Cycling is very unique in that it puts your body in the same position and has you performing the same motion thousands of times every time you ride.
Your body will adapt to this stimuli and strengthen your muscles to produce maximum power output in certain ranges of motion. It’s great for cycling, but it may be less than optimal from a every day health perspective.
For example, riding will put your back into flexion; leaning forward and bending your back. Therefore, strengthening muscles that pull the back into a neutral position could be a good idea to avoid becoming hunched over.
All of these exercises will be possible to do at home! Try to aim for 3-5 sets of the same number of repetitions. You don’t want to burn yourself out completely, so try to stop when you feel like you could do two more reps: this is more effective for muscle growth than going to failure, and should allow you to repeat the same set a couple times.
Without further ado, let’s look at our top 5 strengthening exercises that will make you a better cyclist!
Your glutes are some of the most powerful muscles in your body – or at least they should be. As part of the muscles that extend your hips and let you stand up straight, glutes can often become weakened if you have a sedentary lifestyle or spend most of your workday sitting down.
Glute bridges are a great way to strengthen one of the key muscles in cycling. Better yet, you can do it at home – right now – with no additional equipment needed. Simply lie down on your back, plant your soles on the floor shoulder width apart, and use your glutes to drive your hips up.
Try to keep your shins as perpendicular to the floor as you can. Engage your core to keep your upper body straight, and that’s it! Single leg glute bridge, the more advanced version, is a great option if you find glute bridges too easy: do this by keeping one leg straight and in line with your torso, and the other planted as normal.
Since most of our time spent on a bike is leaning forward, it’s important to strengthen your back muscles so that we can avoid getting hunched over. The bent-over row is an excellent exercise that targets the middle and upper part of your back while using your core to stabilise your position.
Place your right hand and right knee on an even surface – you could use two chairs, a table, or even a sofa or bed. Engage your core to keep your back straight, and keep your neck in a neutral position. Grab your dumbbell with the left hand and use your back muscles to drive your elbow back. Simple as you like.
If you don’t have access to dumbbells or kettlebells at home, there are plenty of ways to improvise! A three litre milk bottle (or two) could be plenty for a beginner. You could also put a couple in a backpack or use a bucket – just be careful not to spill it! Resistance bands are also a great option here.
Cycling requires a strong core. A lot of time spent on the bike is with your torso in front of your centre of gravity, and strong abdominal muscles will help balance your body. Core exercises can be quite tricky; sit-ups can sometimes be a bit hard on your back, while lying leg lifts can end up using your hip flexors – muscles that already see plenty of use when pedaling – more than your abs.
Few exercises develop strong abdominal muscles like the Russian twist, though. Here’s how you do a Russian twist: simply sit down on the floor with your feet out in front of you. You can keep your heels on the ground if you like, but try not to put too much weight on them.
Start by holding your clenched fists above your hips. Twist to one side, touch the ground lightly and then do the same on the other side. Add weight if you find this too easy! Dumbbells, kettlebells and medicine balls are optimal, but you can also be creative and fill an empty milk bottle with water. Taking your feet off the ground will make it harder, as you will need to use your core muscles to stabilise your body.
Now that we have exercises that cover your back, glutes and core muscles, it’s time to cover the chest and triceps. Although they aren’t directly related to pedaling power, it’s important to ensure that no muscle groups are underdeveloped. Strong triceps will also make it easier to ride for longer periods, as strong arms help support your bodyweight.
Place your hands under your shoulder joint or slightly outside. Keep your core engaged and straight, and lower yourself down before pushing up. If you find it hard to know how low you need to go, you can put a tennis ball or orange beneath your chest!
There are a lot of push-up variations available if you find them too easy: deficit push-ups, pike push-ups or using a weighted backpack are great options if you are more advanced.
Deadlifts are a fantastic way to train your whole posterior chain in one exercise: you’ll feel this in your back, glutes and hamstrings as well as your abs. It’s deceptively simple, but slow and controlled movements will still make this one challenging.
Simply stand up straight with weights in your hands. Unlock your knees and pull your hips backwards to start the movement. “Paint your legs” with the weights on the way down to keep your centre of gravity over your midfoot. Stop when you feel your hamstrings stretched far enough that you can’t go lower without using your knees; usually just below the knees.
Too simple? Try one-legged for an added challenge! Yes, this does require weights, but getting creative with a bucket of water, a bag of cement or two milk bottles is an option if you don’t have dumbbells or a kettlebell available.
This blog is a part of our Become a Better Cyclist series. You can find the previous entries here:
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This blog does not provide medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the cycle2city blog. Consult your GP before making changes to your exercise regimen or diet.