Everyone knows core strength is important for performance. But what you may not realize is that the real power of a strong core is the movement it prevents—specifically, strong abs, obliques, back, and hip muscles prevent unwanted slumping, hunching, and twisting, all of which can rob power from your pedal stroke and set you up for aches, pains, and injury.
When tested how core stability impacted the pedaling mechanics of 15 competitive cyclists, they found that when the riders’ core muscles fatigued, their pedaling mechanics suffered, and their legs began flailing more side to side rather than tracking like pistons. That not only wastes watts, but also can wreak havoc on hips, ankles, and knees.
Poor core stability is also a leading cause of back pain on and off the bike. That’s why curls and crunches by themselves are fine for building nice mirror muscles, but not much else. They don’t build strength in the muscles that prevent unwanted motion, especially rotation. It’s also why medicine balls are such an awesome tool for strength training.
Performing core exercises with a medicine ball involves twisting, turning, and bending in a wide array of angles, targeting muscles that can be missed during traditional strength training and core work. Full-body medicine ball exercises such as squats and lunges require you to contract your core muscles for stability and balance. Put it all together, and you’ve got a routine that creates unbeatable, balanced core strength.
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How to Choose the Right Medicine Ball
Back in the day, there wasn’t much choice when it came to medicine balls. You got big, heavy, and leather. Today, you can still get big, heavy, leather medicine balls, but you can also get light leather medicine balls, rubber medicine balls that bounce, gel-filled medicine balls, small ones, big ones…you get the idea.
Since you’ll be hoisting the ball over your head, you want to be able to hold it firmly and maintain control throughout the movement. The ball should be heavy enough to provide resistance, but not so heavy that you can’t maintain proper, controlled form throughout the exercise. A good rule of thumb is to start with a 5- to 10-pound ball and progress as needed to heavier medicine balls in the 10- to 20-pound range, as you become stronger and more comfortable with certain exercises. If you have access to multiple options in a gym, grab one lighter ball for overhead moves and one heavier option for lower body exercises like deadlifts.
How to use this list: The exercises below are demonstrated by , NASM-certified trainer for Aaptiv and creator of The Butler Method on , so you can see perfect form. Perform each exercise according to the reps listed. Aim to perform the entire routine two to three days per week.
How to: Sit with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, holding the medicine ball in front of your chest. Lean back to a 45-degree angle, feet flexed with heels touching the floor. Keeping the ball at your chest, and your back straight, rotate your torso to the right. Return to center, then rotate to the left. Repeat for 8 to 12 reps per side.
Medicine Ball Crunch
How to: Lie faceup with your legs extended straight up toward ceiling and hold the ball with your arms extended over your chest. Contract your abs and curl your head and shoulders off the floor, as you reach the ball to your toes. Slowly lower back dow to reverse the move. Be sure to keep neck long, not strained. Repeat for 10 to 20 reps.
How to: Assume a high plank position, with hands on top of a medicine ball positioned underneath your chest, wrists directly under shoulders, and abs and glutes engaged so that your body forms a straight line from shoulders to heels. Bend your elbows, and keeping your arms tucked close to your sides, lower your body until your chest touches the ball. Push back up to the starting position. Repeat for 8 to 12 reps.
Superman With Medicine Ball
How to: Lie facedown with legs straight, holding a medicine ball in both hands, arms extended overhead. Simultaneously contract your glutes and upper back muscles to lift your arms and legs off the floor. Return to start. Repeat for 8 to 12 reps.
Kneeling Wood Chop
How to: Kneel on your left knee with your right leg out in front of you, foot flat on the floor, both legs bent 90 degrees. Hold a medicine ball overhead with torso turned to the right. Swing the ball diagonally across your body to the left, while rotating torso to the left until ball comes to left hip. Return to the starting position. Perform 8 to 12 reps. Then repeat on other side.
Squat With Halo
How to: Stand with your feet hip- to shoulder-width apart, holding a medicine ball at chest level. Send hips back to squat down so that thighs are about parallel to the floor. Bring the medicine ball up over to left shoulder, circle it around your head, then back over your right shoulder to your chest while maintaining a straight back. Press back up to stand. Repeat the move, circling the medicine ball in the opposite direction this time. Repeat, alternating the direction of the halo for 10 to 14 reps.
Lunge With Twist
How to: Stand with your feet hip- to shoulder-width apart. Hold a medicine ball in front of your chest. Step forward with your left foot and bend both legs 90 degrees into a lunge position. At the same time, rotate your torso to the left, bringing the ball over the knee to the left hip. Rotate back to center while pushing back up to the standing position. Repeat to the opposite side. Continue alternating for 8 to 12 reps per side.
How to: Stand with your feet close together, holding a medicine ball in front of hips. Shift weight to right leg so left leg is free. Hinge forward from the hips, and lift left leg straight behind you as you lower the ball toward the floor. Contract your right glute and hamstrings as you hinge back up to the starting position. Perform 8 to 12 reps, then repeat on other leg.