If you ask any cyclist or triathlete about “core training” you will undoubtedly hear about how great planks are. But ARE they really that great? Do you REALLY need to be planking?
Of course, the right answer is “it depends”, but for the most part, the vast majority of cyclists and triathletes do NOT need to be planking.
Yup, you read that right.
“Planking “ on the elbows or hands, for most cyclists and triathletes is a big waste of time.
But Brodie, I’ve been planking for the last 3 years and can hold a plank for (insert long period of time here) minutes and it made me a better rider/triathlete!
Doubtful. Especially with HOW most folks perform their planks!
Saggy hips, shoulder blades slammed back and together, butt up in the air, or even just straight up looking like they replaced their hip flexors with guy-wires to hold them in perpetual riding or TT position.
Yes, we’ve been taught for YEARS that planks are a must for every cyclist and triathlete alive who wants to get stronger/fitter/faster (or anyone, really), but with how poorly most of us function as it is, the plank is just a bit too advanced for us!
Get more out of your “Core Training”
Let’s take a look at a far better option (or 4) than your planks, that can have huge benefits for not only your riding, but also for your general postural health and abilities:
Shielded breath (teaching you to lock your rib cage + hips together)
This is one of the foundational exercises that EVERY athlete or active amateur SHOULD be performing, as it teaches you how to brace properly.
Bracing is a skill that has to be learned, refined, and tuned to the activities needs, in order to be most effective. Too much bracing? You’ll be too stiff to deliver power. Too little, and you’ll look like an overcooked piece of spaghetti being thrown out of a fine Italian restaurant’s window.
The key here is to not only brace, but to be able to keep your spine, hips, and head in good positions while you do so.
Start off with 2 “breaths”, taking your time to be purposeful and tuned-in to your body.
Work your way up from 2 breaths with 3 s ”stops” to 3 breaths with multiple stops, challenging you to “Breathe behind the brace”- meaning bracing, but being able to breathe freely behind it.
The McGill Curl-up- teaching you to be a TRUE athlete
The devil is in the details here, as the McGill curl-up, or as I and many others call it the “McGill Crunch”, features a large array of coordination challenges, including how gravity is now affecting your body.
Take a careful watch of the video, listening to the cues here. This may look easy, but it is NOT simple.
Learning to produce a 360 degree brace takes your shielded breath skills up to the next level, as you’ll be able to better lock your rib cage and pelvis together, thus producing more power to the pedals, and less hula-hoop hips and shoulders.
Start off with 2-3 sets of 2-3 repetitions, working your way up to 2*5-8
Side plank, top foot forward (to build rotary stability)
A big step forward in your “side plank experience” the top foot forward variation, is actually how the exercise was designed and meant to be executed.
Reasons for the top foot forward?
This allows us to be in a “walking” like position on the floor, forcing us to use our naturally built-in rotary stability muscles in full force. These muscles include those that are often weak/neglected in cyclists:
- The adductors (inner thigh)
- Glutei (glute medius and minimus in specific)
- External AND internal obliques
- Latissimus Dorsi
- Mid and lower trapezius
- And a bevy of other core muscles that we just don’t get while riding (Core = everything between your neck, knees, and elbows!)
Make sure to follow the instructions in the video, as failure to miss one joint in the needed alignment, and you won’t get the most you can out of this exercise.
Start with 3-4 sets of 10-20 seconds each side, and work your way down to 2 sets of 60 seconds each side.
EXPERT INSIGHT: instead of pushing yourself to try to do longer times every week, instead aim to “master the position” for more repetitions at shorter, sub-failure time lengths! If you can hold the side plank SOLID with great form for 18 seconds before you start to break down, aim to do 3-4 repetitions of 15 seconds each side, alternating sides.
Suitcase Carries (for loaded rotary stability)
This is a REALLY hard exercise for cyclists, as it exposes all of our weak points that we develop from hours in the saddle.
BE SMART with this one… LESS IS MORE (weight AND time).
The Suitcase Carry is a fantastic way to get some REAL core training in, as when done with correct positioning and posture throughout, it can quickly improve your:
- Rotary stability
- Inner & outer thigh strength
- Anti-lateral flexion (great for cornering, sprinting, and tough gravel and cross rides!)
We want this to be done with a kettlebell ideally, as dumbbells tend to have the leg get in the way, but either will work. Start by grabbing the kettlebell handle (Kettlebell is on a bench or box at knee height). Bring your shoulder blade back and down, while CRUSHING the handle in your hand, Brace your midsection, tuck your chin, and stand tall to lift the bell off of the box/seat.
Keeping this posture, walk for 15-30 seconds, while keeping that shoulder blade back and down, midsection braced.
As you can see in the video, when done with the correct weight, and you’ve moved to mastering the position and posture, your feel will almost look like you’ve had one too many beers after your gran fondo finish…. But you’re working to keep your hips and torso locked together, walking a straight line, keeping that shoulder blade back and down, and ribs down.
Start off with a weight that is just barely a little challenging for the first 2 weeks (RPE of 6 on a scale of 1-10), as most cyclists need to build the postural strength and rear shoulder + mid-back strength to work with the heavier weights like that which you see in the video.
If you’d like to learn more about strength training for cycling, and why what many believe is strength training for cycling is actuality strength training to mimic cycling movements, read my blog post:
Strength Training for Cycling, Part 1: What is Strength Training FOR Cycling?
And if you’re interested in doing a deep dive into strength training for cycling, you can grab a copy of my first book, The Vortex Method: The New Rules for Ultimate Strength & Performance for Cyclists, available on Amazon Kindle, in paperback, and in the coming weeks, Audible audiobook.
Be smart, start small, with weights you feel 100% certain you can properly move, and lengths of time that are SAFE. Especially mid-season, soreness from strength training will detract from your performance, NOT build it.
LESS IS MORE!
It’s better to wake up the next 2 days after having done these exercises feeling GREAT, than to wake up feeling awful. Build slowly, and you’ll see great changes in your abilities and your strengths!