Power in cycling comes from the legs but cannot be transmitted into the pedals unless there is a strong core platform to push off. If the center of your body turns into a noodle after thirty minutes of riding, power and endurance carefully developed in your arms and legs cannot be used. Efficiency is a big part of being fast when mountain biking. A strong core and upper body is needed to drive your bike through technical terrain without losing momentum. Endurance mountain biker racers need a huge reservoir of core and upper body strength to maintain control of the bike for 12-24 hours of off-road pounding.
Core strength means hips, butt, lower back and abdomen. It means flexing and extending the trunk as in back extensions and crunches. It also means stabilizing against a force such as gravity in exercises such as bridging. Integration exercises that work the abdominal, back, hip and butt muscles all at the same time are the best core strengthening exercises.
Tips for core strengthening exercises
Contract your abdominal muscles throughout all exercises. Think of keeping your belly button pressed into your spine. This keeps you muscles close to your spinal column and provides spinal support.
2. During exercises when both feet are up off the floor, keep your belly button pressed into your spine and your spine pressed into the floor to support your lumbar spine.
3. During exercises when both feet are on the floor, keep your hips and spine in a neutral position.
4. Move fluidly without and throwing and jerking motions.
5. Breathe slowly and smoothly throughout exercises.
6. Add lots of variety into your core training routine.
7. Target your whole core by alternating abdominal, back and side exercises. Use both mobility and stability exercises.
As with all new exercises, start slowly and avoid any movement that causes pain. If you are not confident with your technique, seek the services of a certified personal trainer.
Pillar Ball Twist
Get in the push-up position with your feet flat (shoelaces to ball) on top of a stability ball. Place your hands the same width apart they are on the handlebars. Keep your body rigid with legs and feet squeezed together. Rotate your torso to the left turning your belly button to face the wall while rolling onto the side of your left foot. Hold in place for a second and then rotate your feet back to the shoelaces on the ball position with your belly button pointing at floor. Hold for a second and then repeat rotation to the right side. Any butt swinging or bending at the hips or knees is cheating. Make your shoulders and torso do the work. This is a killer exercise for mountain bikers. Ten reps to each side should be tough.
Do your pull ups palms facing away from the body (like you are holding your handlebars).
Face down, body held rigid in plank position, lower chest to floor and raise up. If you need to, start out building push-up strength on your knees and work up to toes.
Kneel on all fours with one end of an elastic exercise-band (swim cords work great here) tied to your right ankle and the other end to an attachment point beyond your feet. Extend your left arm and right leg out and then crunch them in bringing your right elbow towards your left knee. Round your back, exhale and pull your belly button hard up to your spine as you crunch in, hold for two seconds and repeat.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Extend one leg and then raise your hips up using the strength of the opposite hip only. Hold for 10 seconds and lower. Repeat 10 times on each side. Keep the hips level and in line with your torso. Weakness will show up by one hip jutting out to the side or dipping lower than the other.
Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat on floor. Lift head and shoulders off the floor and then lower. Keep your neck in neutral and don’t pull on your head. Vary tempo. Increase intensity by lifting feet off the floor.
Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat on floor. As you lift your head and shoulders, rotate your torso to the side bringing the opposite knee and hip towards each other. Then lower. Keep your neck in neutral and don’t pull on your head. Alternate sides. Vary tempo.
Lie on your side, legs straight, arms relaxed. Lift shoulders and legs at same time then lower. Vary tempo.
Lie on the floor face down with your arms extended overhead. Using your core lift your arms, shoulders and legs off the floor and fly like Superman then lower. Vary tempo.
Lie on back, press lower back into floor, lift legs with a 90 degree bend at the hips and knees. Curl tailbone off the floor using lower abs then lower while maintaining the 90 degree bend at hips and knees.
Standing Trunk Twist
Hold a stick on your shoulders behind head (not on your neck). Twist torso to one side then the other like a periscope. Keep hips facing forward. No rotation in legs and knees.
Hanging Knee Raise
Hang from pull up bar or dip station. Contract core muscles. Lift knees as high as you can without throwing them. Control the motion while you raise and lower. Vary tempo.
Seated Knee Raise
Sit at the very end of a bench. Lean back slightly. Round your lower back slightly. Lift both feet two inches off floor. Pull one knee towards your chest then extend back to start. Alternate legs. Keep your core contracted and do not let your back arch.
Dumbbell Side Bend
Stand with a dumbbell in your right hand. Lower dumbbell down thigh as far as you can without leaning forward or back. Return to upright.
Lie on your back with your legs straight and arms extended overhead. Exhale as you begin to roll up. Lift your arms, then head, then shoulders. Continue to roll up articulating your spine one vertebrae at a time up and forward. Inhale as you stretch forward keeping your belly button pressed to your spine. Exhale and roll back down slowly with control, exhaling throughout the whole movement. Stretch tall, inhale. Exhale and roll back up. Think of curling yourself forward, stretching then slowly uncurling back down to the mat. Move with a smooth fluid motion at a constant speed. Avoid throwing your body up, or allowing it to flop down. Keep your heels on the floor at all times.
Lie on your back with your arms by your sides and legs held up towards the ceiling. Inhale to prepare. Exhale slowly, contract your lower abs and peel your spine off the mat one vertebra at a time from your tailbone. Inhale when you have lifted as far as you can. Exhale as you lower to the starting position with your legs straight up towards the ceiling. Control the movement avoiding any throwing or jerking. Move fluidly. Do not roll onto the back of the neck, balance on the shoulders instead. Make sure you are lifting from the back of your hips and not simply allowing the weight of your legs to pull you over. Move with your exhale. Only curl your pelvis up as much as your muscle strength will allow.
Roman Chair Back Extensions
If you have access to a Roman chair, back extensions are great to build strength. Bend all the way forward and when you lift up, do so only to a neutral spine position. Avoid hyper extending (bending back too much) your spine. Start with 3 X 10 and build up to 3 X 20. I don’t like adding weight to this exercise but prefer adding various rotation movements. As you lift turn your shoulders to the side or try figure of eight rotations with your shoulders.
Lie on stomach, completely outstretched. Reach your fingertips for the wall on front of you. Hold your head in a neutral spin position (don’t look up). Pull your belly button up in to your spine to activate your transverse abdominis muscle and then bring right arm and left leg up while simultaneously lifting chest off the mat. Switch arms and legs while holding chest up and transverse abdominis muscle tight (just keep your belly button pulled into your spine to do this). Continue beating arms and legs up and down in opposition while holding core strong and stable. Imagine you are balancing on a rock in the water and need to keep the movements controlled so you don’t slip off. Complete 20 beats slowly, 20 beats quickly and another 20 beats slowly with no rest.
Lie on your front with your arms stretched out overhead. Pull your abdominal muscles in towards your spine and keep them locked in throughout the whole exercise. Lift your arms two inches off the ground then arc them around to your sides in a breaststroke fashion while lifting your chest and chin. Hold here for a few seconds, then dive your head down and your arms forward again in a breaststroke fashion back to the start. Breathe as if in water. Inhale as you lift and stroke back and exhale as you dive forward.
Lie on your front with your arms stretched out overhead. Pull your abdominal muscles in towards your spine and keep them locked in throughout the whole exercise. Straighten your arms and legs and keep them straight throughout the whole exercise. Raise your arms and legs two inches off the floor. Clap your heels 20 times. Rest, stretch and repeat 4 -5 times.
Lie on your front with your arms stretched out overhead. Pull your abdominal muscles in towards your spine and keep them locked in throughout the whole exercise. Raise your arms and legs two inches off the floor. Hold your left arm and both legs still. Drop only the fingertips of your right hand to the floor and lightly drag them along the floor towards your right shoulder. Raise your elbow up as high as you can towards the ceiling as your arm comes in. Continue dragging your fingertips along the floor and graze your thumb along your side until your arm is straight. Pause here and feel the opposition stretch with your left arm reaching forward and your right arm stretching back. Reverse the finger drag making sure to keep your elbow high. Repeat with left arm. Exhale as you stroke back and inhale as you stroke forward. To reduce the intensity keep your legs on the floor.
Front Pillar or Front Plank
Hold a push-up position for 30 – 60 seconds. Keep head in line with spine and don’t sag or bend.
Side Pillar or Side Plank
Balance on your left side supporting yourself with your left hand and both feet. Left arm is straight without a locked elbow. Right foot is stacked on top of left foot. Legs are straight. Keep hips pushed forward and don’t sag or bend. A straight line is formed from feet to neck. Hold for 30 – 60 seconds then switch sides. Only the side edge of your bottom foot and your left hand should be in contact with the floor.
Start in push-up position with legs together and shins resting on top of a physioball. Slowly raise hips up to the ceiling rolling the ball towards your shoulders then lower back to start position. Repeat ten times. Legs remain straight and together throughout the movement.
Stand with your legs straight and hands on the floor in front of your feet. Keeping your legs straight, walk your hands forward until they are in front of your head. Your body should be in an extended push up position. Then, keeping your arms and legs straight, use little steps to walk your feet forward up to your hands.
Start standing with hands at sides. Bend forward at the waist and place hands on the ground in front of feet. Jump both feet back at the same time into the plank (or push-up position). Your body should now be straight and tight in a flat plank. Jump both feet forward landing behind hands. You should now be in a low squat position. Explosively jump up as high as you can.
The Pilate’s Body by Brook Siller is an excellent book with clear pictures and descriptions of many core exercises.
Core Performance by Mark Verstegen is the best conditioning book you will ever buy. It has clear photos and explain the benefits of functional strength in performance.
By Lynda Wallenfels Google+