A strong core doesn’t just mean a set of finely shaped abdominal muscles. There’s much more to it than that, and much more to be gained.
Cyclists forever strive to improve their aerobic endurance and high-end power yet continue to ignore the importance of core strength.
A lot of cyclists are apprehensive performing exercises that don’t involve the bicycle. After all, anything that can lead to unnecessary weight gain can negatively affect performance on the bike.
But core work doesn’t necessarily involve weights, and it certainly doesn’t mean bulking up. Instead, you are working on improving its strength and conditioning, making your muscles more effective at holding position, and increasing the amount of power it can produce or tolerate.
What is the core?
The core isn’t just the set of muscle that sits in and around your torso. So a few sit ups won’t have much effect.
The core involves a whole network of muscles that are all interconnected such as the abdominals, obliques, lattisimus dorsi, the thoracolumbar fascia (the muscles that sit around the spine), the adductors, and gluteal complex, hamstrings and tensor fascia latae.
What you must realise is that any imbalance between these muscles could cause an injury. For example, low back pain could be a result of poorly conditioned hamstring muscles and neck strain is often a result of imbalances lower down the back – in most cases, areas of discomfort are usually caused elsewhere in the body.
But strengthening your muscles isn’t just to reduce the risk of injury. There are performance benefits to be had…
Strong and fast
When cycling, it’s really important to keep still and steady. A weak core will affect your stability, which may lead to excessive side-to-side movement. It may not seem like much, but shuffling in your saddle puts pressure on your hips and low back. Sitting out of position could also lead to a build up of pressure in your upper back, resulting in neck pain and pinched nerves.
‘Rocking’ will also result in a loss of power. The muscles you use to ride fast – most notably your gluteal muscles and quadriceps – now have to compensate in order to keep you still on the bike. Remember, a stable foundation will allow your hips and legs a good platform to fire from and you will be able to maintain position on the bike for longer while minimising shuffling and discomfort. A happy core is a happy cyclist.
3 core exercises to try
These three exercises will help disassociate your pelvis from your lumbar spine, increasing flexibility, suppleness and conditioning.
1. Pelvic tilt
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor.
- Tilt your pelvis towards you, flattening your back as your breathe out.
- Breathe in and hold for three seconds.
- Breathe out and tilt pelvis away from you, arching your lower back.
- Repeat 30x
2. The clam
- Lie on your side with knees bent, feet, hip and back in alignment.
- Tuck your bottom underneath, squeeze your bottom together, keeping your feet together and lift your top knee.
- Slowly lower down to start position.
- Repeat 30x
3. The plank: this exercise will strengthen your low and upper back, abdominals, glutes and hips.
- On elbows and toes, maintaining a straight and long spine.
- Elbows directly underneath the shoulder and chin should be slightly tucked in (eyes looking towards the floor to maintain neutral cervical spine).
- Return to starting position and repeat with opposite arm and leg.