The 6 Most Effective Core Exercises for Cyclists
And two core exercises athletes should absolutely avoid
“Your core stabilizes every part of your body, and that allows us to put more power into our pedals,” says Mike Durner, a cycling and certified strength and conditioning coach with Carmichael Training Systems. “With a weak core, everything else in your body will fatigue much more quickly.”
Notice that Durner is using the word “core” and not “abs.” That’s for a reason. “Your core is everything from your shoulders down to your hips,” he says, adding that toned abs alone won’t give you the strength you need to keep your back injury-free and your power steady on tough climbs.
But not all core exercises are created equal. Some are downright useless. If you want to get a strong mid-section, try these six moves—and cut these two common core exercises out of your routine.
Variations on Planks
Why They Rock: Durner likes planks because they hit your shoulders, back, and abs without requiring a lick of equipment.
How to Do ‚Em: By now you probably know the basic plank move: Get into a push-up position, then stay there. However, once you can do a basic plank for one to two minutes, you need to start adding in modifications to see gains. “Hold up an arm or a leg, or your opposite arm and leg at the same time,” suggests Durner. When those get too easy, put one foot or one hand, then both, up on a medicine ball.
Why They Rock: “This works your external obliques, which cross from your ribs to your pelvis; plus, it gets a bit of your lower back, too,” says Durner.
How to Do ‚Em: To perform windshield wipers, start by lying on your back with your legs straight up in the air and your arms out to your sides. Slowly lower your legs to the left, then bring them back up to center before lowering them to the right. Beginners can start with bent legs, then gradually work towards straightening them.
Why They Rock: “This works the low back and the top of the glutes, two areaswhere cyclists get sore,” says Durner.
How to Do ‚Em: Lying on your back, bring your feet in toward your butt, then raise your hips up towards the ceiling. “Make sure there’s a straight line from your shoulder blades to your knees,” says Durner. Beginners should work simply on holding this position for 30 seconds to one minute. More advanced athletes can do reps of lifting and lowering motion, then work on holding the bridge for longer periods of time. When that gets easy, lift one leg.
Why They Rock: Chris Burnham, a cycling coach and author of Weight Training for Cyclists: The Ultimate Guide, says this is his favorite move. “Our core’s primary goal is to stabilize our spine, while our extremities do work. For cyclists, a lot of that stabilization is controlling rotational forces. The better we can stabilize our core, the more power we can put out,” he says. And your transverse abdominals—which you work in the Palloff press—are crucial for stabilization.
How to Do ‚Em: Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width, knees slightly bent, shoulders back, and chest tall. Using a cable-pull machine with a single-hand attachment, or a rubber resistance band set up to your side, grab the handle and take a step away from the strap, so there is tension on it. Start with your hands close to your chest and press straight out keeping your shoulders, arms, and hips straight ahead. The cable or band will try to rotate your torso; resist this rotation. Hold for three to five seconds and bring your hands back to your chest to complete the rep. Switch sides and repeat.
Balance Ball Pikes
Why They Rock: Moves with an instability component force you to confront any muscle imbalances or weaknesses you may have. “If you’re going off balance, your body is going to let you know,” says Durner. This pike is a great one for testing where you’re weak.
How to Do ‚Em: Start in a plank position with your feet up on an exercise ball. Keeping your knees straight, bring the ball in toward your hips—your butt should be pointed up to the sky. Beginners can start by bending their knees and simply bringing the ball in toward their chest, but once you’ve mastered that, move on to the full, straight-knee pikes.
Why They Rock: „You’re hitting the obliques and the transverse abdominis,“ says Derner, adding that rotational moves like this really target the muscles that keep you steady when climbing.
How to Do ‚Em: Sit on the floor with your knees bent and your feet slightly off the ground (yogis will know this as boat pose). Twist your torso all the way to one side, then all the way to the other. Keep the work in your abs—if your neck is starting to look like that of a constipated turtle, relax your shoulders and try to really squeeze your abs. For more intensity, lean back further or hold a small weight in your hands.
Say No to Anything on a Machine
Why They Don’t Rock: “It’s just generally not a normal range of motion and you may be working against a weight that isn’t right for you,” says Durner. Plus, ab machines are often confusing. If you don’t know how to use it properly, you’re better off just skipping it, rather than risking an injury.
Durner says that the best exercises are those that use your bodyweight and some sort of balance element, since stabilizing your body as you move through the motion engages more muscles than one machine ever will.
Say No to Sit-Ups and Crunches
Why They Don’t Rock: These moves are Burnham’s biggest pet peeves. “Not only are these dangerous, as both have been linked with spinal micro-fractures, but they increase strength in a non-athletic way,” he says.
Essentially, the whole point of core strength isn’t to have nice abs—it’s to stabilize your spine and protect your back from injury. Sit-ups and crunches will never give you the functional strength you need.