Cross training for Cyclists10 June, 2012 0 comments
Do you spend hours and hours on the bike every week? That’s fantastic! Your quads and glutes will thank you for it. However, it’s also important to inject a bit of variety into your exercise routine. In fact, though it may sound strange, getting off the bike can help make you stronger, fitter and faster, as well as decrease your risk of injury. And, no, we don’t mean hang up your ride and hit the couch for some down-time. Instead, it’s time to start cross training.
“Cross training shouldn’t be limited to the off-season,” says Ben Hallam, bike expert for Bespoke Performance Lab (www.bespokeperformancelab.com). “Though you may want to reduce the number or duration of non-bike sessions in the summer, it’s crucial to continue to put the same stress on your body if you want to retain the benefits.”
So, what activities should you do? Riding a bike works the lower half of the body - specifically, the quadriceps and glutes - as these muscles are activated when pedalling. However, it works these muscles in some pretty specific ways and you’ll benefit from putting them to the test by doing different activities like running.
And that’s not all. “Cyclists often develop an imbalance between the anterior muscles - abdominals, hip flexors and the like - and the posterior muscles - lats, traps, hamstrings and so on,” reveals Ben. “So it’s important you train the core and hip muscles that are responsible for balance and control.”
Aim to do one to two 45 minute non-bike sessions, increasing the amount to three or four during the early off season. Read on for cycle-specific activities that will battle boredom, increase fitness and cadence.
Need a mental break from turning the wheels? Research published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research suggests you should replace a fraction of your easy riding with fast running.
“It is important to focus on the quadriceps and glutes,” says Ben. “These are the muscles that produce the power when cycling and using them in a new way, or through a different range of motion, is vital to your body’s development.”
Running is a great way to improve your leg strength while working the upper body muscles that get ignored on the bike. It will also improve core strength to help you balance on the bike.
At first glance, weight training and cycling may seem like polar opposites. However, strength work is not only a great way to boost leg power and increase your resistance to fatigue but also a fantastic way to improve your control of the bike.
“Doing the same activity everyday can lead to imbalances in the body, as the working muscles become big and strong while the underworked muscles weaken and atrophy, and this can lead to injury,” says Ben. “It’s necessary to practice high impact sports to increase performance. Weight training will increase both your cycling strength and efficiency.”
Not sure how to get under-worked muscles moving? Try these weight training exercises to bolster your strength and coordination. Alter the rest period between sets or increase the weight to make the exercises more difficult.
Forward lunges simulate the top of the pedal stroke. Aim to do the exercise holding a dumbbell in each hand, if necessary.
2. Dumbbell squats
Choose a pair of dumbbells that enables you to do 2-3 sets of 8-12 squats. Squat while holding the weights by each side of your body. This simulates the mid-point of the pedal stroke.
3. Single-leg deadlift
The single leg deadlift will help boost your good core control, as well as target your glutes and hamstrings. Start without weights and then add light dumbbells to increase the intensity.
4. Swiss ball hamstring curls
This variation of the hamstring curl is great for balance, strength and coordination. It also simulates the first part of the recovering stroke.
5. Bent over rows:
The bent over row exercise works the upper body muscles. This will help you to move the handlebars and support yourself on the bike. Choose a weight that enables you to do 2-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions.
Putting the lower body muscles to the test, as well as working the core, upper back and shoulder muscles, rowing is a great way to improve your cycling posture, power and efficiency.
“Rowing is a great cardiovascular exercise as it puts huge emphasis on quad strength and glute activation - the same muscles that are used at the top of the pedal stroke,” says Ben. “It also requires back muscle strength to transmit the forces generated by the legs, which is the same technique that cyclists need when climbing.”
Watch the following video of champion rower Josh Crosby, ambassador for WaterRower (www.waterrower.co.uk), for tricks and tips that will enable you to benefit from indoor or outdoor rowing.
Swimming isn’t just for water babies, it’s a great way to improve your upper body strength and balance on the bike too.
“Swimming is a good cross training activity as it forces you to use your upper body at a relatively low impact,” agrees Ben.
Try to vary the strokes you use in the pool by practising different techniques such as front crawl, backstroke and breaststroke. Front crawl will put more emphasis on the anterior chain muscles in your stomach and hips, while backstroke will work the posterior chain muscles in your back. Breaststroke can be tough to get to grips with but it is a great way to work the muscles in the hips through a new range of motion.
Think you’re not bendy enough for yoga? Think again. Yoga is a great activity for cyclists because it lengthens and strengthens a whole host of muscles.
“Activities that require core control like yoga and pilates are great for teaching you how to activate and strengthen your core muscles,” says Ben. “It is important, however, to research the best yoga and pilates instructors for accurate sessions.”
Don’t fancy doing yoga or pilates? Then simply remember to stretch regularly and target the muscles that are tightest and need the most work. You have been warned.