Bicycling is an excellent form of exercise and, in addition to providing a workout for your cardiovascular system, is effective for strengthening the lower body. In addition, though, bicycling requires strength in your torso, including your abdominal muscles. The act of bicycling requires a strong core, and there are exercises you can do to help strengthen this important part of your body. Your abdominal muscles may also get a workout as a result of increased respiratory rate and volume.
Importance of the Torso
When you pedal on a bicycle, the force you generate on the pedals is transferred into your torso, Cycling Performance Tips notes. If the muscles of the torso, which include the abdominal and back muscles, are weak, then some of the force generated by pushing on the pedals is absorbed by the torso as it struggles to compensate for the strain. Because the back muscles alone are not sufficient to stabilize the torso, strong abdominal muscles are needed to support the body and allow the maximum amount of force from the legs to be transferred into the pedals.
Abdominal Muscles Used in Cycling
There are four main groups of abdominal muscles: The external and internal oblique muscles allow the torso to twist. The rectus abdominus allows the torso to flex and is the muscle that can form a "six-pack" in individuals. These three muscle groups are not particularly worked during bicycling. Instead, it is the deepest muscle layer, the transversus abdominus, which, along with a back muscle called the multifidus, works to stabilize the torso during bicycling. As a result, these two muscles are the main torso muscles that receive a workout during bicycling.
Strengthening Your Core
Many different exercises will strengthen your core and improve your bicycling power. Coach John Hughes promotes a set of different exercises designed to strengthen the core muscles. Some of the most common are pelvic tilts and a variety of different leg raises that incorporate lying on the floor and lifting either one or both legs, with the legs either bent or straight. Other good exercises include planks, bridging and back extension exercises. With these exercises, it is essential to keep your abdomen tight and contracted in order to get the maximum benefit.
Muscles Exercised by Deep and Rapid Breathing
In addition to forcing you to stabilize your torso, bicycling may work your abdominal muscles via another route: forcing you to breathe quickly and deeply. An article published in a 2002 issue of the "Journal of Physiology" found that during moderate and intense exercise on a bicycle, the abdominal muscles contract during exhalation. This study found that during exhalation, the external oblique and rectus abdominus muscles contracted to up to 40 percent of their maximum strength. Although these muscles were not fully contracted, it does suggest that bicycling may have some benefit for other abdominal muscles as well.
Adam Cloe has been published in various scientific journals, including the "Journal of Biochemistry." He is currently a pathology resident at the University of Chicago. Cloe holds a Bachelor of Arts in biochemistry from Boston University, a M.D. from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in pathology from the University of Chicago.