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Core Workout For Cyclists – 8 Exercises For Pain-Free Riding

Core workout for cyclists? Why should I do that? My legs are strong enough..

You might think that all you need for cycling is strong legs since your weight rests on the saddle, and you exert power with your legs. However, to avoid lower back pain, stabilize your pelvis in the saddle, maintain control while turning or even perform one-handed maneuvers, you’ll need the strength of your core. Not to mention those unexpected situations when you suddenly need to brake or when your rear wheel slips after a heavy rain. These unforeseen events require immediate reactions from your balance system, in which your legs are less capable of intervening.

A Bit Of Theory

The term “Core”[1] refers to the central part of your body. To illustrate this, envision a box made of jelly – a weak representation of your trunk when the core muscles don’t function properly. In contrast, picture a box made of solid wood, symbolizing the strength and stability achieved when your core muscles work effectively, enabling balance while cycling. Your trunk’s primary role is to transfer power between the upper and lower body, ensuring a smooth connection from the legs to the pedals without pelvic swinging.

In a narrower sense, the Core comprises specific muscles: the diaphragm (top of the box), the transversus abdominis, obliquus internus and externus, rectus abdominis (side and front of the box), the quadratus lumborum, erector spinae, multifidus (back of the box), and the pelvic floor muscles (bottom of the box), along with the fascial system of the trunk.

However, this “box” is just one part of the entire system used in cycling. It is also crucial to train the muscles around the hip, such as the iliopsoas, gluteus minimus, medius, maximus, and tensor fascia latae. Additionally, linking the core to the upper body involves training the latissimus dorsi, the large muscle in your back, which provides assistance during uphill climbs.

Before We Dive Into It

After you red or completely skiped the above rather dry text, let’s dive into some core exercises! But before we begin, remember that building core strength isn’t just about doing exercises—it’s about HOW you do them. The key is to properly engage your abs.

Place your palms on the sides of your torso. Now, picture yourself gently pulling a scarf around your midsection, causing it to flatten from both the front and the sides. This action activates the transversus abdominis (TrA), creating tension in the thoracolumbar fascia on your lower back.

Next, contract your abs. As you do this, you’ll feel your abs pressing laterally into your palms, while still maintaining a flat front on your torso. If your belly starts to round during the exercises, it’s a sign that you’re no longer engaging your TrA correctly. This muscle plays a crucial role in enhancing spinal stability, so it’s highly recommended to activate it during any core exercises.

Alright then, let’s finally get into some action!


Glute Bridge

Not in yoga style! Yoga uses this exercise to improve the extension mobility of the spine. We want to use glute bridge to maintain the core stability while working the glutes. 

Anyway… All core exercises purpose is to keep the trunk stable and keep the pelvic level despite using the extremities.

  • Lay on your back with feet on the ground.
  • Activate your abs (like we explained before) and raise your hips by squeezing your glutes.
  • If you do it correctly, your pelvis will tilt back a little, and you will be straight from shoulders to knees.
  • You should feel work your abs and glutes more instead of your low back and quadriceps.

How you should do it:

How you shouldn’t do it:


Deadbug

(Sorry about the name, I hope you won’t feel like one after doing this exercise 🙂)

  • Squeeze your abs and tilt your pelvis back (holding this position throughout the reps).
  • Lower your opposite leg and arm while keeping your spine stable. 

Make sure that your lower back is always on the ground by tilting the pelvis backward. If you feel any discomfort in your lower back, it means that your abs cannot hold the weight of your legs properly and your pelvis starts tilting forward. Doing this exercise correctly is a great way to strengthen the core, but if done wrong, it can result lower back pain in the long run. This goes for any exercises involving lying on the back and raising your legs.

How you should do it:

How you shouldn’t do it:


Bird-dog

  • Lower yourself onto your hands and knees.
  • Engage your core by contracting your abs, allowing you to maintain a neutral spine.
  • Raise one arm and the opposite leg.
  • Repeat the same movement on the opposite side.

Your limbs might end up below being parallel with the ground. During the bird-dog exercise, it’s important to ensure spine stability, so avoid lifting them excessively high. Prevent your pelvis from tilting forward while raising your leg. Pulling your hand and knee back is a way to regulate the movement yourself. This is where you can identify if your pelvis alignment is off or if there’s any trunk rotation while doing the exercise.

How you should do it:

How you shouldn’t do it:


Prone angel

  • Lay on your stomach
  • Squeeze your glutes and abs (and hold them during the reps)
  • Raise your legs with heels touching. (hold it)
  • Raise your arms stretched from your hip above your head by making a circle and back to your hips
  • Try to do that as high as it possible

During this exercise, your back muscles will be heavily engaged, and the best part is, you don’t need to be overly concerned about your posture so you can’t do it wrong! (Lucky you…)


Plank

Well, this exercise can really hurt your lower back if you do it incorrect way! In this position, your abdominal muscles need to exert significant effort initially. If you sense any discomfort in your lower back, it is a clear indicator that your pelvis is tilting forward and the abdominal muscles below your belly button aren’t properly engaged.

  • Lower yourself onto your forearms and knees.
  • Tilt your pelvis backward by engaging your abs and glutes.
  • Elevate your knees and shift your weight onto your toes and forearms.
  • Are you still maintaining that backward pelvic tilt?

Initially, try to maintain the correct position for about 10 seconds. If you’re unable to keep your pelvis properly aligned anymore, it’s time to rest. Remember, the duration isn’t the main concern, but the form is.

Once you can hold the correct plank for up to 1 minute, it’s time to introduce a bit of challenge. You might incorporate arm or leg lifts, alternate between forearm and pushup planks, or engage in partner exercises like rolling a medicine ball. Regardless of the variation you choose, the key is maintaining trunk stability and preventing your pelvis from tilting forward.

How you should do it:

How you shouldn’t do it:


Mountain climber

Once you’ve mastered the plank position, feel free to introduce some dynamic movements.

  • Maintain a pushup plank stance.
  • Draw one knee toward your abdomen (or diagonally towards the opposite elbow).
  • Step back and repeat the movement with your other leg
  • Try to “run under your belly”

Up until now, we’ve discussed exercises in the sagittal plane, involving your “front and back”. These muscles play a crucial role in aiding turns and assisting you in avoiding slippery situations 😀. Now, let’s explore some exercises in the side plane.


Side plank

Rotate your forearm plank by 90 degrees. This time, you’ll need to balance on a single forearm and the side of your foot, forming a straight line from your head to your ankles.

  • Lie on your side, supporting yourself with one forearm on the ground.
  • Engage your abs (with a focus on your obliques towards the ground).
  • Elevate your hip by contracting your obliques, pulling your rib cage and pelvis together like it was an accordion.

Palloff press

While cycling, it is important to maintain core stability and prevent your pelvis from swaying or rotating. The Palloff Press is a great exercise for developing the necessary strength and control needed to hold a proper position while pedaling and stabilize your trunk against rotational forces.

  • Attach an elastic band to a fixed object at your side, at the level of your chest.
  • Grasp it with both hands positioned in front of your chest.
  • Stand in shoulder wide stance
  • Gently engage your shoulder blades to stabilize your shoulder area.
  • Activate your core muscles as the band will attempt to rotate you towards its anchor point.
  • Slowly extend then shorten your arms. That’s one rep.

Beginner Core Workout For Cyclists

If you’re ready to start, here’s a beginner’s core training plan for you.

Day 1.

2 rounds

  • 20x glute bridge
  • 10x deadbug
  • 15x prone angel
  • 30-30sec side plank

2 rounds

  • 10x bird dog
  • 30sec plank
  • 10-10x Palloff press
  • 30 sec mountain climber

Day 2.

3 rounds

  • 10-10x 1-leg glute bridge
  • 30sec turning from plank to side plank
  • 10x bird dog

3 rounds

  • 10x deadbug
  • 15 prone angel
  • 10-10x Palloff press
  • 30x mountain climber

What To Do Next?

Now that you have a beginner’s core workout plan at your disposal, the next step is to integrate it into your routine. Remember, building strength and endurance takes time, so don’t rush the process. Instead, aim for steady progress, focusing on maintaining proper form and alignment during each exercise. Be patient with yourself and listen to your body. If you encounter any difficulties or discomfort, take a step back and adjust as necessary. Consistency is the key to seeing improvements in your core strength and overall cycling performance. Are you ready? Get set! Go!

if you would like to read more from us, you should check out our article on the 13 top benefits of cycling. 😀

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Author

After trying many competitive sports, Petra came to the realization that the true beauty lies in our perfectly executed movements. This realization led her to pursue a career in movement therapy. She also believes that mental peace is also a part of a healthy lifestyle and exploring the great outdoors through backpacking or biking adventures provides a wonderful escape from the busy modern world.