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Strength training for cyclists

Plank side on
Cyclist magazine
11 Jun 2020

Racking up the miles is okay, but never underestimate the power of weight training. Here are ten moves that can all be done at home

While it may not look like it, strength training is an important part of any professional cyclist's arsenal, even those straw-thin mountain goats such as Chris Froome and Romain Bardet. It's not necessarily a case of lifting weights and performing strength exercises to look like Lou Ferringo or Arnold Schwarzenegger but rather developing key muscles that make you a better cyclist.

‘Cycling by nature is repetitive, requiring being in a fixed, and often quite flexed position, for long periods of time,’ says physiotherapist and bike-fitter John Dennis (physiohaus.co.uk).

‘Mobility, strength and stability are therefore crucial to not having to compromise on position and to generate maximum power.

Trunk control and strength through the abdominals and obliques are therefore essential to holding a good posture on the bike, which in turn helps with efficiency – if you’re not stable in your core it doesn’t matter how strong your legs are, you’re going to be rocking around and wasting energy.

‘Strength conditioning programmes are also important. You lose strength quickly when you haven’t ridden for a while – something that tends to happen a lot over the winter – but strength conditioning helps minimise the loss of riding miles.

'Alongside that, stretching is important for mobility and flexibility, helping recovery and regeneration, a kind of general maintenance really.

‘Having a programme that incorporates these things alongside your normal riding timetable will therefore be beneficial for both performance and injury prevention. For example, look to incorporate two or three strength and conditioning sessions into your week, on the days when you’re not riding.

'Then look to do 10 minutes of stretching either side of a ride or session, though I don’t advise you do hard stretching after exercise, as you don’t want to inflict more damage on the muscles you’ve just been working. A programme of 12 weeks is optimum, but you’ll see improvements in four to six weeks, or with some exercises even sooner. Some things like muscle lengthening can take longer, but as with everything perseverance will pay off.’

So what are you waiting for? Over the next three pages are ten key moves (split into bodyweight exercises, weighted exercises and stretches) to integrate into your training regime to ensure you’re fighting fit for spring.

And just to make it even simpler, we’ve drafted in Fitness First personal trainer Anthony Murray to talk you through them.

If you are after a more tailored guide to increase leg strength for cycling, see here.

Bodyweight exercises

Traditional plank

Plank

How to: Lie your stomach on the floor with your palms facing down either side of your shoulders. Your feet should be together with your toes facing down. Engage your core and lift up your body so that your arms are straight, resting your body weight into your forearms.

Your elbows should be below your shoulders and your back should be straight – to make sure you’re body forms a straight line from your head to feet then line up against a mirror. Aim to hold the plank for as long as you can (at least one minute).

How many: 4 sets x of 1 minute planks. You’ll find that as the weeks go by and the planks become easier, you can do less sets and plank for longer.

Spiderman plank

Spiderman plank

How to: Start this move in the traditional plank position and draw your left knee up towards your left shoulder then return to the plank position. Repeat the move by drawing your right knee up to your right shoulder.

'The key to performing this move successfully is to maintain a strong plank position with your hands under your shoulders, whilst keeping your abs engaged.

How many: 5 sets x 30 seconds each side.

Hanging L-sit 

Hanging L sit

How to: Stand underneath a pull-up bar and reach upwards to form a tight shoulder-width grip with your palms facing away. Contract your abdominals and raise your legs from the floor to form a 90 degree angle.

Slowly move your legs down and repeat. When you’re doing the move, remember to keep your legs straight and together. If you’re having trouble reaching the bar just use a box to lift up.

How many: 4 sets x 8 to 12 reps.

Hanging knee tuck

Hanging knee tuck

How to: Start in the same position as the Hanging L-sit – with your hands gripping the pull-up bar shoulder-width apart and palms facing outwards. Tuck both of your knees up and align to the same height as your hips.

Tuck your pelvis under to round your back and ensure your abs are engaged. Slowly lower your legs back down and keep your abs contracted so your legs don’t swing beneath you.

How many: 4sets of 15 reps.

Weighted exercises

Deadlift

Deadlift - 1
Deadlift - 4

How to: Step up to the barbell and ensure your feet are shoulder width apart, with the balls of your feet just under the bar and your toes pointing slightly out to the side for balance.

'Bend your knees, keep your back straight and grasp the bar, keeping your arms straight and slightly wider than shoulder width apart.

'To lift the bar stand up by raising your hips and shoulders at the same time and make sure your abs are always contracted. Lift up the bar vertically and pull your shoulders back as you stand.

'Allow the bar to hang in front of your hips and don’t try to lift it any higher. Keeping your back straight, return the bar to the starting position.

‘If it’s your first time performing a deadlift start with light weights – it’s always better to add weights later on and it’s better to perfect your form before you strain yourself.

How many: 5 sets x 5 reps medium to heavy weight.

Goblet squat with kettlebell

Goblet squat

How to: Get yourself into the starting position by holding a kettlebell close to your chest. With your legs shoulder width apart and feet pointing outwards, slowly squat down (three second count as you go down and 1 second count as you come up) between your legs until your hamstrings are touching your calves.

Grip the sides of the kettlebell handle tightly and ensure your back is straight. Continue to look forwards and pause for one to two seconds to hold the move. Engage your core and push up through your heels to return to the starting position.

How many: 4 sets x 20 reps. 

Romanian deadlift

Deadlift - 2

How to: Place your feet shoulder-width apart while holding the bar or kettlebell. Then bend your knees slightly, poking your backside out. Pivoting from the hips, look through your eyebrows to maintain a straight back.

Slowly lower the weight until you begin to feel a stretch in the back. Drive back through the heels, hips and hamstrings, slowly rise until upright.

How many: 3 sets x 10 reps

Dumbbell lunge

Dumbbell lunge

How to: Hold a dumbbell or plate weight in each hand, with your arms straight by your side. Keep your chest push up and out and engage your core muscles. Begin by striding forward with one leg to execute a lunge while keeping the other leg set in place (both front leg and back leg should be a 90 degree angle).

Be sure to really stride forward so that you get a great stretch. Bring that leg back to the start position and repeat with the opposite leg.

How many: 4 sets x 10 reps per leg.

Cycling-specific stretches

Hip flexor stretch (like a static lunge)

Hip flexor stretch

How to: Get yourself into a lunge position, right leg with knee up and left knee placed on the ground, remember to push your hips forward. Squeeze your core and glute muscles nice and tight. Place your left hand up in the air and tilt to the right, with your right hand aiming to reach for your heal of your left leg.

Hold the stretch for 60-90 seconds, remember to control your breathing then switch legs.

Cat stretch

Cat stretch

How to: Position yourself on the floor on your hands and knees. Squeeze your core muscles and slowly round your back from your lower back up to your shoulders while allowing your head to drop.

Hold this position for 20 seconds and then slowly relax, repeat this stretch three times.

Cobra stretch

Cobra stretch

How to: Lie face down on a yoga mat with your hands by your sides and the tops of your feet flat on the floor. Take a deep breath in and let it out, exhaling completely and relaxing your body into the floor.

Move your hands, palms down, to just under your shoulders, with your elbows close to your body. Engage your core muscles to draw your navel toward your spine, as you press your thighs and pelvis toward the floor.

Cobra stretch side on

Spread your fingers wide, inhale and press your palms into the floor, shoulders down and back as you straighten your arms. Lift your chest off the floor as your pubic bone, legs and feet press downward. Don't push past the point where you stay connected to the floor.

Tighten your butt and feel the stretch down the entire front of your body. Tilt your chin up and lift your chest toward the ceiling, as you breathe evenly and keep lifting. Avoid pushing your ribs too far forward, sharply increasing the arch in your back.

Hold the pose for at least 15 to 30 seconds, continuing to draw the navel to the spine, breathing slowly and evenly. Release back down to the mat gently, on an exhalation.

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