Core Strengthening Essentials for the Virtual Cyclist: Front Plank Progression

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Joy Murphy

The plank is considered the best core movement and this exercise progression will help you get the most out of it.

A 2013 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research attempted to answer the question, “Which core exercise is the absolute best to increase strength as effectively and efficiently as possible?”

The study, conducted by researchers at Penn State University, tested a sample of 20 men and women as they performed a series of 16 different core exercises.  By monitoring the data collected from electrodes placed upon the subject’s core muscles, they were able to learn which of the exercises activated the most muscle and therefore “maximized functional gains and peak performance.”


The winner is…The Plank!  

The researchers found that the plank was the most effective at eliciting a contraction of the core musculature and working the core the hardest.  The authors cited the hovering element of the plank as crucial.  Most notably, they concluded, 

“Abdominal and lumbar muscle activity was greatest when balance was challenged, by adding complex movements to these traditional core exercises.”

Not all cyclists prioritize this often neglected area, and as is true of all strength and conditioning programs, we have to start somewhere. Below you will find a Core Strengthening Plank Program carefully created for the virtual cyclist to progress from beginner to advanced. Follow this plan to get the most from your core training and avoid injury while doing so.

Critical Tips for Proper Plank Form

  • Balance firmly on your elbows/forearms and balls of feet or knees.


  • Position your elbows directly beneath your shoulders.


  • Place feet at about hip to shoulder-width apart.


  • Relax your head and neck.


  • Stabilize your shoulders on your torso by tucking in your shoulder blades.


  • Squeeze your thighs and glutes while locking your knees and tucking in your tailbone.


  • Drive your heels backward.


  • Brace your core, draw your belly in towards your spine, and breathe comfortably throughout your plank hold.


Common Plank Mistakes to Avoid

  • Don’t let your hips or lower back sag.


  • Don’t lift your butt too high in the air.


  • Don’t tilt your pelvis forward or perform what is called an anterior pelvic tilt.


  • Avoid the urge to round your upper back.


  • Don’t strain your neck by letting it droop or hang too low.


  • Don’t let your shoulder blades wing out by keeping your shoulders stabilized on your ribs.


  • Absolutely do not hold your breath.


  • Avoid the tendency to sacrifice your technique for a longer time in the plank position.


The Virtual Cycling Core Strengthening Plank Progression


While lying face down, lift your body on your elbows and knees while trying to maintain a straight spine.

Modified Front Plank



While lying face down, lift your body on your elbows and toes while trying to maintain a straight spine. Do not allow your hips or pelvis on either side to drop and maintain a neutral pelvic position the entire time.

Traditional Front Plank


While lying face down, lift your body on your elbows and toes. 

Next, lean on to one elbow and then raise your other arm out in front of you as shown. 

Return to starting position and then raise your other arm out in front of you and repeat. 

Plank with alternate legs



Plank with alternate arms



While lying face down, lift your body on your elbows and toes. 

Next, lift one leg off the ground and then set it back down. Then repeat on the other leg.

Plank with alternate arms and legs



While lying face down, lift your body on your elbows and toes. 

Next, lift up one arm and the opposite leg. 

Return to the original position and then perform with the other arm and leg. 

For more of the science behind Core Strength Training check out this recent post by The Zom!

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