Core Training for Cyclists” from your Triathlon Coach

A recent study in the National Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research outlined the importance of core training for cyclists. The title of this study was “Relationship Between Cycling Mechanics and Core Stability”. The purpose of the study was to determine whether cycling mechanics are affected by core stability. The foundation behind core training for cyclists is that pelvic stabilization maintains a natural curvature of the spine. The core is defined as the collection of primary stabilizing muscles for both the front and the back of the pelvis and lower back. A weak core could potentially inhibit power production, since the pelvis is the “lever” for the psoas and gluteal muscles, both of which are your cycling power muscles. If your lower extremities are not aligned properly and the lever is in an incorrect position, then power is compromised.   Triathlon Coach

During a long distance cycling event such as Ironman, the pelvis is fixed in a constant position, and subjected to tens of thousands of muscle contraction repetitions. If the core breaks down during this time due to fatigue, then the pelvis will shift and wattage will suffer. So even if the legs are ideally prepared and adequately tapered, a cyclist could still have subpar results. For the triathlete, this problem is compounded by the fact that the core is already pre-fatigued by the swim.

So, how can a cyclist prepare the core properly for the rigours of triathlon? Crunches alone will not do the trick, because the low back is supported by the ground, which is not the case while cycling. Here are 3 effective functional core training moves for enhancing pelvic stability and core endurance. Triathlon Coach

1) Brick Walls
This is a strategy I will use during a long hilly ride or a hill interval workout, and can be performed on your indoor trainer or during an outdoor ride. Climb an entire hill in the standing position. As you climb, try to breathe from deep in your core, just behind the bellybutton. At the same time, visualize your abdomen as a “brick wall”, and maintain a tight core, especially as you drive your knees up to your chest. If you do this properly, then every the leg comes past the top tube you’ll feel your abdominal muscles contract. For added effect, avoid bouncing on the handlebars.

2) Mountain Climbers
Your focus during this exercise is very similar to the aforementioned Brick Wall, except now you should be off the bike, in a push-up position, driving your right knee up towards the left elbow and vice versa. Again maintain focus on a tight abdomen and deep stomach breathing. You will also need to focus on maintaining a straight line from the shoulders to the wrist, and hips that are close to the ground. Below is a link to a video of me performing the exercise. These can be performed slowly, as in the video, or quickly, mimicking a rate closer to a cycling cadence:
Triathlon Coach

3) Cable Torso Twists
This exercise requires core force production against a cable resistance. It is important in your core conditioning program to include an exercise that introduces external resistance. What is the external resistance that a triathlete’s core experiences while cycling? The bike! You have to steer and navigate your bike against the friction of the road, and for an Ironman triathlete especially, this can lead to fatigue over the course of 112 miles. Force transmission from the pelvis to the lower extremities is important, but functional strength and endurance is also required for the upper body force transmission from the core. The cable torso twists is also a great exercise for swimmers who need to focus on hip rotation. Here is a link to the exercise video:

Add these moves into your weekly program and you’ll begin to feel the results within about 4-6 weeks. A stronger core will enhance a cyclist’s force transmission from the hips and pelvis to the lower extremities. In addition, a triathlete riding in the time trial position will likely have more support from the trunk, and thus place less pressure on the shoulder, upper back, and neck muscles when resting on the aerobars. An effective core conditioning program needs to be consistent, and should be performed at least twice per week during the entire training year. A word of caution: avoid any core training up to 48 hours prior to competition, as muscular fatigue and soreness peaks at about the two day mark.

By the way, for any of you cyclists out there who might be experiencing knee pain, I’ve found a fantastic website called “The Bulletproof Knee“.