Essential Strength Training for Cyclists

Here’s a training post I wrote for my friends at Queensland Kettlebell in East Brisbane last month:

In the 80s and even early 90s we were led to believe dietary fat was the enemy and that training with weights would make us too bulky. As a competitive cyclist this struck a deep chord. Who wants to lug extra weight around the countryside? 

‘Sigh’! 

When an average days cycling was done, you’d raid the kitchen of every known carb, lean meats including liver (often boiled) and then clean the bike before resting. 

The rules for rest went like this. 

Don’t stand if you can sit and don’t sit if you can lie down. 

The recipe of a cyclists life: Ride – Eat – Rest 

There was also no known reason to get purposefully stronger with anything else but the bike. Specifically yes, riding the bike makes you better at bike riding, but if you value one percenters and optimisation, spending just a little time in the gym can be the missing magic potion.

I only discovered the benefits of strength training during a year out because of my knee injury. I was left with no option but to do circuit training routines with a pair of York dumbbells with exercises I took from Flex or Muscle & Fitness magazine; the only reference for resistance training I could find in the newspaper shop at the time. 

Whilst not perfect, I had a strength routine of sorts to help keep up my strength and fitness and yikes, did I feel awesome when I got back to racing the year after, I even had these things called biceps and deltoids! 

My haphazard routine has thankfully been vastly overhauled since then. The cyclists I currently train follow a very particular recipe consisting of essential ingredients for both the bike and life. 

When programming for any sport, not just cycling, I believe it’s a duty of care to take into consideration life outside of the sport. I ask, ‘what will best serve the sport and not take away from other physical qualities, but add’?  Essentially, I want the individual to be more resilient and better equipped for their cycling whilst also being more useful for life overall. This also addresses some of the issues cyclists exhibit off the bike from feet issues, lower back and shoulder complaints. 

Cutting to the chase, here are my top movements for cyclists.

(Pictures for simple illustration only and not instructional purposes. Videos available upon request)

  1. Cycling Essentials:

Hip Hinging – deadlifts, both bilateral and single leg deadlifts and kettlebell swings

Knee dominant movements – Squats, both bilateral and unilateral, like kickstand squats and step ups

Crawling forward, backwards and inverted and rocking rush ups with varied hand positions. 

Balance Beam walks and balance drills

  1. Life Essentials:

Deadbugs, Birddogs and Rows, both 2 arm and single arm

Single arm Carries (suitcase, goblet, overhead) 

Get Ups. It takes a bit of coaching but proves a great tool to add to the toolbox.

Here’s a variation of the Turkish Get Up to consider

These two components are written into each training session, generally with the life essentials being built into the warm up and finishing sequences. The cycling essentials are placed after warm ups, when fresh. 

The weekly placing of each hinge and squat variation are dependent on the cyclists bike sessions but generally, the heaviest lifts are best early in the week with the explosive work towards the end of the week. 

Reps, sets and intensities are a bit beyond the scope of this piece but should be programmed so as not to compete with the cyclists racing / training calendar.

Generally though, developing the hinge strength should be a priority whilst maintaining stable, healthy knees with squat variations is important. No exercise should ever be taken to fatigue or muscle / form failure. Instead, I like to use an average of around 75% perceived effort. 

Minimum Effective Dose!

If pushed for a ‘program minimum’ for cyclists, I’d really have to recommend the single leg deadlift, swings, walking kickstand squats on a balance beam (yes, seriously) and backward crawling. Just for the laugh though, a ‘minimum program minimum’ would probably take the form of swings and crawling!

It’s always hard to reduce one’s work into a short(ish) blog post. There are always lots of variables when writing an individual’s program. 

If anyone would like to explore these movements further I am always happy to talk… or run a workshop to really dig in deeper!

Notes from two cyclists at FitStrong

Bashier:

A late comer to cycling, Bash took up cycling at 38 to shed a few kilos but ended up with the bike bug. Now 43 he competes in Mountain Bike endurance events around the world from Nepal to Italy. Since starting at FitStrong Bashier reports often how much more aggressive he feels on the bike, even at the top of a climb or after a sprint. His upper body strength now allows him to wrestle the bike over the trails rather than just surviving them. He loves that he never gets visits from the cramp fairy too. 

Bec: 

Bec started at FitStrong with a ‘broken body’ in her own words. On her first visit she presented with two sides of an A4 page listing every injury and surgery she had sustained from other sports and cycling. Bec competes all over Australia in Mountain Bike endurance races. After a short period of training Bec noted how much more connected she feels with her body on the bike. Her reflexes seem sharper, all the imbalances ironed out and her confidence is boosted too with much better upper body endurance. 

Got any feedback or would you like to explore these ideas further? Get in touch below.

Metabolic Training part 2

Last week I re-introduced metabolic training with MovNat Metabolic, their new online program. Here’s that post.

I’ve finished week 1 and was surprised at how the use of such various natural movements and equipments pushed me a bit. 30 seconds of effort always seems longer than 30 seconds of rest! Odd that, hey?!

I never got to the point of sharing my breakfast with the floor, but I definitely had to focus on maintaining my nasal breathing in the latter rounds when the efforts work on a continuous flow, or combo of the sessions movements. It felt a bit like a a last minute dash to get all the yard work done before dinner on a cold day.

It was cold mind you (which helps for this kind of training) but I followed up this particular session with a good 5km walk. It too felt great. The recovery benefits of a walk post training are lengthy and worthy of a good conversation at some stage soon. But a combination of gentle movement to untangle the fatigued muscles, pumping the blood around the body and the behind the scenes lymphatic system stimulation really aids in recovery. Much more so than plopping down in front of Netflix with a protein shake.

Todays movements include the side step up, vertical jumps up & down, push press, side swings on pull up bar and the tripod get up. A fine collection of contextual movements.

Did you know I provide online coaching? If this kind of training tickles your fancy, I would be more than happy to chat about working together.