Pro cyclists are no exception. Cycling is an exhilarating sport that requires endurance, stamina, and leg power. Your focus may be on improving your aerobic capacity through long rides, but integrating strength training into your routine can make a big difference. In addition to improving performance, strength training will help you prevent injuries.
My goal in this article is to help you understand the importance of strength training, explain its physiological benefits and some nuances, and equip you with top strength exercises you can incorporate into your daily regimen.
I could give you a dozen reasons why strength exercises are good for you, but here are five reasons to get you motivated:
It helps you build muscle mass and recruit more muscle fibers, so you can ride more efficiently and quickly. With stronger muscles you can accelerate faster and ride faster. You'll also handle tough terrain and sprint better (1).
It is common for cyclists to develop muscle imbalances and overuse injuries because cycling is primarily lower body-focused. A strength training program corrects these imbalances by strengthening the entire kinetic chain, which reduces the risk of cycling-related injuries such as knee, lower back, and hip problems. In addition to improving stability, strengthening the muscles surrounding the joints helps reduce strain and absorb impact (2).
By strengthening the muscles involved in cycling, you'll be able to ride faster and conquer challenging terrains with greater ease, since you can sustain a high power output for longer periods of time. It allows you to keep up a consistent pace, delay fatigue, and push your limits during long rides and races by improving your endurance (3).
With strength training, you improve your pedal stroke efficiency by improving your balance and stability. You are able to maintain proper posture, which allows for optimal force transfer through the pedals and minimizes energy waste. Your upper body will be more effective at channeling power to your legs if you develop a strong core and stable upper body (4).
In contrast to strength training, cycling is a low-impact sport that doesn't stimulate bone growth. Strength training, however, stresses the skeletal system and increases bone density. You can strengthen your bones and lower your risk of osteoporosis by incorporating weight-bearing exercises into your workout routine (5).
Now that we've covered what strength training can do for you, here are the top ten strength exercises you can try at your local gym, or even at home. Many of them are so simple, that there's really no excuse not to try them out.
Squats are a compound exercise that targets multiple lower body muscles, including quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. They mimic the pedaling motion and strengthen the muscles used during cycling. Start with bodyweight squats and gradually progress to weighted squats for added resistance.
Deadlifts target the posterior chain, including the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. This exercise improves overall power and stability, which is essential for maintaining an efficient and strong cycling posture. Begin with light weights and focus on proper form before gradually increasing the load.
Lunges engage the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes while also challenging your balance and stability. They help correct muscle imbalances and enhance single-leg strength, crucial for climbing hills and sprinting. Perform walking lunges, stationary lunges, or reverse lunges to target different muscle groups.
Step-ups simulate the motion of climbing hills and help build strength in the glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings. They also improve balance and coordination. Use a step, bench, or sturdy box and step up with one leg at a time, alternating between legs.
Planks strengthen the core muscles, including the abs, obliques, and lower back. A strong core provides stability, allowing for efficient power transfer from the upper to the lower body during cycling. Hold a plank position for 30-60 seconds, focusing on maintaining proper alignment and engaging the core muscles.
This exercise targets the obliques and improves rotational strength. It enhances core stability, which is essential for maintaining balance while navigating turns and corners during cycling. Sit on the floor with your knees bent and feet lifted off the ground, then twist your torso from side to side while holding a weight or medicine ball.
The leg press machine is excellent for targeting the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. It allows you to lift heavier loads safely, stimulating muscle growth and power development. Adjust the seat and foot position to ensure proper alignment and perform controlled leg presses.
Strong calves are crucial for generating power during the upward phase of the pedal stroke. Calf raises help strengthen the calf muscles and improve ankle stability. Stand on the edge of a step or use a calf raise machine, rise up on your toes, and slowly lower down.
Dumbbell rows work the upper back, shoulders, and arms, which are often neglected in cycling. Strengthening these muscles helps maintain a balanced posture and reduces the risk of shoulder and neck discomfort. Bend forward at the hips, keeping your back straight, and row the dumbbells towards your waist.
Glute bridges activate the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. They strengthen the posterior chain and improve hip extension, which is vital for generating power during each pedal stroke. Lie on your back with your knees bent, lift your hips off the ground, and squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement.
Despite the numerous benefits of strength training, it's essential to approach it with care and consider certain nuances. Here are some key points to keep in mind:
Just like with cycling training plans, you should incorporate periodization into your strength training plan. Periodization involves dividing the training program into specific phases, such as hypertrophy, strength, and power. Each phase focuses on different training goals and intensities, allowing for proper recovery and adaptation. Consulting with a coach or trainer who specializes in cycling can help you create an effective periodized strength training plan.
Emphasize functional movements that mimic the cycling motion and engage multiple muscle groups simultaneously. While isolation exercises can be beneficial for targeting specific muscle imbalances or weaknesses, prioritize compound exercises that promote overall strength and coordination. Functional movements like squats, deadlifts, lunges, and step-ups closely resemble the muscle activation patterns used during cycling.
Ensure that you perform each exercise with proper form and technique. Incorrect form can lead to injuries or ineffective training. If you're new to strength training, consider working with a qualified trainer who can teach you the correct techniques and provide feedback on your form. Focus on maintaining a neutral spine, engaging the appropriate muscles, and moving through a full range of motion.
Start with lighter weights and gradually increase the load as your strength and technique improve. Avoid the temptation to lift heavy weights right from the start, as it can increase the risk of injury. Progressive overload is key to stimulating muscle growth and strength gains. Monitor your progress, track your weights, and aim to gradually increase the resistance over time.
Strength training places stress on the muscles and requires adequate recovery for adaptation and growth. Allow for rest days between strength training sessions to give your muscles time to repair and rebuild. This also helps prevent overuse injuries and promotes overall recovery. Balancing strength training with cycling workouts and rest days is essential for achieving optimal results.
Each cyclist has unique strengths, weaknesses, and goals. It's important to tailor your strength training program to your specific needs and limitations. Assess your current fitness level, identify any muscular imbalances, and focus on exercises that address those areas. If you have any pre-existing injuries or medical conditions, consult with a healthcare professional or physical therapist to ensure that your strength training program is safe and appropriate for you.
While strength training is beneficial, avoid excessive volume or frequency that could interfere with your cycling performance or recovery. Balance your strength training sessions with your cycling workouts to prevent excessive fatigue. Remember, cycling remains the primary focus, and strength training should complement and support your cycling goals.
Integrating strength training into your cycling routine is a wise investment that will yield remarkable benefits. By engaging in exercises that target the major muscle groups used in cycling, you can enhance your power, prevent injuries, improve endurance, and enhance your overall cycling efficiency. However, it's important to approach strength training with care, considering nuances such as periodization, functional movements, proper form, gradual progression, recovery, individualization, and avoiding excessive training volume. Remember to listen to your body, consult with professionals when you’re not sure, and enjoy the journey of becoming a stronger and healthier version of yourself.
There is no single training method that is the best or works for everyone. Therefore, looking at what others are doing and copying their training sessions is not the smartest thing to do. It doesn't work and has never worked.
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