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Strengthening the abdominals is important for basic health to keep you injury free. Strong abs help stabilize the spine and keep you from injuring your back. Strong abs are important in virtually every sport, from golfing to running.
We cyclists may think that we are excluded. After all, the power behind the pedal stroke is generated in the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, and calf muscles. Isn’t it? The answer, I think is partially yes and partially no. The immediate power you get comes from your legs, but what’s behind the legs? Supporting them is your torso. The torso is the wall against which all the other muscles push to generate power.
So if the torso is weak, the wall is going to crumble before the ride is over:
YOUR BULGING QUADS AND RAZOR-CUT CALVES are the envy of your pack, and you start every ride strong. As the ride progresses, though, 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. Although a cyclist’s legs provide the most tangible source of power, the abs and lower back are the vital foundation from which all movement, including the pedal stroke, stems. (Bicycling Magazine, links in the original.)
So, how do you build core strength? These are some tips that I’ve used and noticed a marked improvement in my core strength and riding ability:
First, riding itself will help, but is not likely to be enough to keep you strong on long rides. In concert with these other suggestions, core strength will improve over time.
Second, cross train. Mixing in another sport — anything from walking or swimming to weight training or tennis will help develop different sets of muscles, skills, reactions, etc. which can only help strengthen your core.
Third, incorporate abdominal training into your routine. I use the 15 minute “rotisserie” routine developed by Scooby three days a week, and the result have been tremendous (see video). Scooby has a comprehensive list of abdominal exercises on his site.
Fourth, improve your eating habits. I’m loth to say “diet” because that implies a short-term solution. I have actively improved my eating habits and plan to keep my new habits for the rest of my life. Just making smart choices may be enough to reduce fat and increase muscle. A stricter diet may be required if your goal is to race, but for recreational cyclist, start with Scooby’s “simple substitution” method to improve your diet. But, remember that cyclists have specific nutritional needs before, during, and after rides.
I hope these tips help. Please let me know what works for you!