When it comes to training for performance, HOW you do something matters... a lot! In fact it can completely change the results, and this is especially true when it comes to strength training for cyclists.
As more cyclists are hitting the weights nowadays in an effort to improve their on-bike performances, what most don’t know is that the vast majority of strength training approaches - even those in physical therapy - are founded on principles from bodybuilding and power lifting. While these principles certainly have a time and place to be used, as cyclists we want to see performance gains, not bigger muscles.
Here we'll discuss a few tweaks you can make to commonly done exercises to help you see improve performance on the bike and not in the gym...
As cyclists, we tend to gravitate towards exercises like squats and lunges, as they feel familiar to us and they’re fairly similar to movements we get in our sport... but, did you know that how you set up your legs and where you get the movement from has a massive influence over whether you get on-bike results or not? Learning how to get the right angles and positions, and then which muscles to fire to create movement, isn’t too hard... so long as you know what you’re looking for.
Here's how you do a proper athletic step back lunge. Start with two sets of 6-8 on each side, taking your time to get the movement from the right muscles and places.
Unfortunately, many cyclists skip upper body work; however it's instrumental in helping you develop your on-bike overall power. You do need to do things a bit differently than the average gym goer though.
The bench press, when performed for cycling and to improve the full-body coordination and force production, can have massive positive benefits for you. However, it’s going to mean learning how to do a dumbbell variation, and leaving the ego at the door for as long as is needed until your technique is spot on.
Start with three sets of eight repetitions with a light to moderate weight that is just heavy enough to 'feel' how you’re moving.
Learning how to lock your ribs and hips together is an important skill, as it can help you protect your spine from injury and produce more force. As cyclists we need to learn how to keep our spine straight while getting side-to-side rotation from our spine; otherwise our climbing and sprinting won’t match the on-bike skills needed to be fast and powerful.
The Side Lunge Cross Connect will help you quickly identify what’s tight and weak, help you learn how to move better in the sagittal (side-to-side) plane, and allow you to better transfer your strength training gains to on-bike prowess.
Start with two sets of five on each side, perform all repetitions on one side (helping you learn the movement quicker), and switch.
“SLAM THAT STEM!” is often heard among those who obsess about getting more aero; and while it may work from those in their teens and early 20’s, it often comes at a price later on.
For the rest of us and/or those who want to have lifelong pain-free riding (except for during nasty climbs of course!) learning how your body moves and how to get more aero will serve you much more.
The Goblet Squat with a bicep curl at the bottom will help you quickly understand if you’re ready to go aero, or if your hips and spine can’t quite handle getting aggressive quite yet. As a bonus, this exercise will challenge you to learn where your spine actually is, and how to use your muscles to stay strong all the way through your range of motion.
The key here is short sets, with very light weight to begin. Five sets of four using a 3-5kg kettlebell.
The more your ride or race, the more you’ll see the 'wheels come off' other riders towards the finale. Usually it involves their hips and shoulders moving in the opposite direction, and constant shifting in the saddle. While planks are one way to improve this, we actually need to attack from a few different angles to see performance gains.
The Suitcase Isometric Hold is a simple exercise, but not easy to master. It will not only help you to strengthen the rib and hips connection, but will also hit other muscles not used very much on the bike, but which are needed to ride long and strong.
Start with three sets of 20 secs on each side, alternating sides and being sure to set the weight down in between sides and switching that way. How you hold the weight determines if this exercise works or not, so be sure to follow the cues.
With small and relatively simple adjustments to how you are executing these exercises, you will see much more carry over to your on-bike performances than you would doing the traditional variations.
As always when starting a new strength program, start out with weight and take a session or two to become familiar with the new technique. Make sure the correct muscles are firing, and that you’re generally feeling good.
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.