Week 1

This is the first of a series of corrective and balancing exercises designed by Jo McRae. These exercises mobilise, stretch and strengthen your core and back.

The program is best performed as a progressive series of exercises with a new one added each week, but you can also choose any one of the exercises to try on its own.

You will need a stability ball for the full program that can be practiced at home, ideally 2-4 times a week for 20-30 minutes. These exercises are tailored to maximise your time, help you avoid injury and enhance your cycling performance.

EXERCISE 1: The McKenzie Press Up
To mobilise the lower and upper back into extension (bending backward). To combat the flattening of the lower back common in cyclists that can lead to back pain, disc ‘bulges’ and sciatica.

If this causes or increases pain in the lower back, stop the exercise. Mild discomfort at the start is not unusual with stiffness in this area, but this should ease as you repeat the movement.

Lay flat on your stomach with your hands under your shoulders.


Take a deep breath in and as you breathe out push the floor away from you.

STOP at the point where your hips begin to lift off the floor.

Keep looking at the floor to avoid straining your neck.


Breathe in as you lower yourself back to the start position, breathe out as you push yourself up off the floor.

Repeat 10 to 20 times, moving in time with your breathing, and keeping your hips as relaxed as possible.


Week two: Stability ball side stretch

  • Jo McRae

    I too have been frustrated in the past with poor technique shown in photographs without the writer perhaps being on hand to check form, which is why on this feature I took the trouble to go to the studio to get the best images we could. With this series we felt it was important to use a ‘real cyclist’ doing exercises designed for cyclists, bearing in mind that the reader would be unsupervised and just going by the pictures and instructions.

    I appreciate your comment regarding this exercise and am aware that the ‘form’ is not perfect around the shoulder girdle. As you noticed from this picture this is the best technique that Dan could manage, a pattern that would be common across many cyclists who are relatively tight in the upper trapezius and weak in the lower trapezius muscles.

    I too am Pilates trained and if I were teaching this in a class or one to one I would cue for the pulling down of the shoulder blades as well as relaxing the lower back and keeping the hips on the floor. I am sure you too have found that sometimes it is important you allow someone to get one aspect of an exercise right before adding another layer, and this is the case in this instance.

    However, the main goal of the exercise in this feature is to mobilise the lower back into extension (as explained in the instructions), something more easily achieved by using the upper body. In this regard I feel the benefit for the lower back out weighs any ‘poor technique’ through the upper back, as the lumbar area is often the most problematic/symptomatic for cyclists. This is the reason for the 3 key stretches and mobilisations that I have chosen – because they correct for the flattening of the lower back that can cause disc problems, pain and most importantly for cyclists’ loss of power (The hamstring stretch is included because of the posterior pelvic tilting effect of shortened hamstrings attaching at the ischia)

    I have then followed with 3 ‘strengthening’ elements, including the ‘Swiss Ball Prone Cobra’ as I call it on week 4, which goes someway to strengthen the mid and lower trapezius, as well as the external rotator cuff and entire extensor chain of the back.

    If I were working one-to one with a client I may well include an upper trapezius stretch too, having mobilised the spine as a pre-stretch before strengthening the weaker lower trapezius with more isolated exercises such as ‘breastroke preparation’ (as I was taught it in my Pilates training). However, for this feature the aim was to get a BIG Bang effect in only a few exercises to have the most impact on the most problematic areas for most cyclists. I hope that this goes some way to explain this slight diversion from optimal in this one exercise.

    Jo McRae

  • S Affleck

    I teach pilates in a studio near Birmingham; my husband is a keen cyclist and reads Cycling Weekly. I am always interested to read the sections on fitness – and am more often than not appalled by the photographs which accompany the (usually good) instructions for the exercises.
    This exercise (known as the cobra in pilates) is a good way to reverse the spinal flexion often seen in cyclists, but poor use of shoulders (as seen in this photo, where the models shoulders are up near his ears) contributes to neck pain when the shoulder stabilisers are not used effectively.