Coach Hughes: Core Strength Training for Cyclists, pt.2
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Intelligent Cycling Training—Training

Core Strength for Cycling, Part 2

A strong core provides a stable platform to anchor the leg muscles, increasing cycling power, and supports the upper body, reducing upper body fatigue.

by John Hughes
© 2011 John Hughes, All Rights Reserved

John Hughes is the author of Distance Cycling and many articles on training, nutrition, psychology and medical issues for RoadBikeRider.com. He is the the former director of the UltraMarathon Cycling Association and editor of UltraCycling, has been certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association as a personal trainer and by USA Cycling as a coach.

Strength training overview for endurance cyclists [  Part 1  |  Part 2

Recommended exercises for

  1. Increasing core strength [  Part 1  |  Part 2  ]
  2. Developing leg strength [  Part 1 |  Part 2  ]
  3. Improving muscle balance [  Part 1  |  Part 2 ]
  4. Strengthening connective tissues [  Part 1  |  Part 2 ]
  5. Improving upper body endurance [  Part 1 |  Part 2 ]
Advanced Core Exercises
With these more advanced core exercises you can continue to train the core muscles that run around the abdomen, not the surface muscles that run up and down. You can’t feel the core muscles working, their action is subtle. Here are several ways to visualize engaging them:
  • imagine that you are pulling your belly button down to your anus
  • imagine that you are tightening the muscles around your bladder and sphincter
  • imagine that you are trying to make yourself thinner to slip sideways among people in a crowded room
  • imagine that you are pulling on a tight pair of jeans
Beginng Core Strength, Part 1  |  Advanced Core Strength, Part 2  ]

To do the exercises you will need a hard Styrofoam roller 3 feet long and 6" in diameter and an exercise ball (FitBall / Swiss ball). The correct size exercise ball depends on your height. Do not get a department store play ball—these aren’t strong enough. If you can't get this locally here are three good resources:
John Hughes demonstrating foam roller for core strength training for cyclists

6 inch by 3 feet foam roller.
John Hughes demonstrating exercise ball for core training for cyclists

Exercise ball size varies depending on height.
Use the exercises in the following suggested progression. Each round should take two to four weeks to master the exercises and train the core muscles. For most evercises do three sets of 10 to 20 reps meaning start with three sets of 10 reps, resting about 30 seconds between each set. Concentrate on good form, making sure that your core muscles are tight and your core is steady and immovable. When you can do three sets of 10 reps correctly, then advance to three sets of 11 reps, then to three sets of 12 reps, etc. When you can do the total number of sets and reps in Round 1, then advance to Round 2. For the exercises you’ve mastered, continue three sets of 20 reps. For the new exercise begin with three sets of 10 reps and build to 20 reps before going to Round 3.


Progression of Exercises
Round #1 Pelvic Tilts Roller Bent Leg Raise Ball Bridging Ball Hamstring Curl Lying Back Extension
Round #2 Roller Bent Leg Raise Roller Two Leg Bent Leg Raise Ball Bridging Ball Hamstring Curl Lying Back Extension
Round #3 Roller Two Leg Bent Leg Raise Roller Straight Leg Raise Ball Single Leg Bridging Ball Single Leg Hamstring Curl Kneeling Back Extension
Round #4 Roller Bent Two Leg Raise Roller Straight Two Leg Balance Ball Single Leg Bridging Ball Single Leg Hamstring Curl Kneeling Back Extension
Round #5 Roller Straight Two Leg Balance Roller Pilates Circles Ball Single Leg Bridging Ball Single Leg Hamstring Curl Plank


John Hughes demonstrating foam roller for core strength training for cyclists

6 inch by 3 feet foam roller.
John Hughes demonstrating exercise ball for core training for cyclists

Exercise ball size varies depending on height.
Pelvic Tilts: Lie on your back with your feet flat on floor. In a normal relaxed position there should be just enough room to slide one hand between your lower back and the floor. Place your hands on your stomach. Using your deep abs muscles flatten your back against the floor. Imagine that you are pulling your belly button to your spine. The motion is subtle—with your hands you should feel your abdomen tighten slightly. Then relax. Do these slowly and really work on flattening your back. Repeat 50 to 100 times. Coach John Hughes demonstrating pelvic tilt exercise for core training for cyclists

Start of pelvic tilt core training.
Back in normal relaxed,
slightly arched position.
Coach John Hughes demonstrating pelvic tilt exercise for core training for cyclists

Finish of pelvic tilt.
Motion is subtle.
Abdomen contracts slightly.
Roller Bent Leg Raises:. Lie on your back on the roller, the roller running up your spine, one end under your butt and the other end under your head. Lie with your knees bent about 90 degrees and feet flat on the floor. Initially stretch your arms out to the side with your hands resting lightly on the floor for balance. Tighten your abs and back muscles just like a pelvic tilt. Imagine that you are pulling your belly button down into your butt. Slowly raise your right foot off the floor a few inches and lower without moving on the roller. This is to work your transverse abdominals. The key is to keep your core steady and immovable, even while moving your leg. Three sets of 10 - 20 reps with each foot. Progress to doing full sets with your hands on your stomach rather than on the floor John Hughes demonstrating the roller bent leg strength exercise for core training for cyclists

Start of bent leg raise core strength exercise.
Abdominal muscles engaged like in
the pelvic tilt to stabilize core.
 John Hughes demonstrating the roller bent leg strength exercise for core training for cyclists.

Finish of bent leg raise core strength
exercise. Core must be firmly engaged.
to keep from rolling off roller!
Roller Two-leg Bent Leg Raises: Lie on your back on the roller. Lie with your knees bent about 90 degrees and feet flat on the floor. Rest your hands lightly on the floor, just enough for balance. Tighten your abs and back muscles so the small of your back is pressed firmly against the roller. Imagine that you are pulling your belly button down into your butt. Raise both feet off the floor, until your hips and knees are bent at about right angles as if you were sitting in a chair. Lower your legs just a few inches and raise them again while keeping your core steady and immovable, with the small of your back pressed firmly against the roller. Three sets of 10 - 20 reps. John Hughes demonstrating roller bent two leg raise exercise for core strength training for cyclists

Start of two-leg bent leg raise core strength
exercise. Abdominal muscles engaged
like in pelvic tilt to stabilize core.
John Hughes demonstrating roller bent two leg raise exercise for core strength training for cyclists

Finish of two-leg bent leg raise core
strength exercise Legs are lowered
slightly without moving abdomen.
Roller Straight Leg Raise: Lie on your back on the roller with your hands resting lightly on the floor. Tighten your abs and back muscles so your back is in neutral and immovable. Slowly raise your right foot off the floor about 6", and lower without moving your back. Three sets of 10 - 20 reps with each foot. Progress to doing three sets with your hands on your stomach. John Hughes demonstrating straight leg raise exercise for core strength training for cyclists

Start of straight leg raise core strength exercise.
Abdominal muscles engaged like in
pelvic tilt to stabilize core.
John Hughes demonstrating straight leg raise exercise for core strength training for cyclists

Finish of straight leg raise.
Leg is raised without
moving the abdomen.
Roller Straight Two Leg Balance: Lie on your back on the roller with your hands resting lightly on the floor. Tighten your abs and back muscles so your back is in neutral and immovable. Raise both legs until they are straight and pointing at the ceiling. Now the work begins!
Move your right foot out to the side slightly and back without moving your left leg, while keeping your core steady and immovable. Do 10 - 20 reps with the right foot and 10 - 20 with the left foot. Lower legs and rest for 15-30 seconds. Progress to moving your foot out farther with each rep. Three sets of 10 - 20 with each foot.
Coach John Hughes demonstrating straight two leg balance exercise for core strength training for cyclists

Start of straight two leg balance core
strength training. Abdominal muscles
engaged to stabilize core.
Coach John Hughes demonstrating straight two leg balance exercise for core strength training for cycling

Finish of straight two leg balance.
Leg is moved out to the side without
moving the abdomen.
Roller Pilates Circles: Lie on your back on the roller with your hands resting lightly on the floor. Tighten your abs and back muscles so your back is in neutral and immovable. Raise both legs until they are straight and roughly 45 to 60 degrees from the floor. The closer to the floor the harder the exercise. Now the work begins!
Make small clockwise circles with your right foot without moving your left leg, all the while keeping your core steady and immovable. Do 10 - 20 circles with the right foot, lower legs and rest for 15- 30 seconds.
Raise legs again and make 10 - 20 small counterclockwise circles with the right foot, lower legs and rest for 15- 30 seconds.
Repeat with left leg doing 10 - 20 circles each direction. Progress to doing larger circles.
Coach John Hughes demonstrating Pilates circles exercise for core strength training for cyclists

Start of Pilates circles core strength training.
Abdominal muscles engaged
to stabilize core.
Coach John Hughes demonstrating Pilates circles exercise for core strength training for cycling

Finish of Pilates circles exercise.
Leg makes circles without
moving the abdomen.
Ball Bridging: Lie on your back on the floor with your heels resting on the exercise ball. Tighten your core muscles and then tighten your glutes (butt muscles) to raise your butt until your torso is in a straight line and lower. Three sets of 10 to 20 reps. Coach John Hughes demonstrating bridging exercise for core strength training for cyclists

Start of the bridging core strength exercise.
Abdominal muscles engaged
to stabilize core.
Coach John Hughes demonstrating bridging exercise for core strength training for cycling

Finish of the bridging core strength exercise.
Ball Hamstring Curl: Lie on your back on the floor with your heels resting on the exercise ball. Tighten your core muscles and then tighten your glutes (butt muscles) to raise your butt until your torso is in a straight line. Hold and use your hamstrings to draw the ball toward your butt and return. Keep your butt in the air for all of the reps in a set. Three sets of 10 to 20 reps. Coach John Hughes demonstrating ball hamstring curl exercise for core strength training for cyclists

Start of the ball hamstring curl core
strength exercise. Abdominal muscles
engaged to stabilize core.
Coach John Hughes demonstrating ball hamstring curl exercise for core training for cycling

Finish of the hamstring curl core
strength exercise.
Ball Single Leg Bridging: Lie on your back on the floor with your heels resting on the exercise ball. Tighten your core muscles and lift your right leg off the floor; we’ll work the left glute first. Tighten your left glute (butt muscle) to raise your butt until your torso is straight and lower. Keep one foot in the air for the full set of reps. Alternate sets of left and right legs. Three sets of 10 to 20 reps. Coach John Hughes demonstrating single leg bridging exercise for core strength training for cyclists

Start of ball single leg bridging core
strength exercise. Abdominal muscles
engaged to stabilize core.
Coach John Hughes demonstrating single leg bridging exercise for core strength training for cyclists

Finish of single leg bridging.
Ball Single Leg Hamstring Curl: Lie on your back on the floor with your heels resting on the exercise ball. Tighten your core muscles and then tighten your glutes (butt muscles) to raise your butt until your torso is in a straight line. Lift one foot off the ball. and use your hamstrings in the other leg to draw the ball toward your butt and return. Keep your butt in the air for all of the reps in a set. Three sets of 10 to 20 reps. Coach John Hughes demonstrating ball single leg hamstring curl exercise for core strength training for cyclists

Start of the ball single leg hamstring
curl core strength exercise.
Abdominal muscles engaged
to stabilize core.
Coach John Hughes demonstrating ball single leg hamstring curl exercise for core strength training for cyclists

Finish of the single leg hamstring curl.
Lying Back Extension: Start by lying on your stomach on the floor, arms extended along the floor above your head. Tighten your abs and back so that your pelvis is in neutral and doesn’t move. Raise left arm and right leg until slightly off the floor, hold 3-5 seconds and lower. Then the right arm and left leg. The key is to hold your core muscles tight and immovable while you do the alternate raises. Three sets of 10 to 20 reps. Coach John Hughes demonstrating the lying back extension exercise for core strength training for cyclists

Start of the lying back extension
core strength exercise.
Coach John Hughes demonstrating lying back extension exercise for core strength training for cycling

Finish of lying back extension.
Kneeling Back Extension: Start with your hands and knees on the floor. Tighten your abs and back so that your pelvis is in neutral and doesn’t move. Raise right arm and left leg, hold 3-5 seconds and lower. Your back should not move—just like a table. Repeat with left arm and right leg. Three sets of 10 to 20 reps. Coach John Hughes demonstrating kneeling back extension exercise for core strength training for cyclists

Start of kneeling back extension core
strength exercise. Abdominal muscles
engaged to stabilize core.
Coach John Hughes demonstrating kneeling back extension exercise for core training for cycling

Finish of kneeling back extension.
Plank: Lie prone on your front on the floor with your toes bent and resting on the floor. Your elbows are bent resting on the floor under your shoulders with your forearms extended along the floor to form a V with your hands together under your head. Tighten your core muscles to raise all of your body off the floor except for your toes, elbows, arms and hands. Use your core muscles, not your surface abs and back muscles. Three reps of 30+ seconds. Increase by 5 seconds each week. Rest an equal amount of time between reps. Coach JohnHughes demonstrating the plank exercise for core strength training for cycling

The plank core strength exercise. Abdominal
muscles engaged to stabilize core.