Doesn't look much, but it's a burner.
© Joe Bowman
MTB

30-minute core workout for cyclists

6 pilates-inspired exercises that will make you a stronger cyclist.
Written by Hanna Jonsson
13 min readPublished on
Pilates could be the most underestimated form of training for mountain bikers and road cyclists. It is the perfect off-the-bike training that will not only send your core strength through the roof, it will also give you insane body awareness, hip and knee alignment and back and shoulder strength. Oh, and it helps with injury prevention as well.
Another amazing thing about it? You can do it all from the comfort of your living room with little or no equipment. All you need is your own body weight.
We’ve gathered some of our go-to strength exercises specifically aimed at bikers. To get the most out of this workout combine it with these Pilates-inspired mobility movements.
Nothing burns like a plank.
Nothing burns like a plank.
Before you start, take a minute and read through the basic go-to’s of Pilates to maximise your workout.

BASIC PILATES 101:

NEUTRAL SPINE: Your alignment is super important when you practice Pilates. Before you start any exercise make sure you back is in “neutral”. Lie on your back, your pelvis should be level and you should have a natural small curve in the waist, i.e. there is a small gap between the floor and your back. As a biker, you will probably need a small pillow or folded towel under your head to neutralise your rounded shoulders. This puts your back in a better position and makes you work your core better.
CORE: Your core - made up of your deep abdominal muscles, your pelvis floor, the diaphragm and the deep stabilisers of your spine - should always be gently engaged when practicing Pilates. To do so, draw in your lower abdominal muscles - it should feel like you are pulling your navel towards the back of your body.
IMPRINTED SPINE: A position used in some of the exercises. It means that your back is pushed flat against the floor. To do this, activate your core and push the back towards the floor. Your pelvis will tilt in order to allow your back to flatten without disturbing the shoulders.
Ab prep - like a crunch, but better!
Ab prep - like a crunch, but better!
AB(DOMINAL) PREP: It’s almost like a situp crunch, but not quite (it is better!). Lie on your back knees bent, hip width apart and feet in line with your sit bones. Arms stretched out by your side. Tuck your chin into your chest and start rolling your spine off the floor as far as you can go, arms reaching long. The tips of your shoulder blades should still be touching the floor. This can be done with the spine both in neutral and imprint.
BREATH: Normal breathing is done into the abdomen, but as in Pilates you want to keep the core engaged throughout the entire workout, so you change your breath so that you breathe into the ribs in order to keep the diaphragm stable. So that when you breathe in your ribcage expands to the side and when you breathe out it contracts. The abdomen should remain flat.
Make sure you modify the exercise into a position that works for you.
Make sure you modify the exercise into a position that works for you.
MODIFY: Done correctly even the easiest of Pilates exercises can be very challenging, so it is important to modify if it becomes too strong. Otherwise, you will be working the wrong muscles. How do you know if it’s too strong? If you ever feel like your abs push outwards instead of being flat or if you cannot hold your back in the proper position without arching you should modify. You should only increase the intensity when your core strength has increased enough to allow you too.
SHOULDERS: Your shoulders should be well-aligned, with your shoulder blades drawn down the upper back away from the ears keeping the neck long. Again, this is especially beneficial for cyclist, who’s shoulders are often rounded. This will counteract that movement and strengthen the upper back.
LESS IS MORE: All movements should be done slowly and with control. Better to do fewer reps perfectly, than loads of reps badly.

PILATES FOR BIKERS

1. THE 100 - The warmup

A classic pilates exercise that gets your whole body firing. Remember this is never meant to be easy, this one is always going to be hard and is the perfect way to warm up your body.
Steps:
  1. Lie on your back and get into your 100 position - chose one that is right for you: easy, intermediate, hard or advanced*.
  2. Roll up into Ab Prep: tuck your chin to your chest and curl your head and shoulders off the mat, your back is in imprint flat on the ground. (If you’re in the “advanced” position your back will naturally not go into full imprint but you should aim towards it.)
  3. Your arms are actively stretch out by your side off the ground.
  4. Breath in for 5 counts and out for 5 counts whilst pulsing your straight arms up and down in small, but strong movements.
  5. Keep going at constant pace until you’ve done up to 100 counts.
  6. Once you get up to 100, hold the position for 5 seconds before you lower your knees into your chest and roll your back and head back down to the floor.
  • *Different positions:
  • Easy: Knees above hips in 90 degrees
  • Intermediate: legs stretched straight up,
  • Hard: legs stretched straight out in a 45 degree angle,
  • Advanced: legs stretched out a few cm off the floor.
Modify: Your lower back should stay imprinted, or towards imprint if you’re doing the advanced position, throughout the whole 100. This means you might have to modify before or even during the exercise to keep the back down.
Common mistakes: Make sure you’re actively pulsing with your arms. It helps the whole body stay activated and is an important part of the exercise. The neck is strong, shoulders are relaxed, away from the shoulders. Length in the back of the neck, gaze towards the navel.

2. SINLGE LEG LOWERS: Core strength

Leg up, out, down, up and in. Easy!
Leg up, out, down, up and in. Easy!
Another movement that is way harder than it looks and works your deep abdonimal musclers. Remember, slow and steady wins the race.
Steps:
  1. Lie on your back with your legs bent in, feet on the floor, hip widths apart, spine in neutral position.
  2. Breathe in to prepare and engage your core as you breath out.
  3. As you breathe out float one leg off the floor so that it’s bent in 90 degrees, knee in line with your hip.
  4. Breathe in and as you breathe out float the other leg off the floor, so that both legs are bent up in 90 degrees, knees over hips.
  5. Your deep abdominal muscles should be firing in this position and you need to maintain this flat abdomen throughout. It shouldn’t feel easy.
  6. Breathe in, breathe out and lengthen one leg away at a 45-degree angle.
  7. Breathe in and lower your leg in a controlled movement towards the floor. Your pelvis and back shouldn’t move during this exercise.
  8. Breath out and draw the leg back up to a 45 degree angle.
  9. Breath in and bring your leg back in line with the other.
  10. Repeat on the other side.
  11. Do a max rep of 12. Do them slow, steady and in control - your core should be working hard. Stop when you’ve done enough, hug the knees in towards your chest to counteract the movement.
Modify: Your back should be in neutral the whole time, if it starts arching or your abs start pushing “out”, don’t lower your leg too much. Stop higher up or bring the knees slightly closer in towards you.
Common mistakes: Don't lift your ribcage - feel like the back of your ribs are resting on the floor and actively engage the abdominals. Also, your hips and pelvic shouldn’t move at all during the exercise. Keep them level.

3. CRISSCROSS: Core and oblique strength

Make sure your pelvis doesn't rock back and fort.
Make sure your pelvis doesn't rock back and fort.
A perfect exercise for bikers that strengthens both your front and side abdominal muscles whilst maintaining complete pelvic control.
Steps:
  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent into your chest.
  2. Roll up into ab prep, back imprinted, keeping your hands behind your head. They are not there to hold your head up (your abs should be doing that), your fingers should only lightly touch your head.
  3. Stretch your right leg out long in front of you and rotate your upper body towards the left knee. Maintaining the body “lifting up” to avoid sinking down.
  4. Make sure you are lifting from below your shoulders and not simply twisting from the arms.
  5. Switch the position and extend your left leg straight out and bring your left elbow towards your right knee.
  6. Imagine that your center is anchored to the mat so that you don’t rock from hip to hip - your pelvis should be completely still and your legs stretch out in a straight line.
  7. Do up to 16 in total, but stop when you feel like you’ve done enough. Remember to do them slow and steadily, concentrating on breathing with the movement. Do not rush.
Common mistakes: Don't twist and sink. You should feel like you are twisting and then lifting upwards. Remember the movement should come from below your shoulders.

4. SHOULDER BRIDGE WITH SINGLE LEG LOWERS: Glutes and hamstring strength

Doesn't look much, but it's a burner.
Doesn't look much, but it's a burner.
This could be the single most important exercise for bikers as it counter acts the cycling position: a short and tight “front” and a long and weak “back” and gives the glutes and hamstrings a proper tough workout.
Start by warming up the spine up and firing up the hamstrings and glutes in section “a" and then move on to stronger leg work in section “b".
a) Shoulder bridge warmup
Roll slowly up and down your spine.
Roll slowly up and down your spine.
Steps:
  1. Lie on your back in a neutral position, knees bent, hips width apart and the soles of your feet planted firmly on the mat. Remove the pillow from under your head.
  2. Breathe in, as you breathe out activate your core by drawing your navel towards your back and engage your pelvic floor.
  3. Tuck your pelvis under and start rolling up your spine, vertebrae per vertebrae. Feel like you are pushing your knees over your feet. Glutes and hamstring are working hard, shoulders are relaxed.
  4. Once in shoulder bridge make sure your spine is neutral. Hold the position and feel the stretch in the front of the body from knees to shoulder.
  5. Slowly roll back down again, vertebrae per vertebrea.
  6. Repeat this movement several times to warm up the spine, glutes and hamstring.
b) Leg work in shoulder bridge
Part 1. Remember, don't let your hips move.
Part 1. Remember, don't let your hips move.
Part 2. Slow and steady and you'll feel the burn.
Part 2. Slow and steady and you'll feel the burn.
  1. Once in the shoulder bridge position, shift your weight over to one leg and float the other one up into 90 degrees. Your pelvis shouldn’t move, tilt or sink down.
  2. Stretch the leg towards the ceiling.
  3. Breathe in and lower the straight leg towards the floor. Remember to relax the shoulders and to keep the core activated, pelvis pressing upwards.
  4. Breathe out and lift the leg back up.
  5. Repeat up to 6 times on the same leg.
  6. Lower the leg into 90 degrees, and then lower it back to the ground.
  7. Repeat on the other side.
  8. If you need a break in between, roll down your spine and have a short rest before rolling back up and repeating on the other side.
Modify: If doing the straight leg lowers is too strong, do knee bends instead. Lift and bend one leg to 90 degrees, place it back down. Do the same thing on the other side.
Common mistakes: Don't let your hips dip. Make sure your hips are kept level throughout the exercise by activating your glutes and pelvis. If they start to dip to one side, don’t lower your leg as far down.

5. LEG PULL (FRONT PLANK): Full body strength and control

A strong exercise that is often rushed into. Take your time to perfect your plank as it will make it so much stronger.
A different but effective way to get into the plank position.
A different but effective way to get into the plank position.
Steps:
  1. Stand on all fours, hands in line with your shoulders, knees slightly back of your hips.
  2. Arms should be active, elbows turned out.
  3. Push up through the back of your head and between your shoulders. It’s easy to accidentally “drop your head”, make sure it is inline with your spine and that you keep your gaze forward off your hands (not straight down).
  4. Tuck your toes under and float your knees off the ground so that they are hovering around 1-2 cm off the ground without the back moving. This should fire up your core and engage it properly.
  5. From here, keeping the same alignment, stretch one foot out at a time until you are in a full plank. Your hips and bum shouldn’t move during this.
  6. Take a breathe.
  7. Stretch one leg off the floor so that it reaches towards the back of the room. Don’t lift it too high, the important thing is to reach it long.
  8. Take a breathe and then lower the leg back down.
  9. Repeat on the other side.
  10. Do up to 6 on each side.
  11. Lower the knees back to the floor.
  12. Move back into child’s pose and have a rest.
Stretch one leg towards the wall behind you.
Stretch one leg towards the wall behind you.
Modify: If floating a leg off the floor is too strong, start by doing a simple weight transfer on the floor. Transfer weight onto one foot as if you’re about to lift the other leg, but leave it on the floor. Then do the same on the opposite side. Repeat. This is surprisingly strong if done correctly.
Common mistakes: Make sure your pelvis is neutral: activate your glutes and core muscles, lift the tummy up. Also, remember to check your alignment so that you are in a straight line - it’s common to push your bum up too high or to sink down too low.

6. UPPER BACK EXTENSION WITH ROTATION: Upper back and oblique strength

A classic exercise with an added lateral flexion. Extremely good for bikers who are hunched over handlebars all the time. This counteracts that movement, strengthens your back whilst getting it moving.
Get that upper back strong and mobile.
Get that upper back strong and mobile.
Steps:
  1. Lie on your front, hands under your forehead.
  2. Activate your core by drawing in the abdomen, hollowing the tummy. You should feel like you are lifting your abdomen off the floor. Keep it activated throughout the exercise to protect your lower back.
  3. Float your head and shoulder off the floor. Not too high.
  4. Now rotate your upper body to one side. Pelvis doesn’t move. Keep the arms parallel to the floor.
  5. Rotate back to the centre, and repeat to the other side.
  6. Do two more, one on each side.
  7. Lower back down the floor.
  8. Repeat up to 6 times.
Rotate to one side from the waist, arms parallel to the floor.
Rotate to one side from the waist, arms parallel to the floor.
Common mistakes: Keep the neck in line with your spine. Don’t lift it too high or leave it hanging too low. Your neck is active. Also, make sure you rotate by keeping your arms level to the floor. Don’t dip to one side.
*This workout hasn’t been planned by a certified Pilates instructor but are our favourite go-to exercises.