Whether you're a competitive cyclist, a commuter who gets to work on two wheels, or someone who loves to ride scenic paths or trails on the weekend, good balance on the bike enables you to ride with more ease and less energy. You'll be less likely to crash and burn, too. After a horrible crash in 2005 due to strong winds, professional cross-country cyclist Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski and his wife, fellow pro Heather Irmiger, took up core-focused yoga to improve their balance and power, which go hand-hand in cycling. It worked. "On a supersteep climb, I don't waste energy rocking back and forth," Irmiger told "Bicycling" magazine.
Rollers that are attached to a bike frame to keep the front wheel spinning while the bike remains stationary are used by elite cyclists to develop skillful steering and balance, explains the Human Kinetics website. It takes weeks to develop enough balance to ride on rollers and lift your hands off the handlebars. But when you master riding on rollers, "the bike-handling skills you obtain will make you a more confident and successful cyclist."
Lean to the left. Lean to the right. It's more than an old football cheer. Many people are stronger on one side of their body than the other. If you favor one side while riding a bike, you'll apply more force to the pedal on your strong side and generate less power overall. To become more symmetrical, put one leg on a box and use your other leg to pedal in small circles for 5 to 10 minutes. Alternate legs for several weeks and you'll balance out your stronger and weaker sides and pedal with a smooth power that pros describe as suppleness.
Yoga and Pilates
"Bicycling" magazine recommends a 20- to 25-minute workout combining Pilates and yoga exercises to increase balance and power. The workout concentrates on strengthening your core muscles. Cycling tends to overdevelop your quads while doing little for your hamstrings, leading to bad posture and weak lower-back and ab muscles. The recommended series of exercises include yoga classics such as downward dog, thunderbolt, lunges and bridge poses. One exercise, the single-leg stretch, looks like you're pedaling in slow motion while lying on your back. It targets the oblique muscles on the sides of your hips, which are muscles that help stabilize the core area and give you better control over the bike.
The Coach Hughes site for serious cyclists recommends creating an unstable environment to make exercises more difficult by using such devices as foam rollers, exercise balls and wobble boards. These tools require you to focus on balance and coordination. If you are new to Pilates and yoga, or have certain pre-existing conditions, exercise caution with the recommended balance exercises. For example, stay away from bridges if you have a history of neck problems. When you perform lunges, make sure your front knee doesn't wind up in front of your toes. This puts an extreme pressure on the knee joint and can lead to injury.
Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.