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Core Strength for Cycling

from Bicycling - World's Leading Bicycling Magazine

Fall is the time when all your training, riding and racing come together, filling your legs with endless energy for the cool, crisp days ahead.

Unfortunately, it's also the time when the rest of your body tends to fall apart. Months of hunkering over your handlebar can leave your shoulders rounded, your back tight and your belly drooping. Unchecked, this deconditioning of the core muscles in your back, abs, hips and shoulders can trickle down and create poor posture, knee pain and backaches on the bike.

"Core strength is the first thing to fade as the season goes on," says Jeb Stewart, certified strength and conditioning specialist and head coach of The Peaks Coaching Group. "Strong core muscles make you a better cyclist, but cycling doesn't keep your core muscles strong." To counteract the imbalances created by cycling, plus improve your posture, flexibility and overall performance, Stewart recommends concentrating on the deep abdominal muscles (called the transverse abdominis), as well as the hips, glutes and shoulder girdle. "These are the muscles that help transfer power from your handlebar to your pedals when you're sprinting or climbing, and that stabilize your pelvis for an efficient pedal stroke," says Stewart, whose DVD, The Next Level: Strength Training for Endurance Athletes, explains exercises for these and other muscle groups ($35; endurofit.com).

Do the following core moves two to three days a week. Aim for eight to 10 reps of each exercise, per side when applicable, with minimal rest in between. Then repeat the set two to three times.--Selene Yeager

A. Side Plank, Leg Lift Lie on your left side, propped up on your left forearm so your elbow is positioned directly below your shoulder and your forearm on the floor is perpendicular to your torso. Keep your legs extended and stack your feet.

Contract your obliques and raise your hips off the floor so your body forms a straight line from your outer ankle to your shoulder. Raise your top leg. Hold two seconds. Lower back to start. Repeat a full set on the left, then switch sides.

Slump-busting benefit: Strengthens your obliques and hips to minimize side-to-side rocking, especially when climbing or sprinting.

B. One-Arm Plank Lie facedown with your forearms resting on the floor, your elbows under your shoulders and bent 90 degrees. Make loose fists, resting the outer edge of your hands on the floor.

Push off your forearms, lifting your body off the floor, so your torso is supported on your forearms and your body forms a straight line from your head to your heels. Keep your navel pulled toward your spine and your head in line with your back. Extend your right arm straight in front of you. Hold two seconds. Lower it, and repeat to the opposite side.

Slump-busting benefit: Targets your transverse abdominis, which stabilizes your back when you're bent over the bar. Also strengthens your shoulder girdle for better shock absorption and bike handling.

C. Bridge Lie face up on the floor with your knees bent 90 degrees and feet flat on the floor. Squeeze a rolled-up towel between your knees.

Pull your navel toward your spine, contract your glutes and lift your hips toward the ceiling until your body forms a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Lift your toes so just your heels are on the floor. Pause, then lower your hips toward the floor without touching it. Repeat.
Slump-busting benefit: Strengthens your glutes, which help stabilize your pelvis, and keeps your knees tracking properly, improving power output and reducing the risk of overuse injury.

D. Suspended Superman Lie facedown on a stability ball, so your belly button is at the top of the ball and your hands and feet are on the floor supporting you. Keep your head in line with your back.

Contract your glutes and upper-back muscles and raise your left arm and right leg, so they form a straight line parallel to the floor. Pause, lower to start, and repeat to the opposite side.

Slump-busting benefit: Tones back extensors for improved riding stability and less low-back discomfort.

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