Having a strong core is essential to going faster on the bike; you can make your legs as strong as you like, but if you can’t maintain stability in your torso to apply force to the pedals, are you really going as fast as you can? Heck no! A strong and stable core can help you be more efficient, reduce your chances of injury, and fight fatigue on long days.
The following exercises are some of my top recommendations for my athletes—and since they can all be done with limited space and only require body weight, they’re ideal to crank out after your next trainer ride.
Start on your stomach. Keep your feet hip-width apart, on your toes or knees, and elbows directly under your shoulders. When ready, lift your butt and shoulders to create a straight line from your shoulders down to your ankles or knees. Tighten your core to keep yourself stable.
The most common breakdown in form is dropping of the hips towards the ground—once you see this, stop and rest.
A good goal for planks is to be able to hold one for 3 minutes. After this, progress to the tripod position.
Make it easier: Bend your legs to rest on the front of your knees rather than your toes.
Make it harder: Tripod (lift one leg up) and push through the other foot while keeping a stable core.
#2 Side Planks
Start on your side with your elbow directly under your shoulder. When ready, lift your hip off the ground until you form a straight line from your shoulders down to your ankles and hold. Repeat on both sides.
The most common breakdown in form is dropping of the hips towards the ground, once you see this, stop.
A good goal for side planks is to be able to hold one for 3 minutes, after this, progress to the elbow extended position.
Make it easier: bend your legs to rest on the outside of your knee rather than your foot.
Make it harder: Extend the elbow so you’re pushing through your hand with your arm straightened.
#3 Bird Dogs
Start on all fours with hands directly under shoulders and knees directly under hips. When ready, lift and extend the right arm and left leg, hold steady for a few seconds, and repeat on the other side.
Make sure you don’t rotate from your hips or shoulders here! A good goal is to be able to perform 2 sets of 30 repetitions total.
Start on your stomach, and “float” both arms and both legs off the ground by tightening your back and shoulder muscles.
Make it easier: Lift just your torso with your hands by your sides and legs on the ground.
Make it harder: Once you can do 30 repetitions straight through, start doing static holds with a goal of 3 minutes.
#5 Dead Bugs
From the position shown above, slowly lower and extend your left leg and right arm to the floor, repeat on the same side.
Your focus here should be on keeping your lower back in contact with the ground throughout the movement and maintaining a neutral pelvis.
A good goal is to be able to perform 2 sets of 30 repetitions total.
Make it easier: Lift your legs to a 90/90 position (hips flexed to 90 degrees and knees bent to 90 degrees). Press your back into the floor, draw your belly button in towards your spine, and hold.
Make it harder: lower and extend both arms and legs at the same time.
Start on your back, feet flat and hip-width apart, arms extended with palms resting on the floor. When ready, use your hamstrings and glutes to lift your hips up to form a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Hold for a few seconds and slowly lower back to the ground again, repeat.
A good goal is to be able to perform 2 sets of 15 repetitions.
Make it harder: do a single-leg bridge by using your core to hold one foot straight in front of you. Push through the other to lift your hips.
Core work should ideally be done 1-3 times per week. I like to have my athletes do a lot more during the preparation phase and gradually reduce to 1 time a week by their build phase for maintenance sake. Some athletes need more core work though, so always do what works best for you! It also helps to do these in front of a mirror the first few times so you can spot any breakdown in form/weakness. Always try to maintain good form throughout the exercises and if you do notice a breakdown, stop.
WARNING: These exercises can make you REALLY sore the first time you do them. I would not increase the number of reps and/or time holding a position until you can perform them without soreness.