The 5 Essential Core Stability Exercises For Cyclists
ALL TOP ATHLETES SPEND TIME TRAINING THE CORE ALL YEAR ROUND. PERIOD.
It’s pretty remarkable how big of an impact core training can have on cycling performance. We have all seen the rider who starts going hard and is immediately ALL over their bike and all over the road. Bobbing up and down, rolling shoulders. They don't look STABLE at all! Or oppositely, the rider that bounces and weaves when riding easy, yet mysteriously is stable when going hard? This happens when those small muscles fatigue and in order to keep up the same level of output, the larger muscles must start compensating. We should be locked in at all times when on the bike. Energy leaks waste energy and leave us potentially vulnerable to injury. Do you want to know how to keep that poker face when things are heating up on a climb and GUARANTEE that every hard fought training hour is going to use in creating SPEED? The root of the answer is in your core and foundation.
Everyone has heard of the core, but most don’t know just how many muscles actually make up the “core” and just assume that core=6 pack. Not true! The core muscles are all of the muscles that create stability in our torso. This would include pelvic floor muscles, transversus abdominis, multifidus, internal and external obliques, rectus abdominis, erector spinae, longissimus thoracis, and the diaphragm. The lumbar muscles, quadratus Lumborum (deep portion), deep rotators, as well as cervical muscles, rectus capitis anterior and lateralis, longus coli may also be considered members of the core group. Minor core muscles include the latissimus dorsi, gluteus maximus, and trapezius.
The spine provides our ability to bend, twist, dance, and move freely about the world, and the core provides the rigidity needed to protect the spine in moments of torsion or load. On the bike, we want our spine to be incredibly stable because any twisting, rotating, squirming, or flexion will lead to a loss in power at any intensity. The body of research by renowned back expert, Stuart Mcgill has been really important to the way we understand the core and how to train it. This Specific research paper and the the way Stu approaches core training has REVOLUTIONIZED the approach physical therapists take to core training, and the way powerlifters think about their own stability. Surprisingly it is only immediately AFTER doing core work that we get an upregulation of the muscles doing their job. What does this mean? It means that you need to be doing core work often in short intense bouts throughout the week. The more, the better!
STOP DOING CRUNCHES!
Crunches at the heart of the move are actually a mobility drill because you are putting your spin into extreme flexion. Although you can get a good burn in the rectus abdominis, aka your “6 pack abs” that’s really not going to translate to much of an improvement in core stability, it’s merely going to make you better at crunching! The Transverse abdominis is a layer of abdominal muscles underneath our 6 pack abs, that responds a lot better to isometric style training, which means holding a position under tension, not changing length of the muscle under load, like a bicep curl or a squat.
Remember, our goal is to improve spinal STABILITY with core work. Isometric holds while keeping the natural S curve of the spine will develop the muscles like your obliques, quadratus lumborum, and Psoas which are much MUCH more important for a properly functioning core. These 5 core moves will help PROGRAM your body to stay rigid when the intensity turns up! Think of your muscles as the hardware, and our brain as software. With the right intention and lots and lots of repetitions you can reinforce improved muscle firing patterns.
It’s a good idea to have a yoga mat when attempting to get on the floor for these moves. The mat will provide some additional grip and cushion for your hands and feet. One key to a strong isometric program lies in cuing correctly. It’s very important to TAKE YOUR TIME getting into the position of each move. There are a lot of muscles working in harmony for all of these exercises. Rushing into the correct position will bypass the critical programing opportunity. Communication between muscle groups works way better when you slow it all down, so every step matters!
Side plank will hit your obliques, and ALL of the deep internal stabilizer muscles of the core. Start at a front plank and roll to one side. Start with 3 sets of 30 seconds to 1 minute holds per side and increase the duration of your holds as you get more experienced. Cue this move for a stronger contraction by imagining you are pulling your forearm to your feet, but don’t allow yourself to move at all. You will FEEL the BURN!
Bird dog brings a combination of balance and strength, primarily hitting the multifidus muscles that run along the spine. This exercise is a great follow up after a strong set of side planks. Position yourself on your hands and knees and slowly extend one leg, and the opposite hand. Hold for 30” per leg then reverse legs. Once again, be very diligent with the pace at which your bring your leg and hand off the ground. Go SLOW! Really try and keep your hips and shoulders perfectly square.
You can even execute a variation of the bird dog when riding! All you need to do is support yourself with only one arm for 30 seconds to 1 minute at a time on an endurance ride. If you do this for 10 minutes you will definitely feel the additional muscle activation, and improve your body awareness about what it takes to stay really locked in when pushing the pedals.
This move is a staple for gymnasts. The quality of the movement is again key. Check out this tutorial for a perfect walk through of this exercise. We have not been able to find any single exercise that can beat this for core strength and stability!
Walking Single Arm Farmer Carry
At first, this might not even seem like a core workout, but after just a few minutes holding the weight you will feel your back and stabilizer muscles light up! The Farmer Carry is the most effective when you ASYMMETRICALLY load weight, meaning hold little or no weight in one arm and a lot of weight in the other. You can find any heavy object, it doesn’t even have to be a free weight. Simply walk slowly and keep your shoulder squared and dont allow the side with weight to drop below the other shoulder.
When is it best to perform these moves?
Based on the research of Dr. Mcgill, the most ideal time for core exercise to be performed is before activity, because the core muscles will stay at a higher level of activation for a while. Before lifting, running, or riding ESPECIALLY if you have had any amount of pain in the past for these activities, training the core will temporarily make you more stable and less likely to feel pain or hurt yourself. We noticed that this is really helpful especially before sprint workouts or races.
THE 5 MINUTE CHALLENGE!
We want to challenge you right here and now to work your way up to 3 times per week for 5’ STRAIGHT! Yes, that might seem like a lot at first but if you just keep working on it you will get there within a month, easy! You will be blown away by the improvement you will see in performance on the bike when you increase core stability in this way, we guarantee it.
After you make it to 5 minutes , let us know! Are you starting to feel more stable on the bike? Did your low back pain “magically” disappear? The benefit of a strong core will be felt in every aspect of your life. By training the core consistently you will be less prone to injury, have better endurance, and become more explosive when it’s time for those big accelerations!
Consistency is key with the core. One or two workouts a month will surely be hard but just like with any athletic endevor, you must be willing and ready to play the long game. 4-5 times per week is ideal. Take note of your WEEKLY minutes of core work and try to increase by 5-10’ total per week at least. YOU WILL FEEL A DIFFERENCE in your athletic performance, and in daily life. It’s a no brainer, don’t forget to train your core!
If you have never trained your core and want some specific help, please let us know and we will give you some advice that is specific to you and your individual questions and needs. EVOQ.BIKE is here to help!