Core training for cyclists is a bit of a buzzword, but that shouldn’t diminish it’s value.
For me, I’ve found regular and properly-structured core strength training to be of huge benefit to my shape and performance, and here I’ll outline why.
I’ll also make a case for why it should form a part of even the most time-crunched cyclist’s training plan. Finally, I’ll offer a few suggestions around exercises that work for me and that you can get started with ASAP.
So, let’s get into the reasons to perform this type of training.
Overall performance doesn’t just come down to how many watts you can sustain for 5 minutes, or what your power weight is at your FTP, even those these are critical. You need to have well-rounded fitness for your chosen cycling discipline and core strength can really help fill in the gaps.
You can use this type of training to work on parts of the body that will contribute to a greater performance, but that aren’t well-developed through just riding the bike.
For instance, if you’re a MTB XC racer, you’ll be faster on short, sharp climbs and have better descending control by working on specific arm exercises.
Those that mimic but exaggerate the motions and demands found in racing will improve this area of your fitness.
Moreover, you might be training your cardiovascular system really well when out on the bike, but a weak set of abdominal muscles could be limiting the amount of power you can generate into the pedals with your “engine”.
It’s sometimes alarming how much extra power you can generate when you become stronger in the areas of the body that stabilise you. Not only that, endurance is improved too, as these core muscles can support your riding longer by fatiguing slower.
One thing I like to talk about is variety in training, but this is because I believe it to be very important and for a number of reasons. In the context of strength training, it can offer variety to challenge the body, but also preserve training motivation.
When you begin training in the winter for the upcoming season, there are a lot of months of bike-time to go before racing kicks off, and it’s key to keep training fun and varied during this time.
Core strength training offers a really beneficial but different workout structure to actually riding the bike, whilst also providing a great substitute or additional session when the weather is terrible outside.
Not only keeping the mind enthused about training by offering lots of different workouts and exercises to try, strength training challenges the body in a more holistic way than just riding, meaning it’s valuable and specific training that will have a direct impact on performance in the ways outlined above.
One of the main reasons why a lot of athletes use strength training is actually to avoid getting injuries from their regular on-bike work. As mentioned, cycling and riding the bike can only strengthen the body so much, and does inevitably leave gaps in your overall strength.
Being such a repetitive and specific motion, parts of the body will get tight, and others will get loosened. Excessively tight muscles and tendons can’t function properly, and this can leave you open to injury, whether chronic or acute.
Common areas where cyclists get tight and weak are in the glutes, the lower back and at the front of the hip. Mountain bikers can also get tight in their shoulders too. These are areas that can really benefit from strength work, which can reduce the chances of common injuries like patellafemoral pain syndrome, IT band pain and lower back issues.
The great thing about core strength workouts is that the exercises need not be complex, or require any expensive equipment to perform. Some of my favourite exercises that really challenge the body without additional weight are:
- Side lying planks
If you do want to challenge yourself further, some good accessories to get hold of are therabands, a swiss ball and a bosu ball, which you can use to help the stabilising muscles work harder (e.g. resting your feet on either of the balls when performing a plank).
Let me know in the comments if you have any favourite exercises and if you have any questions that I may be able to answer, just drop them below.