While it might seem like your legs are doing all the work on the bike, a strong core is the key to faster and longer rides. The core is the platform your legs push against. When your core begins to fatigue, it puts more stress on your lower back, hips and shoulders, which can lead to a loss of power and potentially injury as well.
Do these seven exercises 2–3 times per week to improve your riding balance, efficiency and power.
Why: A foundational exercise, planks will help you build a stronger platform so you can generate more power in aggressive riding positions like sprinting in the drops or time trialing. It’ll also help upper body stability when climbing.
The exercise: Using a modified pushup position, place your elbows on the floor. Your elbows should be directly in line with your shoulders, your forearms parallel. Draw in your belly button toward your spine, and keep your body flat, resisting the urge to arch your back or raise your butt. Lift your right leg six inches from the floor while maintaining a flat. Hold for 10–30 seconds and repeat with the opposite leg. Complete 3–5 repetitions per leg.
ALTERNATE ARM AND LEG LIFT
Why: Because of the hunched-over, forward position of road cyclists, extension exercises like this one will help improve muscle imbalances that can lead to pain and injury on the bike.
The exercise: While you can do this exercise without a stability ball, you’ll work your core more with one. With the ball beneath your stomach and your hands and feet on the ground, raise your right arm and your left leg up to the height of your body, keeping your left arm and right leg on the ground. Hold for 10 seconds, and repeat with the opposite arm and leg. Complete 10–15 repetitions.
Why: Lunges are an important exercise for building leg, hip and glute strength. This will help you generate more power for longer periods of time on the bike.
The exercise: Standing in a neutral position, step forward with your right leg and raise both arms above your head. Bend down far enough so that your right thigh is parallel to the floor while making sure your knee doesn’t move past your toes. Keep your back as straight as possible, and maintain good posture. Your back (left) leg should be straight and your knee off the floor. Hold for 5 seconds, and repeat with the opposite leg. Complete 2 sets of 15 repetitions with each leg.
STABILITY BALL CRUNCHES
Why: Your abdominal muscles provide a stable platform to generate power and can improve your balance on the bike.
The exercise: With a stability ball under your lower back and your feet flat on the floor, place both hands behind your head for support. Don’t pull on your head when completing the exercise. Lift your shoulders up and forward, contracting your core. Complete 3 sets of 15–20 repetitions.
BRIDGES WITH A HAMSTRING CURL
Why: Lower back pain is one of the most problematic areas for road cyclists. This exercise will help prevent lower-back injuries and improve your hamstring strength, which will also help with your upstroke during the pedaling motion.
The exercise: Lie flat on your back with your hands down by your side. Place a stability ball under your heels and lift your hips up off the floor, forming a bridge so that your body is in a straight line. For the hamstring curl, roll the stability ball back toward your butt so that your feet are flat on the ball. Return to the starting position and complete 2–3 sets of 15 repetitions.
Why: Working on your balance will improve your bike handling and make you more comfortable sprinting out of the saddle. This exercise will also work on muscular imbalances in the hips and back.
The exercise: Begin in a modified pushup position with your hands on the floor and your feet under a stability ball. Bring the ball toward your hips, keeping your legs completely straight. Your butt should raise toward the ceiling. Return the starting position, and complete 3 sets of 10 repetitions.
STABILITY BALL PUSHUP
Why: Weakness in the upper back can lead to fatigue and pain in the back as the miles start to add up. This exercise will build strength in the upper back and shoulders needed to ride pain-free for long distances.
The exercise: This exercise can be done a few different ways. To concentrate on the area between the shoulder blades, place your feet on the ground a little wider than shoulder-width apart. Put one hand on each side of a stability ball, and lower your chest to the ball slowly, concentrating on squeezing your shoulder blades together at the end of the movement. Return to the starting position, and complete 3 sets of 10–15 repetitions.