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When you have a strong core, you have better balance, you are less likely to get injured, and you have more support for your spine while cycling. You might have heard of ‘engaging your core’ during cycling. But how do you do this?
To engage your core while cycling, maintain an upright posture, keep your abs tightened, and keep the weight off your arms. There are many exercises you can perform on a bike that heighten this effect, such as crunches, or standing up at intervals.
Engaging your core has multiple benefits. I myself found it really helped me to overcome some lower back pain.
Other benefits of engaging your core are greater balance, spine health, and relieving pressure on other body parts.
Continue reading to learn all about the why, what, when, and how of engaging your core while cycling.
What does “Engaging your Core” Mean?
“Engage your core!” – even if you have never seen a workout program, read a health magazine, or visited a gym, you will have heard someone say this phrase at least once in your life.
It could have been in the form of encouraging advice or yelled at you, as you sweat through your final rep.
A strong core is critical in almost any exercise.
When engaging your core while cycling, picture yourself bracing for a sucker punch in the stomach. Trying to just suck your stomach in will just make things worse.
Inhale deeply and contract your abdominal muscles. Imagine “zipping up” your abdominal muscles and moving your navel towards your spine.
While your core is engaged, you should be able to keep breathing normally.
Fill your belly first, and then inhale and exhale, but only as far as your rib cage moves. After the initial breath, your stomach should stay tight and full. When you breathe after that, only your ribs should move in and out.
How to Engage Your Core while Cycling
Here are the ultimate 9 ways that you can engage your core while cycling:
1. Get in Position
If you’re not riding your bike correctly, you won’t get much stomach exercise. If possible, go to a cycling shop or hire a qualified group cycling instructor for help with bike fitting.
On the bars, your hands and arms should be relaxed, and you should keep your chin up rather than lower.
2. Sit Upright
Sitting upright with your core engaged at your work desk or home is going to come in handy here. While exercising on a stationary bike, simply maintaining a proper posture can make a significant impact.
The right muscle groups can be toned with good posture and there are several exercises to help you achieve this (Source).
Maintaining good posture and avoiding slouching during your workout will help you see more definition in your abs, as well as improve your overall performance.
Your back should be straight and not slouched or curved at any point. Instead of pressing your fleshy butt into the seat, use your sitting bones.
Also, keep your knees straight ahead rather than pointing out to the sides.
3. Brace Your Abdominal Muscles
To support your body, abdominal bracing involves engaging all of your core muscles.
First, try it seated or on the floor, then add it to your cycling routine when feeling comfortable. Legs bent, flat-footed, head and shoulders relaxed: this is how you should be lying down.
With your palms placed on your belly, feel your abs working together to create a smoother silhouette.
As you take a deep breath, let your abs expand and then press yourself up to the ceiling. Exhale while tightening your abs a little. The powerful exhalation will cause a tightening sensation throughout your body, like wearing a girdle.
When you exhale, squeeze your abs or hold them tight for up to 60 seconds, before relaxing and repeating the exercise up to ten times.
4. Keep Your Abs Tightened
It is critical to keep your abs tight throughout your workout to help tone your stomach.
Even if you aren’t cycling, performing sit-ups, or any other specific exercise, merely tightening your abs can make a huge difference in your core.
However, it’s easy to forget to keep them tight throughout your workout. Concentrate on contracting the abdominal muscle you clench, when you cough.
5. Keep the Weight off Your Arms
Your arms will tense up while you pedal, increasing the weight they carry.
If you want to get good abdominal exercise, don’t allow your arms to take control. Keep your body in a neutral stance and reduce the amount of weight on your arms.
If you have access to a stationary bike, this will be much simpler.
To achieve this, place your hands on the grips and tense your abdominal muscles. You can also work your core and back by removing one arm at a time while maintaining your current body position.
6. Switch Hands
A great tip for maintaining better balance on your bike is by using one hand instead of two.
Make sure your abdominal muscles are tight as you take one hand away and keep it behind your back. Following a one-minute countdown, swap arms.
In addition to toning your arms, this hand-switching exercise also provides a good workout for your abs!
7. Stand after Intervals for Added Intensity
When riding a bike up a hill, you may need to move off the saddle to gain additional momentum.
In this instance, your core will assist you in generating that power.
Furthermore, note that your lower body might suffer if you’re not diligent about stretching and strengthening your hips and knees.
Therefore, by using your stomach muscles, you’ll keep your balance, generate more power, and receive a better overall abdominal workout. If you’re cycling on your own, be careful and build strength by only lifting your butt from the saddle for short intervals.
8. Choose a Recumbent Bike
Instead of using an upright bike to work your abs, consider using a recumbent one.
When riding a recumbent in a semi-reclined position, your ab muscles are targeted. In particular, your lower abs and obliques are put to test as you pedal.
9. Incorporate Crunches
People usually imagine doing crunches on a bench or even on the floor.
But did you know that you can do them on a bike or cycle?
Just pedal in a straight line while pulling in your abs. Do this for about a minute, and then return to regular pedaling. This is a simple technique to strengthen your core, while also getting a fulfilling cardio workout.
Why is “Engaging your Core” Important?
One of the many reasons why working your core is essential is because it reduces your risk of injury while you’re cycling or working out.
As a result, it prevents your vertebrae from flexing or extending excessively, as well as from bending too far in either direction.
Another benefit of strong core-building is that it helps prevent accidental injuries. Knowing that teachers advise us to use our core muscles to prevent injury when riding is a good start. Whether you choose to cycle outside or indoors, engaging your core muscles helps keep you safe from potential accidents.
The core muscles serve as the foundation of the legs while cycling.
Everything starts here, including the rotational movement of pedaling. Core strength is something that you can build, even if you don’t exercise. Simply practice bracing your core daily.
According to a study, core strength exercises also help alleviate chronic back pain (Source).
While activating your core during exercise can help prevent injuries and promote functional mobility, the scientific community is divided on whether it will boost your workout regimen since there is not enough evidence on the exact link between core stability and fitness performance.
For bicycling, you’ll need to have strong transverse and rectus abdominis, and obliques.
These muscles assist in supporting the body, protecting the spine, and transferring force from one region to the other as part of the core (including your hips and lower back).
When can You Engage Your Core?
You’re probably working your core while doing daily tasks and not even realizing it.
Engaging your core throughout the day and especially while cycling can help avoid bad posture (and the pain that comes with it).
Let’s talk about the different scenarios where you can practice this.
Yes! The most natural, subconscious human action can be an opportunity for a core exercise.
Breathe easily and let go of your shoulders, stomach muscles, and neck muscles. Take a deep breath in and let your tummy softly push outward as you exhale slowly.
Avoid raising (or shrugging) your shoulders too far away from your ears. This indicates that you are breathing with the help of your supplementary shoulder and neck muscles.
Practice good posture every opportunity you get.
Sit straight and upright but do not arch your back.
Inhale deeply while sucking in your abdominal muscles toward your spine. You can also tense up your stomach like you are ready to get punched. Spend time bracing your core, when you’re sitting at work or simply walking around.
3. Ab Workouts
Since the torso moves so much while cycling, abs exercises can help you practice engaging your core before you get on a bike.
A common indication that you should brace is hyperextension, also known as your back arching.
To target the abdominal muscles, you should use the tailbone and glutes when cycling. These two movements help decrease the lumbar curve and strengthen your abdominal muscles.
By focusing on your core during cardio, you will have better posture and experience less discomfort both before and after cycling or any workout.
Running is a good example of how using your core may help you maintain a straight back and shoulders, so that you develop a good posture for cycling.
Over-extension of the neck – a typical cause of neck pain and headaches – can be prevented with this technique.
While running, bracing your core will help relieve strain on your lumbar spine, which can reduce or eliminate any back pain you may be experiencing.
5. Lifting Weights
Exercises such as weightlifting may prove to be the most important for strengthening your core. This allows the spine to move if you bend at one of your main joints such as your shoulders or hips.
Cyclists often complain about back problems and this is a good approach to preventing them. For instance, if an overhead press involves a rear arch, a strong core might help to keep your back from extending excessively.
The deadlift is an excellent move that requires you to activate your core. By not engaging your core before raising the weight, you risk having a round back and forward-slouching shoulders.
Free weight activities had the highest voluntary core contraction rate, according to one study of various physical fitness exercises (Source).
This well-known kind of exercise incorporates a variety of core-strengthening moves.
Planks, side planks, bridges, as well as balance exercises like Tree Pose and Warrior Pose, all require you to work your core muscles.
7. Other Activities
You can also practice tightening your core during daily activities such as reaching for high shelves in your kitchen or at the grocery store. It is a useful practice that you will be able to apply to your workouts, including cycling.
The Core Issue
Cycling is mostly a cardiac activity, which I most certainly agree with. It’s not designed as a core workout, which explains why so many bikers are thought to have weaker core muscles than the average person.
To debunk this myth, try riding a bike while engaging your core muscles. Whether you cycle professionally, for sport, or just want to get a good workout, you’ll realize that engaging your core is essential.
I’ve covered just a few of the several ways that you can use while cycling to strengthen your core. Get creative and incorporate a few extra workouts but be sure to get assistance from a certified instructor while doing so.