As a cyclist, you might assume leg strength is all that matters. But your core strength is equally as important. Having a stable and strong core helps you become a more efficient cyclist. However, to develop a stronger core, you’ll need to do more than just biking. You’ll also need to spend some time off your bicycle cross-training with strength exercises.
Do cyclists need a strong core?
Yes, a strong core is essential for cyclists! More than likely, you already know how important your trunk and legs are when it comes to cycling. Your legs supply the basic power that makes the wheels go round, but your core (and the rest of your body) plays a bigger role in cycling than you might think.
Although your “core” generally refers to your abdominal and back muscles, when we refer to your “core” muscles, we mean your trunk, which extends from your shoulders down to your lower back. This section of your body includes several different muscles, including:
- Your neck and shoulders
- Your abdominal muscles
- Your sides (obliques)
- The long muscles that extend vertically up the length of your back (erector spinae)
- Your groin and sit bones (pelvic floor)
- Your behind (gluteus maximus)
These muscles work together as your “core” to provide a solid anchor for your legs. As you cycle, your abs and back muscles stabilize your hips. So, if your core isn’t solid, you won’t pedal with as much power, and you may even be more likely to experience aches, pains, and injuries.
What are the benefits of having a strong core?
Having a strong core benefits you in many ways as a cyclist, including:
- Increased efficiency: With a stronger core, you’ll be able to push more power into your pedals, improving your strength and overall efficiency while riding. This also makes it easier to resist fatigue as you cycle.
- More stability: The more stable your core while cycling, the less swaying and rocking you’ll do, which saves energy and helps prevent aches and pains.
- Reinforces good form: Your form on the bike is essential for overall efficiency and injury prevention. Having a solid core will help you maintain good form while you ride.
- Helps prevent injury: By improving your form, stability, and efficiency, you’ll be less likely to experience injuries as well.1
How do I strengthen my core for cycling?
All of the muscles in your core work together to power your cycling, so the best core exercises for cyclists target all of them and improve their interaction.
Once you’ve raised your heart rate a bit and worked up a sweat, you can jump into some of our favorite core exercises for cyclists, listed below:2
1. X-man crunch
- Lie flat on your back and extend your arms and legs into an “X” shape.
- Lift your hands and feet a few inches off the ground. (You should keep them suspended like this between reps.)
- Bring your hands and feet together, extended above you, and touch your toes.
- Return to the starting position but don’t allow your legs or arms to touch the ground.
2. Elbow to tall plank
- Start in an elbow plank position. Your elbows should be in line with your shoulders. Engage your core by tucking your tailbone.
- Using one arm at a time, lift yourself into a standard plank position.
- Again, moving one arm at a time, lower yourself back into an elbow plank.
3. Bicycle crunch
- Lie flat on your back.
- Put your hands up to the sides of your head, touching the back of your ears. Avoid pulling on your head or neck throughout this exercise.
- Lift your shoulders off the floor into a crunch position and bring your knees up into a right angle from the floor.
- Push your right leg out straight and bring your left leg in toward your face as you twist your midsection, so your right elbow touches your left knee.
- Repeat the movement, pedaling your legs and touching the opposite knee to the opposite elbow.
4. Plank twist
- Get into the plank position on the floor.
- Engage your core and twist your torso to one side while lifting your right arm vertically above your body.
- Turn your head to look up at your arm.
- Hold for a few seconds before returning to the plank position.
- Repeat on the opposite side.
5. Mountain climbers
- Start in a straight arm plank position.
- Engage your core and bring your right knee up toward your chest.
- Kick it back to its starting position and quickly alternate legs.
- Keep your back as straight as possible and continue alternating legs for 30 to 45 seconds.
6. Dead bug
- Lie flat on your back and reach your arms straight up toward the ceiling above you.
- Bring your legs up into a 90-degree angle.
- Engage your core and make sure your lower back is flat on the ground.
- Straighten your right leg out and let it hover above the ground. At the same time, lower your left arm down and let it hover a few inches above the ground. Don’t allow either arm or leg to touch the ground.
- Hold for a moment before bringing your arm and leg back into the starting position.
- Repeat the move with opposite alternating arms and legs. Maintain slow and controlled movements the whole time.
7. Single-dumbbell overhead squat
- Stand with your legs shoulder-width apart.
- Hold a dumbbell with your arm extended straight over your shoulder.
- Squat down and back before standing fully back up while you continue to hold the dumbbell straight over your body.
- Alternate arms and repeat.
8. Hollow holds
- Lie flat on your back with your feet together and arms outstretched overhead on the floor.
- Press your lower back into the floor to activate your core.
- Raise your arms and legs off the floor simultaneously and hold the position, allowing them to hover a few inches off the ground.
- Hold for a few moments before returning your hands and feet to the ground.
How frequently should I do core exercises?
In addition to your cycling workouts, you might plan to add core strengthening exercises into your routine twice a week. Any more than that isn’t necessary. Fortunately, it doesn’t take a ton of work to see improvements in your core muscles! Just consistency.
Depending on your previous experience with strength training and your physical ability, the number of repetitions (reps) you complete per movement will vary. The overall duration of your strength training workouts will also vary.
The key is to notice how your body responds to the core exercises as a cyclist and adjust accordingly. So, if you find that twice per week is too much, start with once a week and work your way up to two as you get stronger.
Additionally, some core exercises may be too challenging at first. That’s okay! Often, you can modify the movements to make them more manageable as your body adjusts to the challenge. The strength training exercises will get easier as you progress and get stronger.
Key Takeaways:Hitting a workout plateau is common, but it can be very discouraging. Changing your routine, tracking your progress, prioritizing your fitness, adding some strength training, and getting adequate rest can help you break through a plateau and start progressing toward your fitness goals again.
- Huxel Bliven, K. C., & Anderson, B. E. (2013). Core Stability Training for Injury Prevention. Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach, 5(6), 514–522. https://doi.org/10.1177/1941738113481200
- G. (2021, June 9). Try These Ab Workouts to Strengthen Your Core. Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/try-these-ab-workouts-to-strengthen-your-core/