Whether you are a serious criterion rider, enjoy a sprint or two around the velodrome, or just enjoy some nice group rides on the weekends, there are plenty of things you should be doing to maximise your experience on the bike, improve performance, prevent injuries from overuse and poor posture, and make the most of every minute you spend on 2 wheels.
Cycling is an incredible lower body exercise, for both strengthening and endurance, however there are always ways to get more out of the bike by what you do off the bike. And this is where the gym environemnt, or even just around your home, will become your best friend. Creating good power and strength will increase your endurance capacity, minimise fatigue, and give you that gas you so desire when the sprinter takes off the lead of the pack. A tailored training program from a qualified coach will ensure all your physical capacity is maximised. This article will stick to the basic lifts, as plyometrics and Olympic lifting would also be included in this top ten but take more time to learn and develop appropriate strength base to perform safely, you can learn more about these in house from our expert Performance Coaches.
And while the bike is so very good for your health and fitness, it is a very linear sport, one directional, and you remain in a very flexed position. All of this can lead to imbalances, postural issues, pain and injury risk, so a well-structured flexibility program from and experienced coach will ensure you can keep hitting the road or trail for as long as you have bike, which we will touch briefly on here.
When it comes to developing lower body strength, Squats are without a doubt your best option. They of course require correct technique and appropriate mobility to achieve great effect and to do heavy loaded squats safely, but a great coach will help you with that, and even body weight squats at home will help develop greater strength if you find the gym environment a little intimidating. With triple joint extension, every major muscle in your lower body is activated, the lower you go the better the activation, all leading to greater pedal stroke power out on the bike. Not only will it help develop great lower body strength, but the trunk stability it develops through bracing will help create a strong core and prevent the build-up of back pain from the bent over cycling posture, and save the load on your shoulders as you won’t need to lean so hard on the handles to support your torso.
Whether you do it with a heavy loaded barbell or a light kettlebell as you work on technique, the deadlift will add extra power to the engine room, your Glutes! The hip dominant movement also very closely mimics your cycling posture at the bottom range, so you will be helping to develop that hip extension power in the specific ranges you need to really explode up that hill.
Again like the squat it has the added benefit of really developing trunk stability for a more stable and smooth ride, back pain free, but does require safe technique and appropriate flexibility to maximise its effect and stay injury free.
Triple extension is your friend for cycling, and another great way to challenge and improve that key motion in cycling is through lunges. Dumbbells’, barbells, kettlebells or bodyweight, forward backward, deficit, static or any other variation will all have great effect for you on the bike and can be performed anywhere, just chuck a heavy back pack on at home and feel the work they can create. Lunges have the added benefit of being unilateral so help, partly, to ensure you have symmetry left to right and vice versa. With those glutes, quads and hamstrings driving you back up from deep, the lower body development they provide will help get you up those Alps or along that great ocean road.
- Glute Bridge
With lots of sitting at the desk, and then sitting again on the bike can cause your glutes to switch off. Dr Stuart McGill termed this phenomenon “Gluteal Amnesia” (1). Because of this sleepy time for your glutes, your neural pathways connecting your brain and your bum are less heightened, and the body can basically forget how to switch them on when they are needed in day to day life and activity. This dramatically reduces performance and increases injury risk, and not to forget the aesthetic side of things of having a nice round perky behind when you’re off the bike.
The glutes are vital in injury prevention, they transfer ground reaction forces through the body, saving force going through less capable areas, protect the lower back, prevent knee injuries like ACL tears and have capacity to reduce many forms of joint pain. By simple regular activation of your glutes, squeezing them hard a few times, it will help avoid this ‘amnesia’ and make sure that bum is firing when, supporting your body, absorbing force, and improving performance. You can simply add weight to your hips to increase the work as you get stronger with a barbell or dumbbell to really get powerful cycling glutes.
- SL Banded Squats
As I mentioned earlier, cycling is a very linear sport, and this can increase injury risk from such a repetitive pattern that unfortunately doesn’t develop lateral stability. This is where this guy comes in, with a small band around your legs, this single leg banded squat will challenge your balance, target your glute medius, vital for pelvic control, and help reduce the risk of imbalances and injuries occurring when you are not on the bike.
By having improved pelvic stability it will improve the power transfer from the big strong Glute Max all the way through to the pedal stroke, without any energy leak from pelvic shift on the bike seat.
- Glute Ham Raises
This one obviously requires the right equipment, but if you have access to this it is invaluable. The Glute Ham raise is incredible for developing posterior chain strength to give you some serious kick as you sprint down the highway. Focussing on hip extension, giving those hamstring incredible work through full stretch, firing the glutes hard from the reverse force of the deadlift, and providing excellent lumbar spine strength, and isometric hold at the top. This is great way to develop force, injury prevention and a strong back to handle long hours bent over the handlebars.
- Band Face Pulls
It is important not to forget the importance of the upper-body in cycling, holding an efficient and streamline posture on the handles. Along with that tight chest and collapsed posture that often occurs while you spend time on the bike combined with the desk, comes weakened scapula retraction strength. This key muscle group help to keep your shoulder blades pulled back into a natural position, allowing for improved scapula movement and therefore spinal and shoulder health and improved posture.
Your collapsed posture leaves these guys sitting in a weakened and lengthened position, unable to fight the tightness of big internal rotators like your chest and lat muscle groups. By doing this simple exercise with cables or bands, you will improve your postural strength and position on the bike, and reduce your risk of injury and pain.
- RKC Plank
The RKC plank is a great way to step up the standard plank hold, and build some excellent core and pelvis control. Reducing the risk of lower back pain on the bike, and creating great training stimulus to strengthen your entire system.
Starting in a standard plank position, shift your arms a few inches further forward so you are in a more extended and therefore loaded position, tuck your pelvis, squeeze your glutes, quads, abs, upper-body, and everything else as hard as you can for 20-30 sec, if you’re lucky! Holding trunk position on the bike after this will feel like a breeze.
- Hip Flexor Stretching
When you spend time on the bike, along with the desk, your hip flexors spend a long time in the shortened position and can really tighten up. By simply performing a combination of dynamic and static stretching for your hip flexors on a regular basis, you can counteract all the shortening that occurs with the high amounts of sitting on the bike or desk, and prevent this build-up. Not only will it help improve full body posture and reduce pain, it will improve performance by increasing hip extension strength and power through improved glute activation and hip extension range, which helps with pretty much every sport under the sun not just cycling.
- Hamstring stretch
Just like your hip flexors, your hamstrings also hate all that sitting, it leaves them tight, weak, and effects your day to day mobility, even in very simple tasks like tying your shoes or picking something up off the floor. The pull they have on the pelvis means that tight hamstrings are a big contributor to lower back pain, increasing the work your back does in lifting tasks while decreasing your ability to use your hips correctly. So for cyclists, these effects mean much greater risks of injury and reduced performance.
There are many ways to attack this one, seated, kneeling, standing with a foot on a bench on chair, so just pick something that is suitable for your situation, access and comfort, keep good spinal posture and slowly reach towards the toe of the 1 straight leg until you feel a good stretch and hold or 30-60sec, small dynamic movements as seen in the video can help increase the effectiveness.
As mentioned early, there are greater benefits to be achieved as you progress to more complex and explosive movements such as Olympic lifting and plyometrics, but these take time to develop skill level and a high strength base to do safely. The above 10 movements are not the only things you should work on, as there is far greater benefit to be achieved with other mobility work, but this is a starting guideline that will set you up for a fantastic season on the bike when planned and structured well in to your training program by an experienced Performance Coach. To find out more and get your bespoke training program come in and see us at 199 William street, where are thorough screening and planning will create a program unique to your needs, goals and lifestyle. You will be fitter, stronger, and more competitive out on the road or trail, all while massively reducing your risk of injury. Happy lifting and even happier riding.
Written by Absolute’s Performance Coach David Smith
- McGill, SM. The painful lumbar spine. www.IdeaFit.com. Accessed 11/14/13. http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/the-painful-lumbar-spine