Kate Wiseman's dissertation paper at the Durban University of Technology showed a 10% improvement in 1.5km cycling time trial performance after following a simple set of core exercises for only four weeks. Let's go over the workout and maybe you can see similar cycling improvements from increased core strength.
Core Exercises for Cycling
The protocol used in the paper is as follows:
For four weeks, complete these core exercises 4-5 times per week.
- 10 repetitions of 10 second holds for each of the following exercises:
- Glute Bridge
- Side Plank (both sides)
- Bird Dog
This protocol is quite simple with 5 total exercises (side plank is two) and a total working time of 500 seconds. Including the five second rest between sets, the total workout time is only 12 minutes. The author of the study showed that amateur athletes showed 10% improvements in their 1.5km time trial time with this cycling core strength workout. This benefit is likely due to better power transfer and less movement in the saddle.
Glute Bridge Exercise for Glute Strength
We have an entire article on glute activation and use in cycling. It's no surprise that glute bridges are a member of this core protocol. For glute bridges, lay on your back with bent knees. Engage the core and squeeze your butt cheeks together, forcing your pelvis upward. From there, hold that position for 10 seconds and return your butt to the ground. This exercise is great. It improves the neural connections to the glutes and engages the largest muscle group in the body. Make sure your are squeezing with your butt muscles and not engaging your hamstrings to complete the task. The burn should be felt in the body of the butt muscles to ensure proper use of the glutes.
Plank for Core Strength (Cycling Favorite)
The second exercise is the typical plank exercise, an exercise almost all cycling fanatics do. For this one, prop yourself up on your toes and elbows and squeeze at your belly button to engage your core. The goal of this exercise is to prevent the lower spine from sagging. Similarly, the upper spine should not be excessively rounded. One good cue is to imagine pushing upwards on the spine from your belly. Another important point is to try to squeeze the rhomboids (shoulder blades) together to keep the upper spine neutral. Having someone there to evaluate your form is important; don't let your butt sag!
Side Plank for Oblique Strength
The side plank works to strengthen the side of the body by forcing engagement of the obliques to prevent the pelvis from dropping to the ground. This exercise is similar to planks in that the isometric hold engages the core as a stabilizer. When riding a bike, the core also acts to stabilize the body. For the side plank, prop yourself up on your elbow and the side of your foot and try your best to keep your pelvis up off the ground. Try to resist any sagging and keep your hips stacked. It's common for athletes to 'open' their hips towards the sky, but focus on keeping your hips perfectly on top of each other. The exercise should be repeated on both sides. Complete 10 repetitions on the first side, then switch to the other.
Bird Dog Exercise for Core Engagement
Another common core strength exercise, bird dog is an interesting exercise where the body is placed in a naturally unstable position. The athlete is required to engage their core to maintain a neutral spine and body position. The bird dog exercise is simple. Lift the opposite arm and leg and extending them fully. Focus on preventing twisting, leaning, rotating, or any other spinal changes when completing this exercise. Hold for the required 10 seconds and then return the arm and leg to the floor.
Your Core Experience and Cycling Improvements
The goal of this set of exercises is the improve your core strength for cycling. Since it's based on a scientific paper suggesting that short term power can increase by up to 10%, we want to see if it actually works. Please complete this workout twenty times over a one month period and then get in touch and let me know how it worked! The steps to take for the protocol are as follows:
- Find a local climb of approximately 2 minutes in length or program your smart trainer for a 1.5km flat course.
- Complete the course as hard as you possibly can!
- Post your pre-protocol ride to strava.
- Complete the four week cycling workout, aiming for 18 core strength days across 4 weeks.
- Complete the same course as hard as you can!
- Post your post-protocol ride to strava.
I sincerely hope this workout improves your cycling performance! The goal of this experiment is to provide research feedback on a core strength protocol that is accessible to all cyclists. It can also be motivating to complete core work with a purpose; to help us better understand if core strength is beneficial to cycling. Do your best and if you miss a day or two of the protocol doesn't quite go to plan, try your best anyway! Let me know what you struggled with and how you succeeded. Most importantly have fun.