The core is central to our every move, especially as cyclists. This is how we maintain good bike handling, an upright posture and what allows us to push power through our pedal stroke with efficiency. It is therefore crucial that cyclists include core workouts in their strength training routines. And if you’re looking for an extra edge in these workouts, you can add a cardio element to get the heart pumping and support the endurance you need for the road.
That’s why Kristine Zabala, fitness instructor at Barry’s and Solidcore in Philadelphia, designed this cardio workout specifically for cyclists, so you get the best of both worlds.
The benefits of cardio training for cyclists
“Cyclists constantly need to stand upright when in a bent over position on the bike, which can lead to more strain on the hands if the core is not properly engaged,” Jenn Kates, CPT, Founder and Coach of Shift Human Performance tells Ride a bike. “Having too much pressure on the hands can cause discomfort or problems in the wrist, forearm, shoulder and neck.”
Plus, you need the support of a strong midsection to maneuver through the side-to-side and back-and-forth movements that occur when navigating hills, obstacles, varied terrain, and around turns, Kates adds. “These moves all require your core strength to anchor yourself to the bike to maintain balance and stability on the bike,” she says.
Because cycling also requires quick movements, you must learn to keep your core stable through quick movements, and as you breathe deeply and work towards fatigue. This is where the cardio part of this basic cardio workout comes in.
How to use this list: Perform each exercise below for 30-40 seconds, resting 15-20 seconds between each move. Do 2-3 rounds, resting 30 seconds between rounds. You don’t need any equipment for this workout, but an exercise mat is optional.
Zabala demonstrates every move so you can learn proper form.
The longest stretch in the world
Why it works: Prepare the body for more intense movements with this exercise that opens the hips and chest and emphasizes your breathing, while igniting your heart.
How to do: Start in a plank position with your shoulders just above your wrists and forming a straight line from shoulders to heels. Step right foot to the outside of the right hand on an inhale. Exhale to raise the right hand to the ceiling, rotating the torso to the right. Rest your hand on an inhale. Then come back to the plank. Repeat on the left side. Keep alternating.
Why it works: You’ll be focusing on anti-rotation in this exercise, which means your core has to fight to keep you stable so your hips and shoulders don’t turn to one side. This is useful on the bike because you need to maintain a solid base to propel yourself forward and eliminate side-to-side motion that gets in the way of your efficiency.
How to do: Start in a plank position with your shoulders just above your wrists and forming a straight line from shoulders to heels. Tap the left hand on the right shoulder. Then put it back in place. Tap the right hand on the left shoulder. Then put it back in place. Keep alternating.
Why it works: This high-impact move increases your heart rate, while forcing you to stabilize your core with quick leg movements. Your shoulders also need to stabilize you, which translates to the upper body strength you need on the bike.
How to do: Start in a plank position, shoulders just above wrists and forming a straight line from shoulders to heels, feet together. Jump feet wide so they are more than hip-width apart. Then put them back together. Repeat.
Superwoman with pulse
Why it works: Your core doesn’t just mean your abs – your back is also included and is a great protector of your spine. This move is great for building muscle strength and endurance in the back, while counteracting a forward-leaning posture you maintain on the bike and at your desk.
How to do: Lie face down with your arms and legs straight. Keeping your gaze down, raise your arms, head, shoulders, chest, and legs a few inches off the floor. Pull elbows out to sides in a W-shape, hands reaching shoulders. Release one thumb, then pull the elbows in again. Straighten your arms and lower them to the floor. Repeat.
Alternate toe touch
Why it works: This exercise targets the rectus abdominis (or the “six pack” abdominal muscles) in the core, as well as the obliques, which are super important stabilizers.
How to do: Lie face up, knees slightly bent, heels planted, hands on chest. Lift your upper body and right leg off the ground, catching the toes with your left hand. Lower your back to the ground with control. Repeat with left leg and right hand. Keep alternating.
Seated Basic Twist
Why it works: Hit the obliques with this rotation exercise. Zabala suggests moving slowly from side to side for the first 15-20 seconds, then quickly for the second half.
How to do: Sit on the floor, knees bent. Lean back a few inches and lift your feet off the ground. Keep chest high, back straight, rotate torso to the right. Then through the center and to the left. Keep alternating.
Why it works: Focus on core strength, keeping your core completely stable, while moving your legs quickly with this challenging exercise.
How to do: Lie face up with your legs straight and your arms straight and held across your shoulders. Raise the legs a few centimeters off the ground, as well as the head and shoulders. Kick straight legs by raising and lowering one leg at a time, then switching to the other. Keep alternating. Keep driving into the ground.
Why it works: As the name suggests, this exercise mimics the movement you do on the bike (at least with the legs). It also increases the burn of the core muscles, especially the obliques, which results in more efficient cycling.
How to do: Lie face up, hands behind your head, elbows apart. Bend the knees and hold them well above the hips. Extend the right leg and rotate the torso to the left, reaching the right shoulder to the left knee. Come back through the center and extend the left leg, rotating the torso to the right from shoulder to knee. Keep alternating.
Why it works: Quickly bring your knees in towards your chest and you’ll not only experience the cardiorespiratory challenge of this exercise, but also how it targets your abs, hip flexors, back, and shoulders.
How to do: Start in a plank position with your shoulders just above your wrists and forming a straight line from shoulders to heels. Push the right knee towards the left elbow. Then come back to the plank. Push the left knee towards the right elbow. Then come back to the plank. Keep alternating.
Why it works: Another anti-rotation move, this exercise not only challenges your core stability, but also builds upper body strength, especially your chest and shoulders.
How to do: Start in a plank position with your shoulders just above your wrists and forming a straight line from shoulders to heels. Lower the right forearm to the floor, then the left, keeping the hips aligned with the shoulders and perpendicular to the floor. Then press down on the forearm to place the right hand on the floor, then the left hand. Continue to alternate sides and transition from straight arm plank to forearm and back plank.
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