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.
"You can have all the leg strength in the world, but without a stable core you won't be able to use it efficiently," says Graeme Street, founder of Cyclo-CORE, a DVD-based training program, and a personal trainer in Essex, Connecticut. "It's like having the body of a Ferrari with a Fiat chassis underneath."
What's more, a solid core will help eliminate unnecessary upper-body movement, so that all the energy you produce is delivered into a smooth pedal stroke.
Sadly, cycling's tripod position, in which the saddle, pedals and handlebar support your weight, relies on core strength but doesn't build it. To develop your high-performance chassis, try this intense routine, designed by Street. It takes only about 10 minutes to complete and focuses on the transverse abdominus, the innermost abdominal muscle, which acts as a stabilizing girdle around your torso, and also on your lower back, obliques, glutes, hamstrings and hip flexors, so your entire core--and then some--becomes strong and works as a unit. You'll notice that it skips the rectus abdominus, or six-pack muscle, because, says Street, "it's the least-functional muscle for cycling."
Do this intense routine, in this order, three times a week to create a core that lets you ride faster, longer, more powerfully--and finish stronger than ever.
Core Exercise #1: Boxer Ball Crunch
What It Works: Transverse abdominus, obliques, lower back
A. Lie with the middle of your back on a stability ball, your knees bent 90 degrees and your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands behind your head, but don't pull on your neck.
B. Squeezing your belly button toward your spine, lift your upper back off the ball. Keeping your shoulders off the ball, trace a clockwise oval with your torso. Apply pressure with your lower back to keep the ball still through the entire motion. After 15 clockwise ovals, trace 15 counterclockwise.
Why It Works: Despite the straightforward motion of the bike, your body moves in three directions: forward as you head down the road, vertically as your legs pedal up and down, and laterally as your hips and upper body rock side to side. "This fluid, circular exercise builds control," says Street, and that helps you minimize lateral torsion and wasted motion.