Core Workouts for Cyclists: Beyond Crunches and Sit-ups

The core is a hot topic these days, especially for cyclists who sit on their bike for hours at a time. Countless books and articles have been written about the proper way to train your core. The overload of content can be confusing, so before you start trying exercises, it's important to know what the muscles are responsible for and why some traditional workouts can be harmful.

"The core consists of the lumbar spine, the muscles of the abdominal wall, the back extensors, and the quadratus lumborum," Stuart McGill says in Strength and Conditioning Journal. "The purpose of these muscles is to prevent motion and absorb forces, not initiate motion. Because of this, the core deserves a different training approach."

Traditional exercises such as sit-ups and crunches have been used for years as a way to strengthen the abdominals and prevent lower back injuries. In fact, sit-ups are still used today in many benchmark physical fitness tests to assess abdominal muscular endurance. But how effective are these exercises? Are they safe?

The rectus abdominus (anterior core muscle) is rarely used during the motion of a sit-up. It's used more often in bracing and preventing lumbar extension. When it comes to safety, it's been proven in laboratory tests that repeated spinal flexion (the motion of crunches and sit-ups) creates serious compressive forces that can damage the spine over time. To illustrate, take a piece of metal (a coat hangar or a piece of rebar steel) and bend it repeatedly. It will eventually fail. Your spine is no different.

Here are some ways to safely and effectively train the core.

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