Developing a powerful mountain biking mid-section

Abdominal strength should not be ignored in your off-season workouts
The importance of a strong mid-section in off-road cycling may not seem apparent at first glance.

While it is obvious that the energy to turn the pedals of a mountain bike comes from the lower extremities, for some off-road cyclists ? it may not be obvious that the muscles of the torso are also very active while riding.

The torso serves a variety of functions, including helping maintain good upper body position while in and out of the saddle, absorbing shocks, and bracing the arms and shoulders as they pull against the handlebars.

While the muscles of the lower back are the primary muscles of the torso used during cycling and you may be already be including some back-strengthening exercises in your off-season program, it is important to note that training the abdominal muscle group is also valuable, particularly for the prevention of low back problems.

Both the back muscles and the abdominals work to stabilize the position of the pelvis, which is critical to the health of your lower back.

Exercises to strengthen your back
To strengthen the back muscles, an excellent exercise is the "superman" or back extension.

Lie on your stomach with your arms extended over your head and try to lift your arms and legs by arching your back. Hold this position for three seconds and then lower your arms and legs. Gradually increase the time and number of repetitions.

Another excellent way to strengthen the back is to perform back extensions on a back-extension machine.

Another excellent exercise for the back is the seated cable row. It is completed while seated. Your legs should be slightly bent and your feet should rest against a foot brace. Grip the handle or bar with an overhand grip about as wide as you would place your hands on the handlebars.

Start with your torso leaning slightly forward. Begin moving the torso to a position perpendicular to the floor, with the arms straight. Finish the movement by bending the elbows and pulling the bar to the abdomen.

The lat pull-down is completed by seating or kneeling in front of a weight stack machine. Grip the bar with an overhand grip using a grip about shoulder width or slightly wider. Be sure your arms are stretched fully overhead. Pull the bar down until the bar touches the upper back and slowly return to the starting position.

To build a strong back, it takes more than riding and lack of effort and hindsight. To keep back training simple but effective, here's a simple workout that only requires three exercises, along with sets and reps.

Exercise Body part Sets Reps
Lat pull-down Upper lats 3 12
Seated cable row Lower lats 3 12
Back extension Spinal erectors 3 12

Strengthen your abdominals

To strengthen the upper abdominals, the traditional stomach crunch or bent-knee sit-up on the floor or bench can help increase the strength of the abdominal muscles.

In some cases the weight of your arms and upper trunk will be enough to produce this, but not as you get stronger. Often we add external resistance in the form of holding weights behind our head as the crunch is completed.

Leg raises are performed while lying on the floor (on your back), hands under your buttock (palms down), elbows out so the small of your back is pressed against the floor. Your head is up (chin to chest), shoulder blades off the floor. Then extend your legs straight out (knees unlocked), heels resting on the floor.

Use the muscles of your lower abs to raise your legs until they are perpendicular to your body. Then lower the legs in a controlled motion.

The external obliques take up more area than the abdominals, making it a very important mid-section muscle group for stabilizing your trunk while cycling.

To work these muscles completely while working on the floor or a bench, instead of curling your torso straight down, you should do a twisting crunch movement. Pull forward and diagonally with your right shoulder until it?s directly over your groin. Focus on trying to crunch the right side of your ribcage down to your navel. Release back to the floor or bench and repeat with your left side.

To strengthen your abdomen, you need to work your abs from top to bottom at least three times a week. This 10-minute ab routine can easily be coupled with your back routine.

Exercise Body part Sets Reps
Crunch Upper abs 3 25
Leg raise Lower abs 3 25
Twisting crunch Obliques 3 25

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