Lee, I’ve been focused on legs strength and stamina. My legs are good now. My core feels like a bowl of jelly. What are some of the best exercises for building my core?
Thanks for the awesome question.
This is a real can of worms. I could tell you to do planks, side planks, back bridges and pallof presses (Google it), which are all standards, and that certainly won’t hurt.
But riding is dynamic in a special way, and I think there are more effective ways to train your core for shredding (and everyday life).
For some context, I studied exercise physiology in college about 100 years ago, and I stay up to date with my reading, and I have a lot of experience as an athlete and coach. I know some things, but not all things, and I have a simple, practical approach. For more detailed knowledge talk to deep experts like REVO Physiotherapy and Sports Performance, Enduro MTB Training and MTN LAB.
What is your core?
For our purposes, let’s call your core everything from your pelvic floor to the top of your shoulders. This means your entire torso: hips, abs, lower back, mid/upper back, chest, shoulders and all the parts and pieces that hold them together.
What’s the job of your core? When we ride mountain bikes on sick trails or pull clothes out of a dryer, we are exerting forces with our hands and our feet.
Your core ties your hands and feet together so, for example, you can ground your feet on the floor and pull clothes out of the dryer without your lower back exploding. Or you can pull on the bars and push on the pedals without losing energy in a floppy torso. Or your front wheel can ping off a diagonal rock and you can hold the bike straight.
To sum it up in a very simple way, your core:
1) Stabilizes your torso and protects your spine. This I learned because my core got weak and my back went out.
2) Acts as a foundation from which we can pedal, row, anti-row, do laundry and kick ass.
What exactly does your core do?
Again, I’m being simple. For our purposes your core has these basic duties:
- Forward bend. Or resist forward bend.
- Backward bend. Or resist backward bend.
- Lateral bend. Or resist lateral bend.
- Twist. Or resist twist.
On the mountain bike we want to resist movement. Our torsos should stay straight all the time — no matter how violent things get.
What are good ways to exercise your core?
Since we want our torsos to remain stable while our hands and feet are doing beautiful violence, most of our core training should be about resisting movement. About creating a rock-solid foundation.
You can do the exercises like the ones I mentioned above. Plank, side plank, back bridge, pallof press. These stabilize your core in all the directions we care about. I do one minute of planks as part of my daily PT routine.
Do functional full-body movements. When you engage your core properly, just about all activities are core exercises.
Deadlifts, kettlebell swings, cleans, carries, pushups, rows, rock climbing, shoveling snow, doing yard work. All of those are great.
Maybe the most functional full-body movement for a mountain biker is mountain biking. When you ride, keep your core engaged and maintain great posture. Spend some time doing hard shit on your bike. Climb in very tall gears. Shred the pump track. These build very functional core strength.
Train biking movements off the bike. This lets you focus on those dynamics, and you can subject yourself to more challenge (and suffering) than you can while you ride. I created two products that build functional strength and skills for mountain bikers:
F6: Six moves to build your foundation. $15. All you need is an exercise band and some heavy objects. This is designed for MTBers who don’t go to the gym (which is all of us right now).
RipRow. $999-$1,249. In my pursuit of ultimate MTB enlightenment, I invented an unstable, upright rowing machine with both pulling and pushing resistance. Aside from actual riding, there’s no more specific way to train for riding.
Do all of the above and also maintain great posture all the time.
Wait: Maybe good posture is Level 1. I’m still working on this one.
I hope this is helpful,