You have been enjoying the summer and late autumn on your bike. But once the weather starts to worsen, it’s tempting to let your off-season extend right up to New Year. But rather than wait until your New Year’s resolution, some quality training in the next few weeks can really help you get ahead and make some significant gains next season.
Four to six weeks of gym training will help you increase leg strength and help develop more power on the bike. It can also help you recover lost and weakened movements that cycling does not help.
Stronger legs and glute muscles will translate to more watts on the bike. There are some fantastic exercises that will help you do this. If you are not used to gym resistance exercises, I do recommend that you start off with small weights and ask for the help of a trainer.
Strength Movements to Build a Stronger Motor
This is a great exercise that mainly targets the back, glutes and quads. These are all muscle groups that are engaged in cycling. Resistance training will provide a high degree of overload that can be difficult to achieve on the bike by itself.
Obtain the help of a friend or trainer to ‘spot’ you with this exercise, as crumpling under a heavy weight is likely to injure you. An alternative, and a safer option if you are on your own, is the hack squat. This variant involves standing in front of the bar that is resting on the ground with the bar close to the back of your legs. Squat and grip the bar with a forward-facing grip and stand up so that in the final position the bar is resting on the back of your legs.
Lunge or Walking Lunge
This exercise mainly targets the glutes and quads. It is also a unilateral exercise (unlike the squat), and exercises alternate sides of the body. The one-sided nature of this exercise means that you will also be developing balance skills and exercising your oblique muscles in the core.
A good place to start with this is just using bodyweight. As you progress, you can add resistance by carrying weights or wearing a weight vest. Suitable weights would include dumbbells or kettlebells. A further progression can include speed and even hopping on the front leg.
This is another great exercise for targeting the glute muscle groups and hamstrings. It also helps strengthen your core, back and shoulders. If you are using a barbell for this, stand behind the bar, flex your knees and hips to grasp the bar. Then using the legs and glutes, move to a standing position, keeping the bar close to your body. Aim to avoid rounding your back, and only lower to the point where you can start to feel your hamstrings reach full range (this is often around knee height). Alternative implements can include dumbbells and kettlebells.
A good progression for this exercise is a single-leg deadlift. This variation can either rest one leg behind the body on a step, or you can keep it free and extend it out backward as you bend forward from the hips to take your weight. The unilateral nature of this variation helps to develop balance skills and movement patterns.
To develop strength, I would aim for three or four sets of six to eight repetitions of each exercise. Do make sure that you are nicely warmed up prior to lifting, and that you cool down and do some gentle stretches afterwards.
Develop More Balanced Fitness
While cycling, you are literally exercising in a machine. This is a great activity to enjoy and enhance your fitness, but the constraints of the machine mean that some parts of your anatomy are developed more than others. In addition, the design of the bicycle means that some movements of your body are not developed or maintained. Gym exercises will help you recover those lost and weakened movement skills.
As a cyclist, you do not usually need to develop a large upper body. Most cyclists worry that upper body muscles are just additional weight to carry up every hill. However, if you are interested in aesthetics or do other sports, then a more comprehensive range of upper body excises would be appropriate.
Here are some compound exercises for the upper body that involve movements of many joints in many planes of movement.
Standing Single-Arm Row
For this you need access to a cable pulley machine, some strong bands, or a suspension trainer. Stand with a split stance, one foot slightly back, facing the machine or mounting point of your bands or straps. Twist forward to grasp the handle and pull so that you end the movement twisted in the opposite direction.
Standing Single Arm Press
This exercise is almost the exact opposite of the previous one. This time you face away from the machine or mounting point of your straps or bands in a split stance. This time grasp the handle (usually with the handle just above shoulder height) with your upper body twisted. Then push the handle away from you and twist as you do so.
These exercises target the upper body and core. You can tweak these exercises by varying the position of the cable machine handle or mounting point of the bands or suspension trainer. Since we not aiming for a large upper body here, I would suggest using medium weights that you can perform fifteen to twenty repetitions, and take care to move smoothly through your full range of motion.
The Offseason Opportunity
Late autumn and early winter are your opportunity to spend a few weeks developing strength with these exercises. Then you need not feel quite so guilty about taking the holiday period easy. A few weeks of work will produce the necessary adaptation, and put you in a great position to return to cycling in the new year.
More on the importance of cross training for cyclists: