligned over your wrists and that your back is flat. Keep your neck straight with your eyes looking at the floor in front of you, and start running your legs. Bring each knee all the way to the chest while keeping the core as still and stable as possible. Don’t allow your body to bounce up and down; focus on a slick, efficient movement. Try to go for 30-45 seconds or 60 seconds if you’re feeling brave.
Photo by Olivia Bauso
You probably won’t feel like a superhero doing this move, but it does take superhuman concentration and focus. This core exercise is perfect for cyclists as it reinforces maintaining a steady and stable core while the limbs move dynamically. It also works laterally across the abdominal muscles, which will help to prevent that side-to-side wobble you may experience after a few tough hours in the saddle.
To perform a kneeling superman, adopt a position on all fours. Make sure your back is flat and that your shoulders are aligned over your wrists. You may already feel your core becoming engaged just by taking this position. Keeping your core tight and sucking your belly button upwards, slowly raise your right arm out in front of you and your left leg out behind you simultaneously. This will challenge your balance which is steadied by - you guessed it - the core. Gently come back to your starting position then repeat with the left arm and right leg. Keep body movement to an absolute minimum and use a slow, controlled motion. Do this for 30-45 seconds and you’ll start to feel the burn.