Whether you are a novice cyclist or a seasoned rider, it is important that you have a strong core. The primary core muscles include the pelvic floor muscles, transversus abdominis, multifidus, internal and external obliques, rectus abdominis, erector spinae, and the diaphragm. The job of the core is to stabilize your spine and pelvis over the extremities in order to prevent injury from outside forces (such as gravity). When the core is strong, it will help prevent injury of the back when performing both static (not moving) and dynamic (moving) activities.
For the cyclist, a strong core is necessary to have a strong pedal stroke. Otherwise, you are likely to find yourself teetering back and forth over your seat as the core fatigues. As this happens, the back begins to ache and you start to lose power in your pedal stroke. Before you know it, you’re hardly able to push yourself forward as the rest of your energy is wasted trying to hold yourself in the tripod position. So, let’s talk about exercises to help prevent this from happening to you.
Muscles worked: Abdominals, Lower Back, and Upper Back
To perform this exercise, lie over an exercise ball face down. Walk yourself out until you are resting your lower legs just above your ankles on the ball. Slowly pull your legs in bringing the ball in toward your chest. To complete this exercise push the ball back out until your legs are straight. Repeat this exercise 10 times for 3 sets.
Muscles worked: Transversus Abdominis, Upper Back, and Lower Back
Lie on your stomach with your elbows directly under your forearms and your forearms and hands resting on the floor. Lift your hips off the floor keeping your back straight with the toes and forearms holding you off of the floor. Start out holding this position for 20 seconds and work your way up to 60 second holds. Repeat three times.
Muscles worked: Hip Flexors, Glutes, and Lower Back
Lie on your back with the knees bent up and the feet flat on the floor. Pushing into the floor with your heels, squeeze your glutes, and raise your hips off of the floor. Hold this position for 10 seconds and repeat 10 times. You can work your way up to longer holds as long as you maintain your pelvis level and can keep your abdominals tight.
Muscles worked: Lower Abdominals and Hip Flexors
While lying on your back, place an exercise ball between your feet. For the first step of this exercise, you will lie with the knees bent and the ball off of the floor. You are going to just work on extending the knees and lifting the ball while maintaining the abs in a tightened position. Repeat 30 times. As this becomes less challenging, you can begin to extend the legs away from you while maintaining tight abs to prevent arching of the back. Again, repeat 30 times. The third step to advance to is lifting the ball straight into the air with the knees straight until you lift the hips off of the floor. This step is much more challenging so be sure that you have mastered the first two steps before advancing to this step. This step can also be repeated 20-30 times.
Muscles worked: Hip Flexors and Abdominals
This exercise is a three part exercise. You will lie on your back, tighten the abs and push the back into the floor. One at a time lift the legs until the knees are bent at a 90 degree position with the knees above the hips. From this position you will begin to tap the toes on the floor one at a time always bringing the moving leg back to the start position before moving the other leg. You will do this for 30 seconds alternating back and forth between tapping feet. Then, you will begin to tap the heels on the floor one at a time remembering to always come back to the start position before moving the other leg. Again, this will be continued for 30 seconds. Next, you will begin to extend one leg out away from the other directly in line with your body. Just as before, always bring the moving leg back to the start position before moving the other leg. This will be repeated for 30 seconds. Finally, you can make this exercise more challenging by adding in the arms. You will extend opposite arm and leg at the same time altering back and forth between right arm and left leg and left arm and right leg. Repeat for 30 seconds. It is very important that you are aware of your back position throughout this exercise. If you find that you are beginning to arch your back in any of these steps, you must come back to the start position and tighten your abdominals pushing your back into the floor before proceeding with the exercise.
Muscles worked: Transversus Abdominis, Multifidus and Internal and External Obliques
This exercise is also a multipart exercise. For the first part, you will lie on your back with the knees bent to a 90 degree position. Take your hands and push into the front of your thighs while holding the 90 degree position of the legs not letting them be pushed down. Hold this position for 20-30 seconds. Next cross the arms to the inside of the alternate thigh just inside the knee. You will push your hands up and out while the legs counter this force so that no movement occurs. Again, hold this position for 20-30 seconds. Then, move the hands behind the knees. Pulling up with the hands on the legs toward the chest the legs will counter the pull with a downward pull so that no motion occurs again. You will hold for 20-30 seconds. The final position will have you with your hands back on the front of the thighs. You will again push down while the legs push back with no motion occurring. This hold will only be for 10 seconds to finish out the exercise.
As always, make sure you consult with your physician or physical therapist before beginning any new workout program. Some low back problems may make you sensitive (cause you to have increased pain) with flexion exercises or exercises that bend your spine forward, while other conditions may make you more sensitive to extension exercises or those that bend the spine backwards and arch the lower back. It is important that you understand your condition to know what exercises are right for you.