As cyclists, we invest an increasing amount of time in on-the-bike training, but does this relentless focus on cycling truly enhance our performance in the sport? Perhaps, instead, it would be wiser to allocate some of that time to off-the-bike training. Here, I present a selection of core exercises that have proven effective for many of my bike fit clients. Specifically, I am intrigued by two muscle groups essential for cyclists: the deep transverse abdominal muscle (or TVA), acting as a natural corset, and the lower abdominals derived from the superficial abdominals.
1. 4-Point Tummy Vacuum
Why we care: This exercise activates the main muscle responsible for natural bracing—the transverse abdominals. These muscles contract when you draw the navel toward your spine, reducing the size of your belly. The horizontal fibers connect to the thoracolumbar fascia. The benefits include teaching muscle activation, correcting breathing mechanics (emphasizing 2/3 belly breathing), and improving carbon dioxide tolerance, crucial for converting oxygen into energy.
How to do it: Begin in a four-point position with relaxed shoulders, hands below them, knees beneath hips, and a neutral back. For a neutral back position, envision a dowel placed along your spine, making contact with the sacrum, thoracic spine, and the back of the head. Ensure there’s approximately the thickness of your hand as space between the dowel and your lumbar spine. Inhale, letting the belly drop, then exhale, bringing the navel in without altering your back position. Hold the position for 10 seconds after a full exhale. Relax as you take the air back in, repeat about 10 times.
2. Lower Abdominals
Why we care: Activating the lower abs is vital for cyclists as they bend forward during the hinge-like motion of cycling. This exercise provides stability by engaging the pelvic floor muscles, which, like the transverse abdominal, contribute to deep core stability. Additionally, it enhances breathing, aligning core activation with proper breathing techniques.
How to do it: Lie on your back with knees bent and feet on the ground. Exhale, pushing your lower back into the ground for 10 seconds while holding your breath. Relax and return your back to a neutral position as you inhale. Repeat this process 10 times.
Progression: Once you’ve mastered this exercise, take it up a notch. Lift one foot off the ground and carefully return it while maintaining continuous pressure on your lower back against the ground. Alternate between legs and aim for a total of 12 to 20 repetitions.
These exercises, while basic, demand focused attention. If you find them challenging, it’s an indication that you should invest time in mastering them. If you struggle, it’s imperative to persist. These exercises are not only valuable for building foundational strength but are also excellent for cultivating mindfulness in breathing—a facet many individuals can improve upon. Activating these muscles before engaging in more complex bodyweight exercises is crucial, as these muscle groups play a pivotal role in dynamic stability. Stay tuned for our next blog post, where we’ll delve into exercises that demand seamless coordination between these targeted muscles and the rest of the body.