Whether it’s a stationary bike in the gym or a touring bike on the open road, bicycle riding is great cardio workout and an effective way to burn fat. It works lots of muscle, too: quadriceps, hip flexors hamstrings, calf muscles and hip flexors.
For working the lower abdominals, though, cycling leaves a bit to be desired. Cycling does somewhat activate the rectus abdominus, which is the frontward sheath of muscle where the proverbial six-pack lives. But ordinarily it doesn’t particularly work the muscle’s lower region because when the hip flexors are engaged, as they are with pedaling, the abdominals relax.
“If you want to work your lower abs when you’re riding a bike, you’ve got to add a few embellishments to your riding style,” says Los Angeles-based personal trainer David Knox, author of Body School: A New Guide for Improved Movement in Daily Life. “The beauty of cycling is that because a lot of your core is relatively inactive, you have the opportunity to do isometrics while you’re on the bike.”
Try these tips for turning your bike ride into a great workout for the lower abs.
Even if you’re pedaling with all your might, it’s easy for your upper body to fall into a slump. Whether you’re sitting up straight or bending over the handle bars, keeping your stomach tucked in, your shoulders back and your spine supported engages your core and protects your lower back.
Abdominal bracing is another maneuver you can do while riding. Just tighten – or “brace” -- your stomach muscles as if you’re about to get punched in the gut and hold. It's what makes doing a plank properly a good core exercise. Be sure to squeeze the muscles with as much tension as you can muster. That’s abdominal bracing. It strengthens the rectus abdominus and the obliques.
Hollowing, also known as “stomach vacuum” and the “drawing-in maneuver,” is an effective way to work the transverse abdominus, a muscle that wraps around the lower torso like a waistband. It functions to keep your internal organs tuck into your abdominal cavity. Working it reduces and prevents lower back pain. To perform the hollowing exercise, simply draw your navel into your lower spin as far as it will go while continuing to breathe lightly. Hold for as long as you can.
True Bicycle Crunches
The bicycle crunch is an exercise done while lying supine on the floor. But you can also do a modified version while you’re on an exercise bike. As you’re pedaling, take one hand off the handlebars and twist to bring your elbow toward the opposite thigh as it reaches the top of a rotation. Release and repeat. Do 15 reps before switching to the other side.
If you're riding a bicycle outdoors, your attention should first and foremost be on the road. Hone moves such as bracing and hollowing on solid ground before concentrating on them during your ride.
- International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy: Comparison of Trunk and Lower Extremity Muscle Activity Among Four Stationary Equipment Devices: Upright Bike, Recumbent Bike, Treadmill, and Elliptigo®
- University of New Mexico: Superb Abs Manual, by Len Kravitz, PhD
- Body School: A New Guide for Improved Movement in Daily Life, by David Knox
- Journal of Physical Therapy Science: Comparison of the Effects of Hollowing and Bracing Exercises on Cross-sectional Areas of Abdominal Muscles in Middle-aged Women
- Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation: The effects of abdominal draw-in maneuver and core exercise on abdominal muscle thickness and Oswestry disability index in subjects with chronic low back pain