Cycling requires a lot of endurance and leg strength to power through long distances and steep ascents. While some coaches prefer to have you do your strength work on the bike riding hills and heavy gear intervals, you can also build strength effectively off the bike. Here are some of the best strength exercises that will benefit any rider and make you stronger on the bike.
Lunges are great for building leg strength. Every rep uses one leg at a time targeting your hips, quads and hamstrings, which are the muscles primarily used when you pedal and accelerate on the bike.
Lunges can be done in any place with sufficient space. You can also add weights to challenge yourself further, but your body weight works just as fine and is recommended for beginners.
Technique tip: engage your core, go slow, and make sure your front knee stays in line with your ankle and doesn’t go forward over your toes.
Squats target all of the major muscle groups needed to ride a bike like your hamstrings, glutes, and quads. Squats are great to enhance your maximum strength and maximum endurance. Doing this exercise regularly also increases your range of movement and flexibility. This exercise can be done with any type of weights like dumbbells, barbells or kettlebells. If there’s no equipment available, bodyweight will do just fine.
Technique tip: keep your knees pointing forward and don’t let them turn inward as you come down and up.
Deadlifts target most of the major muscle groups in your body, engaging your core and posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings). Doing them one leg at a time forces the leg to support the weight independently, approximating what we do in cycling and also helping correct muscle imbalance.
Technique tip: Get the hang of the balance needed first before adding weights. Bend the standing knee slightly, keep your back straight as you lower your chest, and focus on contracting the glute to come back to standing.
Kettlebell swings train power endurance (the ability to move explosively over and over again) in your quads, hips, glutes, and hamstrings. When done with proper technique, the kettlebell exercise is a very effective way to improve your endurance and power in your pedal stroke. They also help open up hip flexors, which tend to shorten when sitting or cycling for long periods of time.
Technique tip: keep your arms straight and passive. Move from your hips instead of your shoulders and arms. The explosiveness of your leg and hip movement should make the kettlebell swing forward.
Standing Overhead Press
While it may look as if the upper body doesn’t do much when you’re cycling, it is actually involved along with your core in helping keep you in proper position. Bike handling also benefits from a strong upper body and core.
The overhead press targets almost every muscle group from the waist up like deltoids, traps, triceps and upper chest, but also works your core, lower back, and glutes. You can do this using a bar with or without plates, or by holding a dumbbell in each hand.
Doing this exercise standing instead of seated will help engage your core (including your glutes) and makes it a more full-body exercise.
Technique tip: keep your elbows tracking forward instead of flaring out to the sides. Engage your core to keep your back from hyperextending as you push the weight upward.
Your core plays a bigger part in becoming a better cyclist than it seems. Your legs may crank out the power onto the pedals, but your core provides all the other important aspects like handling, balance, and endurance. Riding with a weak core wastes precious energy because you can start rocking or swaying instead of directing the power down into your legs.
Planks can be done anywhere and with a lot of variations, and either with or without weights, making it one of the most versatile exercises for your core.
Technique tip: From the side, your ears, shoulders, hips, and heels should form a straight line. If staying off your knees feels too hard, start with your knees on the ground and build strength from there.
Need help fitting strength training into your already-busy training schedule? Here's how you can get your strength training in.
(Featured photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash)