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.

Strength training for Cyclists

I remember 1996 as the year that my cycling took a major career hit when my left knee packed in.

Slight scoliosis resulted in pelvic rotation while sitting on the bike and left me with my left knee driving out to the left and right knee almost banging off the top tube! End story – bye bye cartilage in both knees and knee caps.

Whilst undergoing physio for the knees I had to keep moving to stop myself going crazy. I remember telling myself it was a huge gamble to start training with weights and risk getting heavier! I know, crazy mentality but atypical of most cyclists. Already I was a 69kg heavy cyclist (hard to avoid at 6ft 2!) and the thought of being heavier kind of scared me considering the climbs in some races. I wasn’t sure what else I could do to stay fit but I knew the resistance training would help me stay strong on the bike, whenever that was going to be again.

This ‘anti-weights training’ rational is a common thought most cyclists will agree to and along with taking time away from the bike, it’s a hard sell. But, timing the inclusion of strength training will benefit every cyclist. Let’s just list the benefits of including strength training pre and post racing reason (if you race) or as a weekly plan for recreational cyclists.

Benefits:

  1. A stronger body has better tolerance to fatigue
  2. Strength training will help resolve muscular imbalances in the limbs and torso
  3. A stronger midsection will reduce the likelihood of back pain on the bike
  4. A stronger body overall improves efficiency out of the saddle during sprints and climbs

Whilst it may be tempting to focus on squats and leg press etc for cyclists leg strength, there are better options that in turn present much lower risk of injury.

Fatigue is the cyclists greatest enemy on the bike, well, in addition to big hills, crazy drivers and mad dogs. Fatigue hits especially hard after short efforts, like hills, sprinting and tackling a headwind. During these higher efforts the muscles need to recruit as many motor units to get as much of the muscles working as possible. Strength training in its simplest form acts as neurological switch. Muscles won’t necessarily grow to become stronger, the brain learns to adapt to the stress of strength training by recruiting a greater number of muscle fibres per contraction – hopefully that read as simple as I see it!!

To bring upon this adaptation, frequent strength training should be practiced with sub maximum efforts with short sets of specific specific movements proven to help cyclists. The volume you’ll be glad to read, should also be low. We want adaptation but not at the expense of feeling battered and sore heading out on the bike. So a minimum effective dose is applied to acquire a beneficial outcome. Let’s round this off to two 20 – 30 minute weights sessions a week – not much you’ll agree.

In this post I want to share a few exercises that may form a starting point. They focus on tying together your bodies core – everything from shoulders to hips and I’ll include a great leg exercise. Why the focus on the core? Your core or let’s just refer to the torso, is the centre of what ties your body together. A strong torso will allow you to transfer more power throughout your body when needed. Imagine trying to sprint without use of the upper body and arms – pretty useless you’ll agree. The body works as a complete unit to deliver power to the pedals.

The following are of course just examples of what is included in a more complete program. These three movements don’t address individual weaknesses (impossible to do on a blog post!) so if concerned, just check out the videos for reference only.

Oh, and yes, after a year of weight training I came back so much stronger than before, and yep, the extra few kilos on my frame didn’t hinder anything…. go figure!

The Birddog

 

Rocking Push Ups

 

The Single Leg Deadlift  

 

A New Program for Cyclists 

This post and the previous are a brief glimpse into a new program for fellow cyclists that will be released this year.

I’ll be offering this as a 6 week program but for limited numbers of applicants as I want to offer a great service which can often be lost with large numbers of participants.

The program will provide more personalised routines that will develop great on the bike strengths whilst addressing personal weaknesses and limitations.

The program will include the best warm ups, recovery routines and of course the periodised strength plan. Each and every exercise will be taught with detail, not just following demonstrations. The plan can be personalised further by taking into consideration frequency and time available to the individual.

If you are interested in getting stronger as a cyclist and want to work on eliminating the frustrating aches and pains that maybe keep you off the bike from time to time, get in touch below. You can use this form too to get put onto the early registration list… no financial commitment is required at this time of course.

Oh, and wait, if you are not local to Albany Creek (Northern Brisbane suburb) I will also be putting together an online program will be nearly as good as the in-person program.

Interested? Send off the wee form below.

Mobility Moves for Cyclists

Cycling can be a liberating experience. The wind through your hair, the freedom to roam the countryside and the unquestionably healthy exercise that it provides, makes it an easy addiction. However, nothing takes all the pros away like aches and pains.

Many cyclists will report how their best plans were irritated or cut short by back, knee or neck pain. 

Yes, cycling is great for you but let’s be honest, the cycling posture probably isn’t helping you.

In early 2018 I’ll be opening up sessions for cyclists who want to nip this irritation in the butt with a simple but effective program that targets both mobility and strength specific to what a cyclist needs.

Cycling will do wonders for your waist line and cardiovascular health but to get the most out of your time on the bike, keeping your body mobile, flexible and free from localised tension is vital. On top of that, developing crucial strengths will help you master your bike on the road and trails and help prevent fatigue.

In this first of two posts I am sharing my top THREE mobility moves to help cyclists stay ache free.

In a follow up post I’ll cover the essential top THREE strength moves. Yes, there are more than three mobility and strength activities to optimise your cycling time, but start with the basics.

 

 

A New Program for Cyclists

This post and the follow up are a brief glimpse of a new program for fellow cyclists that will be released in 2018.

I’ll be offering this as a 6 week program but for limited numbers of applicants as I want to offer a great service which can often be sacrificed with large numbers of participants.

If you are interested in getting stronger as a cyclist and want to work on eliminating the frustrating aches and pains that maybe keep you off the bike from time to time, get in touch below. You can use this form too to get put onto the early registration list… no commitment is required of course.

Oh, and wait, if you are not local to Albany Creek (Northern Brisbane suburb) I will also be putting together an online program will be nearly as good as the in-person program.

Interested? Send off the wee form below.