As much as we hate to admit it, it is not uncommon for muscle tone to fade a little with age and be replaced with fat, especially around the mid-section. This transition has much less to do with age as it does with our activity level as we age. For cycling enthusiasts, this can pose a bit of a problem. Bicycling requires a certain type of posture of lack thereof that does not mesh with a big belly. In fact, a weak core can really place added pressure on your lower back throughout the cycling motion. When cycling, the body is in a tripod place. In this place, body weight is supported by the seat, pedals, and handlebars. Sitting in this position throughout a cycling session actually relies heavily on core strength, but the problem is, it doesn't develop it.
Core exercises are meant to stabilize the mid-section or girdle all the way around your torso, as well as your lower back. These exercises also sneak a little workout in for the hamstrings, glutes, and hip flexors as a way to make sure the core works as one strong unit. Even though cycling generates a great workout for the legs, without a stable core, you are not able to use any amount of leg strength very efficiently.
5 Exercises to Toughen Up your Core
- Stability Ball Crunch: This exercise is performed by placing your back on a stability ball, hands behind your head with feet flat on the floor. Keeping shoulders off the ball, squeeze your belly button back toward your spine and lift your upper back off the ball, curling slightly forward. Hold briefly, then return to start place. Perform 25 reps. For added difficulty and recruitment of even more core muscles such as the obliques, try this: Once back is lifted, and belly button pulled in, trace an imaginary circle with your torso first in a clockwise motion (15 reps), then in a counter-clockwise motion (15 reps).
- Supine Bridge: This exercise is performed lying on your back with your knees bent, heels up close to your gluteus maximus and hands placed down at your sides, palms down. In one fluid motion, raise your hips off the floor, squeezing your glutes and pushing against the floor through your heels to form a straight line that extends from your shoulders to your knees. Hold at the top for 2 seconds and then lower back down. Complete 20-25 reps.
- Scissor kicks: This exercise is performed by lying on your back with your legs extended and hands placed underneath your lower back with palms facing down. Lift legs off the floor 4-6 inches and cross right over left and then left over right for one repetition, just like scissors. Work up to as many as 50-100 repetitions. Another variation of this exercise is while lying on your back, kick little baby flutter kicks up and down mimicking the motion the legs might do in the front crawl swim stroke. Work up to 50-100 reps.
- Side Plank: This exercise is great for the obliques and is performed by lying on your side with one leg on top of the other. The elbow is placed directly under the shoulder with forearm extended to the front, palms down, and serves as a base through the exercise. Squeezing abdominal muscles and glutes, raise hip off the floor, creating a straight line from your shoulders all the way through your feet. Lower hip back down and repeat. Perform 10-15 reps then switch sides.
- Prone plank: This exercise is performed by lying on your stomach, elbows underneath your shoulders, forearms in front and resting on your toes. Squeeze abdominal, glutes and back, pulling your hips off the floor creating straight line from your shoulders to your feet. Try to hold for 30 seconds working up to 60 seconds.
Not only will strengthening your core muscles make you a better cyclist, it will also help promote better posture which is important in a sport where you spend multiple outings over hundreds of miles hunched over or locked into the aero biking place for long periods of time. Combine all that with hunching over a computer at work, or slouching back into our favorite sofa and problems with posture could become more than you bargained for. As for the belly, well, if you are putting lots of miles on your bike and engaging in a core and strength training program, the gut is likely just an issue of needing to adjust caloric intake a bit. Shave off a few calories by choosing healthier meals and snacks or simply by cutting down on consumed calories per day.