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8 vital core exercises for cyclists to boost power and speed

A strong abdominal core is essential to cycling fitness. We’ve put together 8 of the best core exercises for cyclists to help you improve power and speed.

As cyclists develop such strong back muscles from their position on the bike, it’s important to counterbalance this with a strong anterior. The back is strengthened naturally due to the time cyclists spend bent forward over their handlebars. However, this can cause asymmetry. Your back becomes stronger than your abdomen and core, which can cause a few issues. This means building a stronger core is essential. In this blog post, adapted from Cycling Anatomy, 2nd Edition we’ve put together 8 vital core exercises for cyclists.

Why do cyclists need a strong core?

An important function of the abdominal muscles is to provide a stable platform for your legs. As your legs rotate through the pedalling motion, the hip joints and pelvis are stabilised by the abdominal and back muscles. The foundation of any structure is crucial to its stability, and the body is no different. To get the most drive transferred from your legs to the pedals, your core needs to be solid. This doesn’t mean that your pelvis isn’t moving. It simply means that your back and abdominal muscles should be working together to provide the proper pelvic position during your pedal stroke. If your abdominal and back muscles aren’t locking your pelvis effectively, you won’t be able to realise your optimal performance.

Finally, when you’re riding at your limit and trying to suck every molecule of oxygen out of the air, your abdominal muscles contribute to your maximal ventilatory (breathing) volume. As you strain under the high demands of your ride, your entire body will be working in concert to deliver sustained power to the pedals. This is why conditioning and training your entire body can help you get the best results on the bike.

Abdominal Musculature

The abdominal muscles allow your torso to flex forward, rotate and bend from side to side. In addition to the well-known rectus abdominis muscles, or the ‘six-pack’, three other muscles help to form your abdominal wall (Figure 1). These muscles are positioned on top of each other. This allows them to efficiently provide the wide range of movement of your trunk. The 8 core exercises for cyclists we’ve put together will work all these muscles. The abdominal muscles include:

  • Rectus Abdominis
  • External Oblique
  • Internal Oblique
  • Transversus Abdominis
Muscles that make up the abdominals
Figure 1. Muscles that make up the abdominals.

Core exercises for cyclists

This blog post provides core exercises for cyclists that help you develop all your abdominal muscles. Anatomically, there is no upper and lower abdomen. However, to help you focus in the gym, the exercises have been divided into various abdominal sections: general, upper, lower and obliques. Although each exercise works most of your abdominal muscles, certain areas will be under more stress and strain. As you perform each exercise, you should concentrate on the primary muscles listed. There’s no quick way to achieve strong abdominal muscles, regardless of what you might have read!

Warm-Up and Stretching

As with all workouts, you need to perform an adequate warm-up before engaging in exercise. Spend around 10 to 15 minutes doing cardio work on the exercise bike, treadmill or elliptical. Then once you’ve elevated your heart rate and generated a sweat, you need to stretch the muscles of your abdomen and torso. Many of the exercises in this blog post and in Cycling Anatomy, 2nd Edition can serve as a good warm-up. You just need to remove the resistance and perform the movement of the exercise as described. For the warm-up, you can also slightly extend the range of motion compared to when doing the exercise with resistance.

For more information on effective warmups check out Warm-up advice from Aurélien Broussal-Derval.

General Core

Stability Ball Pass

Core exercises for cyclists - Stability Ball Pass

Execution

  1. Firstly, lie on your back with your legs extended. Squeeze a stability ball between your feet and extend your arms horizontally above your head.
  2. Perform a crunch motion. Pull your legs and arms to a vertical position. Your shoulders should come vertically off the floor.
  3. Move the stability from your feet to your hands when your arms are extended vertically over your abdomen.
  4. Slowly return to the starting position. But now the ball is in your hands rather than between your feet.
  5. Finally, reverse the motion.

X-Man Crunch

Core exercises for cyclists - X-man Crunch
Figure 2. X-Man Crunch

Execution

  1. Lie flat on your back with your arms and legs extended into the X position (Figure 2).
  2. Secondly, lift your feet and hands a few inches off the ground. This suspended position is your starting and finishing point. Your hands and feet shouldn’t touch the ground for the entire set.
  3. Bring your hands and feet together, extended above you in the middle. Try to keep your arms and legs extended. You might have to work up to this exercise (Figure 3).
  4. Finally, return to the starting position.
X-Man Crunch
Figure 3. Crunch

Upper Core

Stability Ball Trunk Lift

Core exercises for cyclists - Stability Ball Trunk Lift

Execution

  1. Place your feet firmly on the floor. with your back on the stability ball. Hold a medicine ball outstretched with your arms straight in front of your chest. Your back and thighs should be horizontal and parallel with the floor and your knees bent at 90 degrees.
  2. Push the medicine ball straight up as you contract the abdominal muscles. Then concentrate on moving your chin in a straight line vertically towards the ceiling.
  3. Pause briefly at your maximal height and then slowly return to the starting position.

Kneeling Rope Crunch

Core exercises for cyclists - Kneeling Rope Crunch

Execution

  1. Facing away from the pulley system, kneel on a mat while holding a high pulley rope attachment above your head.
  2. Curl your body down toward your knees. Concentrate on bending at the waist and curling your chin down and in.
  3. Hold briefly. You should feel the squeeze in your abdominal muscles.
  4. Finally, slowly return to the upright kneeling position.

Lower Core

Heels to Heaven

Core exercises for cyclists - Heels to Heaven

Execution

  1. Lie down on your back with your arms extended toward your hips. Then lift your legs perpendicular to the floor and extend your knees. Keep your feet flexed, with your toes pointing towards you.
  2. Lift your pelvis upward off the floor, pushing your feet straight up to the ceiling.
  3. Lastly, lower your legs and hips slowly to the starting position.

Suspension Pike

Core exercises for cyclists - Suspension Pike

Execution

  1. Get into a push-up position with your feet in the suspension strap handles.
  2. Lift your hips upward into a pike position. Your feet will move toward your hands, which are planted on the floor.
  3. Keep your back and legs straight during this entire exercise.
  4. Return to the starting position.

Obliques

Thread the Needle

Core exercises for cyclists - Thread the Needle

Execution

  1. Firstly, lie on your side, propped up on one elbow. Your elbow should be directly underneath your shoulder.
  2. Lift your hips off the ground and extend your upper arm toward the ceiling.
  3. While exhaling, move your upward facing hand downward and through the gap between your torso and the ground. This is a rotating movement, but don’t move your feet or the forearm on the ground. Then attempt to extend your hand behind you and away from your body once you’ve ‘threaded the needle’.
  4. Bring the upper arm back toward the ceiling to return to the starting position. After completing repetitions on one side, switch to the other.

Step-Through Plank

Core exercises for cyclists - Step-through Plank

Execution

  1. Assume a plank position.
  2. Keep your back straight and your shoulders and chest facing the ground. Bring one leg under the other leg and extend the foot out to the side, rotating at the hips.
  3. Step back through to the starting position and alternate sides.

Complete core workout for cyclists

  1. Stability Ball Pass
  2. X-Man Crunch
  3. Stability Ball Trunk Lift
  4. Kneeling Rope Crunch
  5. Heels to Heaven
  6. Suspension Pike
  7. Thread the Needle
  8. Step-Through Pike
Cycling Anatomy, 2nd Edition

Adapted from:

Cycling Anatomy, 2nd Edition

Shannon Sovndal

Further Reading

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This entry was posted in: Fitness & Health, Strength & Conditioning

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Hi, I’m Hannah, marketing assistant and one of the bloggers here at Human Kinetics Europe. I wasn’t blessed with the coordination to play most sports, but that’s not stopped me becoming a great watcher of them. Particularly when it comes to football! So I’m here to bring you all you need to know about exciting new product releases and the latest in sport, fitness and PE.

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