Nicknamed the “Diesel Train” by fellow MTB competitors for good reason, NavWorld Ambassador Theresa Ralph’s stamina is legendary. But don’t just think it all comes down to lucky genetics – a large part of her success can be squarely attributed to regular gym sessions where she concentrates on strengthening her core. Read on to discover the top five core exercises that have helped make this powerhouse of a woman such a competitive, respected trail rider.

A strong tummy is a strong back, and vice versa. This is the core of your body. All sports benefit from a strong core – and this is especially true when it comes to mountain biking. In this sport you need to have good balance and plenty of strength, particularly when riding the many stunning single track trails we have on offer. Core exercises also help riders develop stronger hip flexors. Strengthen these key cycling muscles and you’ll definitely see your power improve. And don’t forget that pulling up the pedal is just as important as pushing it down…

Then there’s the fact that many riders suffer from lower back pain. This is mainly due to their sitting positions while on their bikes, especially when climbing uphill. However, once you develop a strong core, back pain vanishes and becomes a non-issue. And, when your back’s strong, you can control your bike so much better – allowing you to easily whip through all those twists and turns that off-road cycling continuously throws at you.

That said, here are the top five core exercises that I find work best for me:

1. Knee tucks with Bosu ball
The knee tucks with Bosu ball exercise targets the chest, arms and abdominal muscles (abs) and also improves core stability. Apart from targeting your core, it also helps stabilise your shoulder joints, which reduces the chances of you picking up any shoulder injuries.

Step 1
Start in a push-up position on the underside of the Bosu with both legs on top of a stability ball.

Step 2
Making sure your core is engaged, first perform a push-up on the Bosu followed by a double knee tuck.

Step 3
Return both legs back to the starting position, re-stabilize our body and repeat.

Step 4
Do two sets of 25 reps.

2. Plank with leg lift
The plank with leg lift exercise works the shoulders, triceps, abs, hamstrings and glutes. With this exercise we basically create a plank using our upper body and lower body together, with a straight line running from our shoulders, to our hips, to our knees and to our heels. You use your toes to raise your legs off the ground, then lift each leg alternately and hold for 15 seconds.

Step 1
Hold a plank for 60 seconds (90 if you’re finding it too easy).

Step 2
Lift a leg and alternate every 15 seconds.

Step 3
Repeat twice.

3. Russian twists
The Russian twist is a popular core exercise that improves oblique strength and definition. The exercise, performed with a medicine ball, involves rotating your torso from side to side while holding a sit-up position with your feet either on (easier) or off (harder) the ground. In this position, your abs contract to maintain the sit-up position while your obliques help to rotate your torso. The movement may seem passive, but it’s actually a challenging exercise that’ll leave your abs and obliques burning and fatigued.

Hold the medicine ball out in front of you with your arms straight and move your arms with the weight. Keep your abs contracted and don’t let your back round. When doing this exercise breathing technique is important. Exhale as you rotate to the side and inhale as you come back to centre.

Step 1
Sit at a 45-degree angle and move a medicine ball from left to right

Step 2
Do two sets of 30 reps each.

4. Ball swap leg raises
This fairly simple exercise is great for working the core muscles. It should be noted that this exercise requires extensive use of the hip flexors – muscles that you use extensively when mountain biking. These muscles reside on the uppermost part of the thigh, and are activated whenever the legs are elevated off the ground from a supine (on your back) position.

Step 1
Lie on your back and place ball between your feet.

Step 2
Swap the ball between hands and feet for each rep.

Step 3
Touch the ball on the ground above your head then at your feet.

Step 4
Do two sets of 30.

5. Ball Crunches with weight
This exercise is done using a large exercise ball and medicine ball (its weight behind your head increases the intensity across a wider range of motion). This movement is excellent for targeting the upper abdomen. Your hip stabilizers and abdominals will have to work much harder to keep you balanced throughout the movement because of the instability of the ball. It’s also a much more intense crunch as it allows for a fuller range of motion while performing the exercise and develops core stability to help you balance on the ball.

The key to this exercise is to position the ball so that it supports the lower region of the back, allowing the torso to extend down the contour of the ball prior to flex the torso upward to perform the crunch. Pay attention to the size of the stability ball you’re using. Some may find the exercise uncomfortable, specifically to the lower back, and may find a smaller ball more suitable due to it allowing for a greater bend in the hip joint.

Step 1
Place your lower back on the ball.

Step 2
Place a weight behind your head and perform crunches.

Step 3
Do two sets of 30.

I’m not going to lie to you, developing a strong core requires some commitment, but it’s definitely well worth all the effort! To get the best results and become a more competitive MTB rider, I recommend you hit the gym at least three to five times a week. – (c) 2017 NavWorld

About The Author

Theresa Ralph
NavWorld Mountain Biking Ambassador

Wearing many hats; mom to two kids, IT specialist, pro MTB rider, part-time spinning coach and orthopaedic sports masseuse. NavWorld Ambassador Theresa Ralph has a message for other busy working mothers out there who would like to fit sport into their already-hectic lives: “You can do it, don't think you can't!”

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