Your bulging quads and razor-cut calves are the envy of your friends, and you start every ride strong. But as the ride progresses, your hips seesaw in the saddle, your lower back aches, and you slow in corners. The problem? Your core cries uncle long before your legs wear out. The solution: an ab workout designed specifically for cyclists.
Although your legs provide the most tangible source of power, the core muscles—the muscles that support your spine—are the vital foundation from which all movement, including the pedal stroke, stems. This is why a cycling ab workout should be an essential part of your fitness routine to maintain power and strength in the saddle.
“You can have all the leg strength in the world, but without a stable core, you won’t be able to use it efficiently,” says Graeme Street, founder of the Cyclo-CORE training program and a personal trainer in Essex, Connecticut. “It’s like having the body of a Ferrari with a Fiat chassis underneath.”
What’s more, a solid core will eliminate unnecessary upper-body movement, so that all the energy you produce is delivered into a smooth pedal stroke.
Unfortunately, cycling’s tripod position, in which the saddle, pedals, and handlebar support your weight, relies on core strength but it doesn’t necessarily build that strength.
So to develop your high-performance chassis, you need this cycling ab workout. It only takes about 10 minutes to complete and focuses on the transverse abdominis (the innermost abdominal muscle which acts as a stabilizing girdle around your torso), and also on your lower back, obliques, glutes, hamstrings, and hip flexors, so your entire core—and then some—works as a unit and gets stronger. You’ll notice that it skips the rectus abdominis, or six-pack muscle, because according to Street, “it’s the least-functional muscle for cycling.”
How to use this list: Perform the core workout above, demonstrated by Charlee Atkins, certified personal trainer in New York City, two to three times a week. Follow the reps listed below and aim for one to three sets. This will create a core that lets you ride faster, longer, and more powerfully. To master each move, keep scrolling for a detailed description of every exercise, demonstrated by Kelly Cosentino, a New Jersey-based certified personal trainer and owner of Train With Kelly. All you need is an exercise mat.
1. Single-Leg Crunch
What it works: Transverse abdominis, obliques, and lower back
Why it works: Despite the straightforward motion of the bike, your body moves in three directions: forward as you head down the road, vertically as your legs pedal up and down, and laterally as your hips and upper body rock side to side. This exercise builds control that helps you minimize wasted motion.
How to do it: Lie faceup on a mat, left leg extended out, right knee bent with right foot flat on the floor. Rest arms next to you. Squeezing belly button toward spine, peel upper back off the mat as you lift left leg and reach left fingertips toward left toes. Slowly lower back down. Repeat. Do 15 reps. Then switch sides.
2. Power Bridge
What it works: Hip flexors, glutes, and lower back
Why it works: In addition to stretching the hip flexors, often extremely tight in cyclists, the bridge strengthens the link between your lower back and glutes.
How to do it: Lie faceup on the mat, bend knees. Lift toes so heels rest on floor. Place arms at sides, palms down. In one smooth motion, squeeze glutes, raise hips up, and push into heels to form a straight line from shoulders to knees. Hold for 2 seconds. Keeping toes lifted, lower hips three-quarters of the way down to complete one rep. Repeat. Do 20 reps.
3. Hip Extension
What it works: Lower back, hamstrings, and glutes
Why it works: This movement builds strength in your glutes and hamstrings, for added efficiency on the second half of the pedal stroke.
How to do it: Lie facedown on the mat, stack hands and place them under forehead. Extend legs straight with toes resting on the floor. With a straight spine and shoulder blades drawn back and down, as if you’re trying to make them touch, lift both legs off the floor as high as possible. Hold for 2 seconds and lower. Repeat. Do 20 reps.
4. Forearm Plank
What it works: Transverse abdominis, upper and lower back
Why it works: The plank builds the strength and muscular endurance you need to ride powerfully in the drops or in an aero position long after others have surrendered to the top of the handlebar.
How to do it: Lie facedown on mat, then prop yourself up with elbows under shoulders, forearms on the floor, hands in fists. Lift hips off the mat, keeping back straight and abs tight. Engage glutes and legs to prevent hips from lifting or dipping so body forms a straight line from heels to head. Aim to hold the plank for 60 seconds.
5. Side Plank to Thread the Needle
What it works: Transverse abdominis and obliques
Why it works: Strong obliques improve your stability in the saddle, letting you take on hairpin corners with more control and speed.
How to do it: Lie on left side, with left elbow stacked under shoulder, resting on forearm for stability, and stack right foot on top of left. Raise right arm up toward ceiling, and lift hips to create a straight line from heels to head. This is your starting position. Then, rotate from the waist as you draw right hand to reach below left underarm. Keep hips lifted throughout. Return to the starting position. Repeat. Do 10 to 15 reps. Then switch sides.
6. Scissor Kick
What it works: Transverse abdominis, hip flexors, inner and outer thighs
Why it works: A comprehensive movement that connects key cycling muscles, the kick also builds inner-thigh muscles, which help you achieve hip, knee, and forefoot alignment for a proper and efficient pedal stroke.
How to do it: Lie faceup with legs straight and place both hands, palms down, on either side of hips for support. Draw belly button toward spine, and lift shoulders off the mat and look toward the ceiling—lift with abdominals; don’t strain your neck. Lift legs about 4 to 6 inches off the floor and scissor them: left leg over right, then right over left. That’s one rep. Build up to 100.
7. Catapult Crunch
What it works: Entire core
Why it works: Contrary to its name, the catapult encourages supreme body control. Avoid using the momentum of the movement and rely on your abdominals for control.
How to do it: Lie faceup on mat with knees bent, feet flat on floor, and arms extended overhead. Engage core to press low back into mat and “close” ribs. Extend arms straight up to ceiling then slowly peel upper back off the mat as you reach hands toward feet. Reverse to slowly lower back down. Repeat. Do 20 reps.
8. Boat Pose
What it works: Transverse abdominis and lower back
Why it works: As with the plank, this pose builds the lower-back stability and core strength needed to remain bent over the handlebar for hours, or to blast up hills without compromising power or speed.
How to do it: Sit with knees bent, feet on floor, both hands resting behind you. Lean back until torso is at a 45-degree angle. Keeping legs together, lift them off the floor as you extend arms forward at shoulder height. Abs are tight, as legs and torso form a 90-degree angle. If your hamstrings are tight, you’ll need to bend knees a little. Work up to holding the pose for 60 seconds. When you can hold it still, add an extra challenge by leaning back and lowering legs then using core to return to starting position.
Watch Next: The Best Leg Day Workout for Cyclists
GIFs: James Farrell; Video: Josh Wolff and David Monk