Strength training to help improve your speed and prevent injuries.
With the 94.7 cycling race just around the corner, we thought we would focus this month’s article on giving some advice on strength exercises to improve your cycling performance. Ideally, one should have been including strength training for at least the last 6 weeks. However, each person will respond differently to a strength training program, and one may start to notice the benefits of a regular strengthening program as soon as 2 weeks after starting a consistent training program.
Strength Exercises for Cyclists
You may be asking why strength is important? Of course, we all know that aerobic fitness is crucial, but having a strong base can help to improve your speed, assist in preventing injuries, as well as help reduce postural deficits and muscle imbalance that may occur due to the long hours spent doing the same repetitive activity. The best strength exercises are those that most closely simulate the cycle action. Considering that cycling is more of an endurance event, we would recommend working with a slightly lower weight and higher repetitions to aid with muscle endurance. For example 3 sets of 15-20 reps.
For the social cyclist, finding enough time to train is always a challenge. We often feel that if we have limited time to cycle, whether spinning or getting out onto the roads. However, even just doing 15-20 minutes of strength exercises 3 times a week will be of benefit. With limited time available, the following 5 exercises will target the majority of muscles required for cycling and hopefully improve your overall cycling performance without taking up too much of your training time:
Having a strong core is vital. Although the lower body is the machine that keeps the bike moving, it is the core which keeps the body stable and provides a strong base for the hips, thighs and knees to work from. It will also greatly help to reduce any discomfort or risk of injury to the lower back. Back pain is one of the more common ailments afflicting cyclists and having a weak core will only make matters worse. A strong core will also aid in cycling efficiency as there will be less side-to-side or rocking movement on the bike. This swaying or rocking on the bike results in the cyclist losing power to the legs, which often results in in recruiting other muscles to compensate for the weak core and increases the risk of injury.
How to : Lie face down on the floor. Push your body up onto your toes and forearms with your elbows under your shoulders and your back and legs in a straight line. Keep your abdominal muscles tight to ensure your back doesn’t sag. Hold this position for 60 seconds, rest for 30 seconds then repeat. Do 3-5 reps.
Lunge exercises are great for cyclists as they work 1 leg at a time, same as pedaling. This movement targets the quadriceps, glutes, hips and hamstrings which are the main muscles used in pedaling. Watching your form is important to prevent developing any injuries. The most common mistakes made performing the lunge is letting the knee go over the toes of your front leg, flexing your body forwards over your hips and tilting your pelvis sideways. Try do your lunges in front of a mirror when you start so you can watch your form.
How to: Stand with right foot forward, left foot back approximately 3 feet apart. Bend both knees to lower the body towards the floor. Keep the front knee behind the toes and be sure to lower straight down rather than forward. Keep the torso straight and your abdominal wall tight as you push through the front heel and back to starting position.
Single leg dead lift
The single leg dead lift is great for strengthening the hamstrings and hips. By doing them single leg, you are forced to work the legs evenly which means you strengthen independently as opposed to the stronger leg dominating during the exercise and letting the weaker leg off the hook!
How to: Hold a kettle bell in one hand, hanging to the side (you can also use a dumbbell). Stand on one leg, on the same side that you are holding the kettle bell/dumbbell. Keeping that knee slightly bent, perform a stiff-legged dead lift by bending at the hip, extending your free leg behind you for balance. Continue lowering the kettle bell/dumbbell until you are parallel to the ground, and then return to the upright position.
The burpee involves using all the major joints and muscles. Including burpees in your strength exercises program is great to develop explosive strength, which is great to give you that extra kick on the hills or when it comes down to a sprint finish between you and your mates.
How to: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, weight in your heels, and your arms at your sides. Push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower your body into a squat. Place your hands on the floor directly in front of, and just inside, your feet. Shift your weight onto your hands, then jump your feet back to softly land on the balls of your feet in a plank position. Your body should form a straight line from your head to heels. Be careful not to let your back sag or you butt stick up in the air, as both can keep you from effectively working your core. Jump your feet back so that they land just outside of your hands. Reach your arms over head and explosively jump up into the air. Land and immediately lower back into a squat for your next rep.
Bridging exercises are great to strengthen your glutes and core muscles. Having strong glutes and a strong core will greatly reduce the risk of lower back injuries. When doing a full bridge, it also slightly stretches the hip flexors, which are often quite tight in cyclists and can contribute to the development of low back pain.
How to: Activate your core by pulling your belly button in towards your spine. Holding the contraction, tilt your pelvis towards you, flattening your back into the floor. As you tilt your pelvis lift your bum and roll your spine up off the floor until your body forms a straight line to the ground from your knees. You want your legs, hips, buttocks, and back to come off the ground and raise toward the ceiling. Hold this position for 10 seconds, then slowly lower back to the ground, thinking of rolling down from the top of your spine and your buttocks come down last.
At Fish and Field we believe that “Prevention is better than the Cure”. However, should you become injured during a cycling race or other competitive sport, remember that we are here to help you rehabilitate your injury so that you can get back in the game!
Author: Nicole Fish