Want to improve your riding with strength training? Many will tell you that you only need to do some 'posterior chain work and core work'. While this advice comes from a good place, it actually takes bit more than that for peak performance. Here’s how to quickly build strength that carries over to the bike, to help you ride, climb, and sprint better.
When it comes to health and strength training, it’s all about buzzwords. 'The Posterior Chain' and 'The Core' are no exceptions.
The posterior chain is often used to refer to the hamstrings, glutes and lats, but actually includes far more muscles including the bottoms of your feet, calves and muscles along the spine.
The core is a word that has become a stand-in for your stomach or six-pack. However, while Posterior Chain comes pretty close to describing what you’re working, “The Core” actually falls very short. If we look at the body, and how the different muscles work, we find a very big difference between the muscles of the torso that help to support the spine, and those that move the limbs.
The muscles of the torso (such as the obliques), transverse abdominus, longissimus (the muscle that runs along the sides of your spine) and quadratus lumborum (muscles at the lower back on either side), work to help you transfer stresses away from the spine, and to control motion. This is unlike the muscles of the limbs, which tend to work opposite each other; for example, when you stand up from a chair your quadriceps are shortening, and your hamstrings are lengthening.
For your torso, this is not the case.
Why Posterior chain and “Core” work are not enough
While working on your backside and midsection may seem to balance out all the pedalling we do, we actually need to change how we look at things.
Instead of thinking of 'the core' as your stomach, we need to look at it as everything between your neck, elbows, and knees. All of these muscles work together to produce movement, be it climbing a mountain on a bike, or rolling over in bed.
While working on the posterior chain does work the opposing muscles compared to those we use while cycling, position, focusing here still has you only strengthening in a straight forward-to-back motion. I don’t know about you, but when I ride my road bike I tend to move side-to-side, especially when climbing or sprinting.
Working in this side-to-side motion is incredibly important to keep your body healthy, balanced and pain free. This means that we need to think about working in ways that will challenge us to move side-to-side, and resist rotation, so we can keep our body - and especially our back - healthy, strong and ready to tackle whatever the ride throws at us.
Training for better resilience and power
While deadlifts (NOT from the floor!), kettlebell swings and rows are important, they don’t help you build balance of strength at the joints, or strengthen/fire-up muscles that tend to be neglected in the sport of cycling.
Adding the following exercises to your routine - either as part of a dynamic warm-up, or paired with your 'traditional' lifts of bench pressing, squats, deadlifts, rows and pulldowns, can help you build resilience, better movement, and power. Without further ado, here are seven great exercises to help you do just that...
Ahhhh, now THIS is a fantastic exercise! Allowing you to open up the lats while improving the ability of your upper back to extend is important to all cyclists. Add in the breathing, and you have an exercise that can help you really improve your time trial or long endurance rides.
But... beware! Trying to push harder in this exercise will only make it LESS effective, and even cause things to tighten up. Be smart, and keep it small and gentle. Less is more. Perform two sets of three breaths.
Adding an upper body row with this rotation of the upper arm is a really tough exercise for many cyclists, but one that helps us work to balance out all the hours we spend on the hoods. Again be kind and gentle, as this exercise goes right after one of our biggest weaknesses. Start with two sets of 5-7 repetitions
Spending all that time hunched forward over the handlebars (and the telly and your computer off the bike) leads to a loss in our ability to open our hips and shoulders. Cyclists get it worse than others, as our upper back tends to 'get stuck', leading us down the road of having only Quasimodo as our Halloween costume choice!
The Brettzel helps you open up tight hip flexors and quads, while also improving your breathing, and improving your posture. Be sure to make this a dynamic warm-up, and not a static stretch.
Start with two sets of four slow, deep breaths on each side.
A fantastic exercise for cyclists and triathletes, the Copenhagen plank allows you to train the obliques and adductor together. These are muscles which help you sprint, climb, and stabilise as you ride. All you need is a chair or an Ottoman.
Start in the same style as the side planks: two sets of four clusters of six seconds 'on' and three seconds 'off' each side.
While we like to think about box jumps and skipping to help our explosiveness and power on the bike, learning how to move side-to-side offers massive benefits, including better stability and more suppleness.
Be kind here when starting out, as you’ll find the push-off and landing the most challenging part. Start small, and work through smaller, less powerful efforts until you feel smooth through the entire movement. This exercise has big rewards for those who take the time to get the push off and landing balance, usually with stronger climbing, and more power on the sprint... but you need to be patient.
Start with two sets of three each side, alternating sides. Again, less is more.
When you perform this exercise, it's important to keep your nose, chest and zipper in a straight line... why your zipper? Even if your choice of activewear doesn't have a zipper it's memorable, and helps keep your in a straight line!
How you pick up the kettlebell is important. Start on the outside, hinge back with your chest up and stand. When you come up, bring your shoulders down and keep the ribs active. This will work your 'accessory muscles', and will probably make you sweat just after holding the position for a few seconds. Aim for around 45 seconds, making sure that nose, chest and zipper are straight.
If the kettlebell is too low for you to pick up with one hand, you can simply deadlift the kettlebell up in both hands, shift it over to one and rotate.
While we tend to think about planks and side planks as being long-duration holds for endurance, what often happens is we fatigue and then 'adjust”' our positioning to hold for the remaining time. This means we’ve lost many of the very benefits we wanted out of the exercise.
Instead, practice holding static positions for clusters of mini-sets between 6-8 seconds, with a short 3-5 second rest in between. By doing the exercise in this fashion, you can fire the muscles with great intent, keep great form, and get far more benefits.
Start with two sets of four clusters of six seconds 'on' and three seconds 'off' on each side.
Training the body in ways that we do not move on the bike helps us to keep our muscles and joints working far better. While these exercises look simple, they are far from easy to do correctly.
Taking your time to sprinkle in a few of these exercises into your post-ride cooldown or your strength training sessions can help to make your body injury-proof, and you should be able to unlock better performances on and off the bike.
Disclaimer: We strongly recommend that you consult with your doctor before beginning any exercise programme. You should be in good physical condition and be able to participate in the exercise. road.cc is not a licensed medical care provider and represents that it has no expertise in diagnosing, examining, or treating medical conditions of any kind, or in determining the effect of any specific exercise on any medical condition. You should understand that when participating in any exercise programme, there is the possibility of physical injury. If you engage in any part of this exercise programme, you agree that you do so at your own risk, are voluntarily participating in these activities, assume all risk of injury to yourself, and agree to release and discharge road.cc from any and all claims or causes of action, known or unknown.
Menachem Brodie is a leading strength coach for cyclists and triathletes. He is the author of The Vortex Method: The New Rules for Ultimate Strength & Performance in Cycling, and the Strength Training for Cyclists Certification. He works with cyclists and triathletes from around the world to improve their performances through strength training designed to meet their sport's needs.