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What's the best home gym kit for cyclists?

Michael Donlevy
14 Jan 2021

The best training for cycling is cycling, but a few select items of home gym kit can help you to add speed and prevent injury

Being a better cyclist isn’t just about what you do on the bike. Of course, we all love to ride – that’s the point, isn’t it? – but you can improve your form and fitness by supplementing your time on the road with a dedicated fitness programme.

And you don’t even have to set foot outside your home to do it. You’ll hear a lot of coaches talk about how you should work on your fitness during the winter, when the short days and typically dismal weather make heading out on the bike a lot less appealing. But the fact is that strength training doesn’t have to be – and in fact shouldn’t be – seasonal.

‘It won’t make you faster on the bike, but regular home workouts provide a host of benefits,’ says Tom Newman of Capital Cycle Coaching.

‘As we get older, muscle mass declines so regular “gym” work improves strength and helps weight control. It also improves bone density, and by being more robust you’re more likely to stay healthy and less likely to injure yourself.’

Strong and stable

So where to start? If you’re going to invest in just one piece of kit, the coaches Cyclist spoke to broadly agreed on its identity: a kettlebell.

‘A kettlebell weighing 10-16kg is ideal to start off with,’ says Newman. ‘Start with about eight reps and build to 15-20. Once you’re comfortable with that, increase the weight and reduce the reps.’

'Kettlebells are a very simple way to have a gym at home, and they allow you to do all the key things for cycling strength-wise,’ agrees British Cycling coach Will Newton.

‘Cyclists have shockingly bad posture and very bad posterior chain activation. We tend to be quad-dominant, hunched over the bars.

Kettlebell swings activate the chain and get you upright, strengthening all the things that tend to be weak. And you can’t do a proper swing with a dumbbell, because if you’re a man it will hit you where it shouldn’t.’

Where he disagrees with Newman is on weight. ‘Ideally you want three: for men under 55 I’d recommend 16kg, 20kg and 24kg, and for women I’d go for 12kg, 16kg and 20kg. If they’re too light you won’t get the technique right and will be able to cheat it. You won’t be using the glutes enough.

‘The other key move is the Turkish get-up – Google it for details. When done properly, this uses all the basic human movements,’ he adds.

‘It forces you to activate your core and involves pushing, pulling and hinging movements.’

Kettlebells aren’t the only option, though, and there’s still a place in your home gym for dumbbells. ‘They’re a cheap, versatile and portable way of adding resistance to core strength exercises that you can perform at home,’ says coach and personal trainer Paul Butler of PB Cycle Coaching.

‘Core strength exercises such as squats, split squats and one-legged deadlifts are not only designed to make you stronger but also to help you keep your pelvis stable while you ride – Bradley Wiggins used this type of training to great effect in the build-up to winning the 2012 Tour de France,’ Butler adds.

‘If your pelvis rocks around on the bike you’ll lose a lot of the power you’re producing. If you’re strong enough to keep completely still you can generate significantly more force on the pedals. And by having well balanced, strong, flexible muscles and a strong core you’ll be able to get lower at the front end of the bike.’

The key is to keep your exercises functional – ones where the core muscles are used to stabilise the body while the arms and legs are moving. ‘That’s exactly what we need to perform efficiently and effectively,’ says Butler. Another sound investment is a Swiss ball, to use both with and without the dumbbells. ‘When you train in an unstable environment you recruit a lot more muscle because your body has to work harder to stabilise itself,’ Butler adds.

‘A Swiss ball is versatile because you can rest your hands or feet on it doing exercises such as press-ups and roll-outs, or sit on it while using dumbbells. You can even use it instead of a chair to give your muscles an extra boost.’

Balls to it

Why do cyclist shave their legs?

Home kit isn’t just about strength. ‘A lacrosse ball, foam roller and stretchband are all good for mobility work,’ says Newton.

‘The lacrosse ball is all about soft tissue work – finding points that are problematic, probably the glutes, quads and lower back. Once you’ve identified the issues, work on one every day for 10-15 minutes when you’re sitting in front of the telly. For example, sit on the lacrosse ball and really feel it working into your glutes. This will get the muscle to relax.’

Newton says the foam roller helps to extend the thoracic spine – ‘basically every vertebra with a rib attached. Even non-cyclists have poor posture.

‘We move the lumbar spine – the lower back – and the thoracic spine stays where it is, which is completely the wrong way round. The lumbar spine is borrowing mobility, and it’s even worse for cyclists because sitting on the bike doesn’t require the thoracic spine to move.

‘Bands can be used when there’s tension in a joint to create space in that joint,’ he adds. ‘If you have tight hips, a pulling force along the leg relaxes the muscles.

‘Bear in mind, though, that pressure on a muscle shouldn’t hurt you. If it tingles or burns you should stop and get the problem investigated.’

Low cost to no cost

Some would argue that you don’t need any kit to work out at home for cycling, on the basis that you want to ride a bike, not enter Mr Universe.

‘The evidence in terms of different exercises improving aerobic cycling performance is equivocal at best,’ says Ric Stern of RST Sport.

‘If I recommend other training strategies it’s usually some sort of bodyweight exercise, which could be hiking, running or swimming, or in terms of strength and conditioning yoga, pilates or bodyweight circuits. Other than, say, a yoga mat and trainers, I’m not sure you need much more.’

Newton disagrees – although happily some of his other suggestions don’t require you to shell out any money whatsoever.

‘I’d recommend a broomstick. It may sound odd but it’s great for alignment work, so if you’re doing lunges it can help to attain and maintain a neutral spine by holding it against your back, with contact points from the back of the head down. It also teaches you to do a good overhead squat: stand facing a wall, with your toes about two inches away and the broomstick over your head.

‘If you can squat without your hands, head or knees touching the wall you have good mobility. This can then be applied to any lifting, because it’s teaching you the movement with no load on it. Learn the pattern, then add the weight. You can also use a wastepipe, like the ones you have sticking out of your house,’ he adds. ‘They’re hard and hollow and can be good if you find a foam roller too soft, which can be a particular issue for heavier riders.

‘If you want to get those segments of muscle to move, the heavier the implement the better, especially if you find you’re flattening the roller.’

Home gym essentials every cyclist needs

Gym ball

Buy a 65cm gym ball from Wiggle for £13.49 here

This is a superb piece of equipment – cheap, easy and safe to use, as well as being great for doing a whole variety of core-strengthening exercises. Ideally, you want one that’s big enough so that when you sit on it, your legs are bent at 45°.

This one, which comes with its own pump, is 65cm – which is about right as long as you’re not a giant or a tiddler. Its only drawback is that it’s a bit bulky, so why not roll it under a desk and use it to sit on when you’ve got some emails to send.

As you can’t slump on it, it’ll help with posture and because the ball provides an unstable surface your core (your thighs, abs, glutes etc) will be put to constant work to maintain your balance. So you’ll be getting a core workout and helping your back out just by sitting down!

Push-ups

Assume the plank position on the floor and pop your legs up on the ball. Your hands should be shoulders-width apart. Slowly lower your body making sure you look straight ahead. Your chin should be the first part of your head to touch the floor. When it does, push back up to the starting position. Clench your glutes and abs throughout.

Roll outs

Simply kneel on the floor with the gym ball directly in front of you. Place your hands on the ball, and slowly roll it forwards as far as you can until you’re at full stretch. Hold the position for a count of five while pulling your abs towards your spine, then roll it back. You’ll feel a good stretch through your back and give vital core muscles a gentle workout.

Sit-ups

Sit on the ball with your thighs parallel to the ground. With your hands across your chest, slowly lower your head backwards until it is level with your thighs before returning, slowly, to the starting position. Breathe in as you descend and out as you ascend. Ideal for strengthening your entire core, from your thighs to your lower back.

Buy a 65cm gym ball from Wiggle for £13.49 here

Resistance bands

Buy now from Wiggle for £31.99

A simple bit of kit and one that can be stored in a drawer when not in use. Essentially a big rubber band, these are great for improving strength and flexibility. For the former, try looping the band around your ankles, and taking big side steps to the left and to the right to give your glutes a good seeing to.

For the latter, try lying on your back with the band looped around one foot then, keeping your leg straight, raise it towards the ceiling pulling it (gently) towards you with your hands. When you feel your hamstring stretch, stop and hold for 30 seconds.

Buy now from Wiggle for £31.99

Kettlebell

Buy now from JTX starting from £29

Don’t worry, we’re not suggesting you work on getting an Arnie-style upper body, rather that you can use kettlebells to work your core and get your blood pumping.

What makes these a smart alternative to dumbbells is that because of the shape of the weight, the centre of its gravity shifts with movement, so your balance – and therefore your core – is tested more. To work your glutes, hamstrings and core, stand with your feet hips-width apart holding the kettlebell above you.

Then, in one continuous movement bend your knees and swing it back between your legs, then immediately swing it back up again to the starting position.

Kettlebell swings


With feet shoulders-width apart, bend the knees to lower your body. Grab the kettlebell with both hands, lift and swing forwards and up, keeping arms straight as you straighten the legs. Try to slow the kettlebell’s fall as you return to the start position. Repeat. 

Buy now from Decathlon starting from £7.99 

Skipping rope

Buy now from RDX for £19.99

Skipping – the girly playground exercise so beloved of tough-guy boxers – is actually a superb workout for cyclists, too.

Why? Because jumping is a form of plyometric exercise that’s designed to work your muscles explosively in short, sharp intervals to increase power, specifically in your legs making it great for sprinting, but because your working with your bodyweight your bones benefit, too.

As an added bonus it’s also excellent if you want a quick, hardcore cardio workout that’ll burn calories fast. Try skipping flat out first thing in the morning for one to three minutes to get your metabolism motoring.

Buy now from RDX for £19.99

Medicine ball

Buy now from Wiggle for £34.99

Durable, unobtrusive and useful for a multitude of strength and core exercises this bit of kit is a worthwhile investment. One simple highly effective exercise to try with it is the Russian twist.

Simply sit upright on the floor, with your legs extended and your knees slightly bent. Place the ball to your left-hand side, now grab it pick it up and slowly rotate your body to the right side and tap the ball on the ground for your first rep.

Return it to the left-hand side for your second rep and repeat 20 times. Try raising your feet off the ground for added core-strengthening fun!

Buy now from Wiggle for £34.99

Foam roller

Buy now from Wiggle for £25.49

Regular massages are great, but regular massages are also costly. Which is where the humble foam roller comes in. They’re not expensive but as you’ll often be rolling your entire body over it, it’s worth spending a bit more as the cheaper ones tend to buckle after a while.

The 3-in-1 jobbie we’ve picked here also comes with a smaller, ridged roller and handy massage bat. When used together, the bat and the rollers mimic a therapy technique known as myofascial release, which is highly effective in maintaining flexible and healthy soft tissues.

In other words, you can now roll away your backache and hamstring gripes at your leisure. Buy one – you won’t regret it.

Buy now from Wiggle for £25.49

Yoga Mat 

Buy now from SweatyBetty for £68

Because of the position you adopt on a bike, back pain and hamstring strain are both ailments you’re likely to experience at some point in your cycling life. A little yoga, however, can do wonders.

Whether you choose to attend a class or to practise it at home with the help of an appropriate YouTube video you’ll need a mat. Why? Because they create a stable environment for you to work in meaning your body can concentrate on developing flexibility.

This one is needlessly expensive but does look rather cool.

Buy now from SweatyBetty for £68

Suspension trainer

Buy now from Decathlon for £14.99

Hang these two adjustable cables with handles from anything stable (a tree in your garden say, or a beam in your house) and you’ve got yourself an instant gym that laser targets core strength.

The number of exercises you can do with this are countless, ranging from suspended push-ups to assisted squats. Because it creates a completely unstable environment to exercise in, your core gets an unbelievably intense workout.

Originally popularised by the brand TRX, this version from Decathlon might not quite be military-grade, but it is light enough to be packed away and taken on holiday. A gym in a bag, if you will. 

Buy now from Decathlon for £14.99

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