Working on core strength is something that Emma Lovewell, NASM-certified personal trainer and Peloton instructor, says people often forget about. They're focussed on upper-body or lower-body strength (hello, booty gains!) and don't realise just how important your abs are for workouts. They make your form better in running, for example, and let boxers pack power into their punches. But what about cycling?
Emma, who's also a certified Pilates instructor, said that a strong core is absolutely important for indoor cycling because bracing your core aids with lower back pain that you may get from being "crunched over a bit" on the bike. Sure, cycling targets your legs, but your abs have to work hard here, too, if you're looking for the best possible form for both efficiency and injury prevention. You especially need a braced core when you're coming out of the saddle, which Emma told POPSUGAR she likes to do a great deal in her Peloton bike classes. Since engageing your core will help with form, this will in turn result in a more effective ride and can therefore burn more calories, as we've written about in the past.
"I always say, 'If you want to get better at cycling, then definitely strengthening your core is only going to help,'" Emma continued. "Because if you think about it, if you're relaxed in your core, it's not good for your back." Like running, indoor cycling alone won't get you a six-pack, but focusing on core during these workouts in conjunction with consistent ab exercises will make for a stronger midsection. Plus, building muscle off the bike will make it easier to keep your core engaged on the bike. It all comes full circle.
Pay attention for an important note. It's true: having a strong core and seeing your abs aren't necessarily synonymous. Even though your muscles are there, they may be covered by subcutaneous fat which is, along with your metabolism, largely genetic. At the end of the day, if you're looking to really see those abs, you're going to have to focus on what you put into your body outside of the gym to lose this fat. Consume a healthy diet of whole foods loaded with fibre and vitamins, lean protein, and a healthy caloric deficit.
Registered dietitian Shana Spence, MS, told POPSUGAR in a past interview that loading up on whole foods with an emphasis on lean protein and healthy fats is essential for losing fat. For healthy fats, she advised to choose things like "olive oil, avocados, seeds, and legumes that will help your body by feeling satiated." Dietitian Kristin Kirkpatrick of Cleveland Clinic Wellness told POPSUGAR previously that a diet low in carbs — but not too low — will also target belly fat because it levels out your insulin spikes and keeps your hormones and hunger at a more normal level.
So, yes, you need a low enough body fat percentage (about 14 to 24 percent body fat, though everyone's different) to actually see your abs, but eating a well-balanced diet and exercise can do the trick. In terms of workouts filled with moves that target your six-pack, you can try Emma's new four-week Crush Your Core program on Peloton's digital app or check out any of these 10 core-focussed routines. Plus, check out Emma's favourite plank sequence to burn your obliques. Cardio like running and cycling can help too, along with HIIT training and strength training for overall weight loss (since you can't — for the hundredth time — spot-reduce belly fat!). Cycle all you want, but also incorporate other best practices if abs are your goal.