Core Strength Training for Cyclists & Triathletes
When cyclists & triathletes think core training, the first thing (and sometimes only thing) that comes to mind is front planks...but there is far more to core training
Ahh, core training. Not just "average gym goer" core training, but core training for cyclists and triathletes.... it's GOTTA mean lots of planks, Right?
Well, as it turns out, no. Not at all.
There are a number of areas in life where marketing and how you name something, is absolutely vital in determining how many people will actually participate or purchase something.
Take Budgeting for instance…Most folks HATE budgeting.
It’s putting a limit on things and putting into place a process and more tasks we need to do in our daily lives. Taking away from the things we actually enjoy, like riding bikes, and hitting the pool or trail to get in some swimming or running.
Strength training is in the same boat as budgeting- we all recognize and know that we SHOULD be doing it, but the pain of what we’re doing today isn’t big enough to pull us to taking ourselves indoors into a box with flourescent lighting to pick things up and put them down alongside the “gym wildlife”.
(I cannot change the thumbnail, my apologies ladies)
What exactly is "Core Training" and "Strength Training"
But Strength training is also a topic that doesn’t get nearly enough respect or its proper due diligence in the endurance sports world.
Yes, there is a growing amount of information out there on the interwebs about “Strength Training for Triathlon” and “Strength Training for Cycling” with a number of coaches and self-proclaimed specialists telling you to squat, lunge, hamstring curl, plank, and deadlift more.
They also proclaim that in order for strength training to be specific for cyclists and triathletes that the exercises should “mimic the movements you do in your sport”……and “oh, don’t forget those planks!”.
Oh, Oh, Oh, Planks are MAGIC, don’t you know?!?!? NEVER believe it’s not sooooo…. (LOLZ)
You’ll also find a number of YouTube and Instagram cycling & triathlon “celebrities” telling you how much they deadlift, or squat, or that their strength workout is “Strength Training for Cycling” or “Strength Training for Triathlon”, yet they’re just doing squats and deadlifts and hamstring curls and leg presses, and oh, don’t forget that “Magic” front plank!
I mean seriously, I’ve never seen one exercise given “magic pill” status to the level that the front plank gets….
And even more seriously, you’re actually leaving a lot on the table as to how much and what you can get out of those planks. Just give my Max Effort Front Planks for Cycling Power a shot and you’ll begin to understand why that is…. let me know how ya feel in the morning!
There are in fact VERY few people out there who are giving you real advice as to:
- How much strength training you actually need to be doing to see results on the bike or out on course
- How to build an incredibly potent training program to allow you see the power and success you DESERVE to gain from a well put together Strength Training Program FOR CYCLING & TRIATHLON specific results
- And especially lacking is any good information about why training the WHOLE body, not just legs and “core”, is absolutely instrumental to getting stronger & faster in your sport or cycling or triathlon
Most cyclists and triathletes think that strength training for cycling or triathlon is simply hitting the gym, picking up and putting down things with your legs, doing some “core” (ahem, front planks for 2-8 minutes), and then heading home.
But that’s not the case!
While yes, cyclists & triathletes in general are incredibly weak and need general physical preparation, that alone is not enough.
But you can’t just head to the gym without a longer term plan, yet that is exactly what many of these
In my Training Peaks University courses (Strength Training for Cycling Success and Strength Training for Triathlon Success), as well as the HVTraining Strength Training for Cycling Certification Course, I talk about 3 important points that MUST be considered for any and every athlete walking into a strength training program:
Core Training for Cyclists & Triathletes:
Know your Starting Point- Perform a Movement Analysis
There’s a saying in the Strength Coaching world: “If you don’t assess, it’s just a guess”.
If you’re truly looking to improve your performance by doing core training, or even have the aim to use strength training to feel better while cycling or out in your tri, we have to prioritize getting a repeatable and accurate assessment of where you currently stand before we move forward.
We’re not looking to analyze down to every micro movement, but we do need to have an idea of what your 1-2 big focal points should be, before we every step under a bar to squat, or grab a kettlebell to swing.
You can watch 3 of the Movement Analysis tools I commonly use for Triathletes by signing up for the Free Course Preview here. The 3 sample assessment I chose to make part of the free preview apply fully to cyclists as well.
You’ll notice that the movement analysis has nothing to do with “how much do you bench/squat/deadlift bro”, as the numbers don’t matter….but HOW you move, DOES. A LOT.
Make “Core Training for cycling” & “Core Training for Triathlon” on it’s own what it really is: Obsolete
“Core Training” as has become known, focuses only on the abdominals, and perhaps a little bit on the lower back, but doing just this area of your body- especially in the fashion that is so widely prevalent in our communities, is highly likely to lead you to more issues and pain, rather than power and speed.
Having just read through that sentence in my proofreading, I know that someone out there on the interwebs is going to smash around my words like a toddler eating spagghetti O’s in a highchair (How did that get on the ceiling?!?!)
I am NOT Saying “Core Training is useless”.
I AM saying that just doing 6 minute abs, or bicycle crunches and sit-ups and those “magic pill” planks are NOT enough for you to see the biggest return on your strength training investment.
If you’re going to do “Core Training” we need to learn how to use your abdominal hoop, to tie together your rib cage and pelvis, which allows you to express your FULL power out on the road, climbing hills, and in the pool.
Once you learn how to do that, we can begin to introduce rotary stability exercises that teach you how to RESIST separation of the hips and ribs, as well as learn how to use your arms and legs to produce force and power, from a rock solid trunk.
Doing it correctly: Real Core Training for Cyclists & Triathletes who want to look, feel and move better!
Step 1: Learn to activate and use the Abdominal hoop
Step 2: Strengthen the abdominal hoop
Step 3: Learning to use a Rock Solid Core to Express Power
Kettle Bell Swings
You can do all the planks and sit-ups you want, but ya still aren’t going to get what you truly deserve out of your investment.
Understanding that “core training” is for cyclists and triathletes in large part about learning how to brace the midsection to DECREASE movement of the spine, while learning how to perform the FUNdamental 5+1 movements efficiently, effectively, and powerfully when needed.
Past participants in my Better Back & Hips program have said things like:
“I never realized there was so much more to core training than planking. It now makes total sense why even though I could hold a 5:21 plank, I was still getting back pain!”
“This course has been an absolute eye opener! I’ve always considered myself as an advanced core kinda guy, but thanks to your feedback I now understand I was just going through without thought of what muscles were working, or what I actually needed to fire.”
Don’t Skip ANY of the 5 Stages of Strength Training Progression
If you don’t know, you don’t know…..
There are actually 5 stages to Strength Development, and so many cyclists and triathletes skip the first two. In the case of Stage #1 Anatomical Adaptations, many are not aware of the physiological and physical changes that take a bit of time, and need some attention in order to occur.
Anatomical adaptation is a 3-8 week stage in which either no weights, or light weights are used while the individual begins to work on technique, and to begin the changes necessary in the bodies tissues to be able to deal with the forces that strength training will impose on it.
This stage is vital to getting the most out of your strength training, as tendons, ligaments, and bones require longer periods of time to adjust to the new weight bearing and loading forces and vectors which you’re about to impose on them.
Stage #2 is often skipped due to ignorance, in large part due to it’s name: Hypertrophy.
But it’s a vital stage of increasing anyones abilities, especially for any sports performance program.
While there are many more integral points to building yourself or your athletes strength training program, take the 3 steps we’ve spoken about here and practice them.
Make sure you listen to the cues, and are paying special attention to HOW you are executing each exercise.
As you get more able to fire the correct muscles together to create stiffness and stability, you can begin to think about progressing to adding slow, controlled movement, such as the super fun, and super challenging Wall Plank Rotations:
The Take Home
Movement does NOT equal mastery, and in fact, for many cyclists and triathletes simply “making a movement happen” can further solidify already broken movement habits, making the problem bigger and worse.
Take the time to learn about the movements, skills, and postures that need to be improved in order for you to progress in your chosen sport.
Do some digging to figure out what common issues are, and aim to do some critical thinking to figure out why those issues are common, and what you can do to help mitigate or prevent these from developing for yourself, or your athletes.
If you’d like to learn more about this, you can take one of my aforementioned courses on Training Peaks, or sign up for the Insiders List for the upcoming opening of the Strength Training for Cyclists Certification here in January 2020.
And remember to Train Smarter, Not Harder, because it’s all about YOU!
The Strong Savvy Cyclist & Triathlete Podcast Episode 18
Learn more from the leading expert in strength training for cycling & triathlon
Get on the WAITING LIST for the upcoming Strength Training for Cycling Certification
Check out my good friend Tony Gentilcore’s guests post on Core Training:
Learn More about Back Pain & Back Health from my friend, mentor, and leading expert Dr. Stuart McGill: