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How-To: Train the most important core muscles for cycling

Your billowing quads and razor sharp calves will be the envy of your bike backpack, and you'll start every ride strong. As the ride progresses, your hips bob in the saddle, your lower back hurts, and you slow down in turns. The problem? Your core, uncle, cries long before your legs wear out. Although a cyclist's legs are the most tangible source of strength, the core muscles - abdominal muscles and lower back - are the vital foundation from which all movements, including pedaling, are based.

"You can have all the leg strength in the world, but you can't use it efficiently without a stable core," says Graeme Street, founder of Cyclo-CORE, a DVD-based exercise program and personal trainer in Essex, Connecticut. "It's like the body of a Ferrari with a Fiat chassis underneath."

A solid core helps avoid unnecessary upper body movements so all of the energy you produce is put into a smooth pedal stroke.

Unfortunately, the bike's tripod position, in which the saddle, pedals, and handlebars support your weight, depends on the core strength, but doesn't build it up. Try this intense routine designed by Street to build your high performance chassis. It only takes about 10 minutes and focuses on the transverse abdominus, the innermost abdominal muscle that acts as a stabilizing belt around your torso, as well as your lower back, obliques, glutes, hamstrings, and hip flexors, so your entire core - and then some - becomes strong and works as a unit. You'll notice that it skips the rectus abdominus, or six-pack muscle, because, says Street, "it's the least functional muscle for cycling."

Do this intense routine, in that order, three times a week to create a core that you can ride faster, longer, more powerfully - and finish stronger than ever before.

1. Boxer Ball Crunch

2. Make bridge

What it works: Hip flexors, glutes, lower back

  • Lie on your back, bend your knees, and place your heels near your buttocks. Arms are by your sides, palms down.
  • In one smooth motion, squeeze your glutes, lift your hips off the floor, and push yourself up from your heels to form a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Toes come off the ground easily. Hold down for two seconds. With your toes up, lower yourself three-quarters of the way to end one rep. Do 20 repetitions.

Why it works: In addition to stretching the hip flexors, which are often extremely stiff on cyclists, the bridge strengthens the connection between the lower back and the glutes.

3. Hip extension

What it works: Lower back, thighs, buttocks

  • Place your hips and stomach on the stability ball, place your hands on the floor just below your shoulders, and straighten your legs with toes on the floor.
  • With a straight back and shoulder blades back as if trying to let them touch, lift both legs off the floor, keeping them straight. If possible, raise them a little higher than parallel to the floor. Hold for two seconds and lower. Do 20 repetitions.

Why it works: This movement builds back strength to increase efficiency in the second half of pedal travel.

4th plank

What it works: Transverse abdomen, upper and lower back

  • Lie on your stomach, place your elbows under your shoulders with your forearms and hands on the floor.
  • Lift your hips off the floor, keep your back straight and abs tight, and rest on your toes. Aim for 60 seconds.

Why it works: The plank builds the strength and muscle endurance you need to ride vigorously in the drops or in an aero position long after others have surrendered to the top of the handlebars.

5. Cross plank

What it works: Transverse abdomen and obliques

  • Lie on your right side, with your right elbow under your shoulder, your forearm for stability, and stack your left foot on your right. Raise your left arm above your head.
  • In one motion, lift your hips to create a straight line on your left side. Lower your hips a few inches from the floor; Do 10 to 15 repetitions, then switch sides.

Why it works: Strong lean angles improve your stability in the saddle and allow you to endure hairpin turns with more control and speed.

RELATED: Bring Up a Sweat With These Gear-Free Exercises

6. Scissors kick

What it works: Transverse abs, hip flexors, inner and outer thighs

  • Lie on your back with your legs straight out and place both palms of your hands under your lower back.
  • Push your elbows into the floor and pull your belly button towards your spine, lifting your shoulders off the floor and looking up at the ceiling. Lift your legs 4 inches off the floor and shear them: left leg over right, then right over left. This is a repetition. Work up to 100.

Why it works: A comprehensive movement that connects important cycling muscles. The kick also builds the hamstrings, which help you achieve hip, knee, and forefoot alignment for correct and efficient pedal stroke.

7. Catapult

What it works: Whole core

  • Sit with a slight bend in your knees, pressing your heels against the floor. Extend arms forward at shoulder height, palms facing each other.
  • With a straight spine and a look up, take a deep breath, then exhale and slowly rest your upper body on the floor over five points as you inhale. Arms are overhead.
  • In one gentle motion, guide your arms, exhale and explode back to the starting position. Do 20 repetitions.

Why it works: In contrast to its name, the catapult promotes the highest level of body control.

8. Boot pose

What it works: Transverse abdomen, lower back

  • Sit with both hands resting slightly behind you, and lean back until your torso is at a 45 degree angle.
  • Keeping your legs together, lift them off the floor while extending your arms forward at shoulder height. Abs are tight because your thighs and torso form a 90-degree angle. If your thighs are tight, you need to bend your knees a little. Work until you hold for 60 seconds.

Why it works: As with the plank, this pose builds the lower back stability and core strength necessary to be able to bend over the handlebars for hours or blast hills without sacrificing strength or speed.

Burning questions

Why do I hurt my back?
Lower back pain is related to core strength or lack of it. "In a gym leg press, you can press the backrest to stabilize yourself," says Andy Pruitt, Ed.D., director of the Colorado Boulder Center for Sports Medicine, "but when you press the pedal, there is nothing around you besides stabilizing your core. "When it's weak, your back tires quickly. The pain could come from other sources, Pruitt notes, from your cycling shoes to your bike. A good rule of thumb: your handlebars shouldn't be more than a fist's breadth lower than your saddle, says Pruitt, who suggests a bike for people with chronic back pain. "If a fitter can't solve your problem in two attempts, see a doctor or physiotherapist," he says.

Why do I still have a bowel?
You log thousands of miles a year, but your jersey fits like a sausage sleeve. The problem isn't a lack of fitness; It consumes too many calories. Slouching could make it worse. Good posture is a strong core, but these days we lean over a steering wheel to get to work where we crouch over a computer. We crouch over a handlebar for a break. To shrink your tummy, add interval training to your rides to increase calorie burn, put the dunkin donuts off during rest breaks, and start training your core.

Can I strengthen my core on the bike?
These geeky yet effective exercises from Marc Evans, a former US triathlon head coach and owner of, in Menlo Park, California, will make your core a success. The key is the draw in position: Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Push your belly button towards your spine; Your pelvis should tilt up slightly so that your lower back is flush with the floor. Try to recreate this on the bike. Evans recommends mastering these movements with a trainer first. For each, make three sets of three 15-second holds; Rest 15 seconds between repetitions.

  • Aero position: Rest on your aerobar if you have one or rest your forearms on the handlebars. As you move in, your back becomes flat and your pelvis rotates.
  • Single Leg: Use your hands to pull your left foot out by the hoods. As your right foot is pedaling, extend your left leg back and pull in. Keep drawing as you step back on the pedal. Repeat with the right leg.
  • Overhead: Raise your arms over and pull in; squeeze the top tube with your knees. (Don't try on the street unless you have Tom Boonen's agency.)
  • Standing draw-in: Stand with your hands on the hoods and bend at your hips. Pull in until your back is flat and your pelvis tilts.