For those of us cyclists in the Northern Hemisphere the days are short, cold and conditions, well…frankly revolting. It’s now in the deep freeze months of the year we turn our attention to preparation for next summer’s season. Part of that preparation includes utilising an effective transitional phase that marks the end of one cycling year to the next with the off-season training. The proper design and execution of this phase of strength gym training for cycling will pay big dividends later as the season gets going proper.
A periodic training program should always include a transition phase – this for most of us is over Xmas and into the early months of the New Year. Characteristics of a transition phase include a reduction in both the volume and intensity of training.
“A well-designed transition phase helps the body recover from the recent year and should aim to re-energise the rider, both physically and psychologically”.
However, this is not a time to lose conditioning either – cardio respiratory fitness should remain a priority all year round. Using other forms of aerobic conditioning (cross-training, circuit training) serves to accomplish this goal while allowing for a mental and physical break from the road or track bike.
The transition phase is also a time to include resistance training, with a goal of strengthening not only the legs, but all parts of the body that contribute to better cycling performance. Unfortunately, many riders fail to maintain some form of resistance training during race season, which often results in loss of strength in areas such as the upper body and the core. It is particularly important for cyclists to effectively utilise proper resistance training, not only in the off season, but also throughout the year.
This article provides guidance on getting started with an effective resistance ‘off-bike’ training program
“There are no magic exercises for cyclists”.
Keep exercise selection simple in the beginning – in the first week or two, bodyweight works well. Use exercises like lunges or step-ups for the hips, thighs, and hamstrings; back extensions for the lower back; crunches for the abdominals; push-ups (on the knees or traditional) for the shoulders, triceps and deltoids; and inclined pull-ups for the biceps and mid-back muscles.
Some favourite body weight exercises include…
Leg lifts target the abdominals, and hip flexors. A simple variation includes placing hands overhead to target the upper abdominals.
Planks (with variations)
Planks are one of the simplest exercises in the book and one of the most effective at increasing core strength. Planks can be done anywhere and can be used year round. Planks target your shoulders, abdomen, and lower back. Lifting one leg can add a degree of difficulty to each set and further target the lower back. Start with hold times of 30-60 seconds per round and progress to 60-90 second hold times as you go through off season training.
The burpee is a great full body exercise. The movement involves all the major joints, and is intended to be performed with an explosive movement. Some variations can include adding pushups and a standing jump at the end. Focus on fast repetitions in the 10-20 rep range, completing 3-5 sets.
Once you’re more confident to move on to resistance training her are some key exercises that should be in the routine of all cyclists looking to begin strength training. These exercises focus on the key cycling muscles around the knees and hips but also provide training for the upper body and postural muscles. They will build a cycling specific strength foundation which will allow you to progress on to more advanced exercises.
“When you think about the best strength and conditioning exercises for cycling, you first examine what’s needed”.
Cycling happens one leg at a time, is predominately aerobic and requires repeated force production. Cycling also requires a strong core for handling your bike, climbing and overall endurance. There are many exercises that can address these needs but there are a few, especially when combined, which will target the entire body in a cycling specific way. Body weight exercises can be done anywhere, from your home, gym or office, while exercises incorporating weights are best done in a gym setting with proper footwear, form and spotters if needed.
The primary focus when it comes to strength exercises for cyclists is to train in a similar motion to cycling with lower and upper body, while increasing overall core strength and muscular endurance. The main goal with strength training is to create a stronger support system for your prime movers while on the bike. The aerobically stronger you’re assistance muscles and core, the less fatigue you will experience late in a race, additionally, the more potential you will have for increasing power.
The exercises below are performed ideally with kettlebells and/or dumbbells. For weight guidelines, if you cannot complete the minimum number of reps and sets or your form is lacking, then lighten the weight, even if that means using zero weights. When you can complete the minimum number of reps and sets for two consecutive workouts easily, challenge yourself by adding light weight if zero weight is being used or increasing the current weight lifted. Upper body weight increases of 1-4kgs and 3-8kgs for lower body is a general rule of thumb. Perform 15-25 reps per set with a goal of 3-5 sets.
Lunges are very cycling specific since they are worked one leg at a time, targeting your quadriceps, hips and hamstrings. It is highly advised to start without weight in order to practice good form. Two common mistakes with lunges are letting the knee extend beyond the leading foot and flexing the torso forward/ jerking it back during the forward and backward movement phases.
Primarily working the quadriceps but also recruiting the hamstrings, glutes and postural muscles of the trunk.
Focussing on similar muscles to the Goblet Squat but adding some lateral movement. This will challenge your balance and show any strength or movement imbalances you may have between your left and right sides.
Stiff Leg Deadlift
Develops the strength of your hamstrings and lower back.
In order to make progress, you should do a minimum of two sessions per week, allowing (to begin with) up to 48 hours between sessions. Once you’re into a regular routine and for a really effective strength block, you can increase this to up to three sessions or more per week . One session per week would allow you to maintain strength. You can alter the amount of strength work depending on the time of year. The winter can be a really good time to work on strength, in the Spring you could then reduce this to two sessions as training intensity increases and you’re back out enjoying those long rides again, then down to one maintenance session during the Summer.
Any good gym staff and gym instructors will be able to help with demonstrations for the above exercises, or better still speak with a Personal Instructor who will ensure you’re performing all the exercises safely and effectively and will gladly help with any further advancement on your progress training through the off bike season.
I hope this article has been helpful to you and your of bike season is a happy and successful and I look forward to seeing you on the road soon… (when the sun comes back) 😉