Cycling happens one leg at a time and it is predominantly aerobic and requires repeated force production. There are many strength and conditioning exercises out there that can cover these needs but there are a few, especially when combined, which will target the entire body in a cycling specific way. The beauty with the below exercises is they can use body weight or done with a light set of dumbbells, and therefore can be done anywhere, from your home, gym or office… so no excuses!
It all starts with the core…
Think of your core as the chain that holds your body together; essentially your body without arms and legs. This is important because having a strong core doesn’t just mean having a nice six pack. Core muscles also include your obliques, your pelvic muscles, your hip muscles, muscles around your lower and middle back and your chest, even your diaphragm – yes that’s right the muscle that helps you breathe – so it’s fairly crucial for cycling then! To put it simply, a stronger core will see you cycling faster times with reduced risk of injury, and it doesn’t need to mean hours spent in a gym.
Cycling also requires a strong core for handling your bike, climbing and overall endurance. Core strength maximises efficiency on the bike.
A good analogy is to think of a formula one racing car – teams work to make the chassis light but strong. This way we can better focus the energy of your muscles and limit unnecessary movement which can cause fatigue. Your core is your base; a railway sleeper running through your body translating all the power of your arms and legs into motion. Most of us tend towards having fairly sedentary jobs resulting in weakness in the lower abs, glutes and your deep core muscles sure as your transverse abdominus (TVA).
Perform the following circuit of exercise 3 x 2-3 sessions a week
The Finger Crusher
A crucial and under utilised exercise, this small core engager will reap big rewards.
* Breaking it down – Lie on a mat in a sit up position, find the natural arch in your back, place your hands under this arch, engage your lower abs and pelvic floor and pushing your spine down on to your hands, trying to crush your fingers. Aim to keep the pressure applied evenly to your fingers for at least 30 seconds.
* Muscles strengthened – The multifidus – the tiny but crucial muscles that stabilise the spine and the pelvic floor, which provides support to all your pelvic organs and the TVA.
* Stepping it up – Add small alternate leg lifts, while still keeping the pressure on your hands even.
Plank Routine: front plank – side plank – side plank
Planks are one of the simplest exercises out there and one of the most effective at increasing core strength. They can be done anywhere and can be used year round. Planks target your shoulders, abdomen, and lower back. Lifting one leg can add a degree of difficulty to each set and further target the lower back. Start with hold times of 30-60 seconds per round and progress to 60-90 second hold times.
Breaking it down – Start with a front plank – Lie on your front and raise your body up on your elbows with your forehead over your hands. Keep a straight line from the neck down through the legs to your ankles; engage all your core muscles by sucking your belly button up to the ceiling. Try to imagine lengthening your body out from the shoulders forwards and heels backwards, as well as lifting through the mid section.
Now move into a side plank – Make a right angle with your supporting arm, roll your body onto this arm, keeping your other arm above your head. Remember to keep your feet together and your stomach strong. Rise up, lifting your hips, Making sure you squeeze your glutes, pushing your pelvis through. Repeat on the other side by rolling through to your other elbow. Aim to build up to holding each pose for 45 seconds or more.
The glutes are your big cycling propulsion muscles. The bridge helps to engage this crucial engine whilst also developing hip and spine stability.
* Breaking it down – From a sit up position, keep your stomach strong, engage your glutes and push your hips up to keep a straight line from your shoulders, through your hips to your knees. Keep your hips high by squeezing your glute muscles. If you find your hamstrings working more than your glutes, tuck your feet a little further under towards your backside.
* Muscles strengthened – The bridge principally works your gluteal muscles that extend your hips but also develop your rectus abdominus and TVA.
* Stepping it up – Once in a strong bridge position try extending one leg out straight from the knee, without letting your hips drop.
* Breaking it down – place your hands a shoulder and a half’s width apart, get into the plank position, but with your knees touching the ground and feet off the floor, lower your chest to the floor and push back up. Be careful not to just push through your chest and arms, but also through your core. Push yourself until you feel you could only complete one more repetition without failing…
* Muscles strengthened – The press up is a fabulous full body exercises because in addition to working all the muscles used in a plank your also develop your pectoral and tricep muscles in your arms, which play a crucial role in balance and stability in holding your bike.
* Stepping it up – Go full body! Instead of placing your knees on the floor complete your press up whilst holding a full plank position but maintain the depth of your press up.
This dynamic full body exercise is all about the legs, it also helps develop core stability and control as well as hip alignment.
Lunges are very cycling specific since they are worked one leg at a time, targeting your quadriceps, hips and hamstrings- all the main muscle movers for cycling! It is best to start without weights in order to practice good form.
* Breaking it down – From a tall standing position, step forward into a lunge position, keeping your back heel lifted, with hands on hips, and squeezing the glute of your rear leg. Bend each knee to 90 degrees. Work to keep your upper body tall and shoulders back, your knee should NOT be over the front of your toes. From the lunge position squeeze the muscles of your front leg to get back to the standing position before stepping forward into another lunge with the opposite leg. Work to minimize any poor balance by focusing on a good alignment with toes, hips and chest all pointing forwards. Complete between 5 and 10 steps with each leg.
* Muscles strengthened – The walking lunge is incredibly effective because not only does it work both the key anterior and posterior muscles of the legs evenly (quads, glutes, hip flexors and hamstrings), it also requires excellent core stability through your TVA and erector.
- Stepping it up – Holding a weight such as a medicine ball directly out in front of your body, step into your lunge before turning your upper body from the hips over your front leg, bring your arms back to the centre before moving into your next lunge.
Single Leg Squat
Single leg squats also make this exercise very cycling specific as these are performed on one leg.
* Breaking it down – Stand on one leg, engage your glute on your standing leg, keep your hips facing forward and aligned with your knee and toe. Imagine sitting back onto a chair and bending your knee to lower your body towards the ground. You don’t want your knee to roll inwards, so go down as far as allows. Aim for 8-12 repetitions on each leg.
* Muscles strengthened – the powerful leg muscles – quadriceps, hamstrings and calf muscles. The real advantage though of the single leg squat is that it requires the balance provided by your gluteus maximus and abs as well as your erector spinae – a true full body exercise. By ensuring your knee does not ‘collapse inwards’ you will also be learning to control and engage your glute medius muscle.
- Stepping it up – Try your single leg squats on a balance board or BOSU ball to take away stability – but keep that focus on form!
Squats should also be a must in your strength and conditioning. Front squats work the hips, quadriceps and hamstrings and are great to use through your max strength and muscle endurance phases. Always start with light weight, building a base with higher reps (15-30) before moving onto a heavy weight.
The burpee is a great full body exercise. The movement involves all the major joints, and is intended to be performed with an explosive movement to improve on your power and strength.
Nick Anderson is the Official Coach for Brighton Marathon Weekend