The missing link to improving your cycling

23 December, 2015

Thanks largely to the success of Cadel Evans, Anna Mears, Simon Gerrans, and the Orica Green Edge team, Australia is now a force when it comes to cycling.

Our interest in this two-wheeled sport has seen a rapid rise in participation levels of the ‘weekend warrior’ cyclist. When in Melbourne, you only need to visit Beach road on a weekend and you will witness hundreds of lyrca-clad enthusiasts on their ‘million dollar bikes’ belting their way along the left lane clearway doing a Mordi-loop. Or out at Mount Dandenong you’ll see coffee shops littered with cyclists sipping lattes working up the courage to beat their previous Strava record up the 1:20. Each state has their own cycling hot spots!

If you are one of those weekend warriors and want to gain an advantage on your mates, lead the peloton, set some new PR’s on Strava, or pass your mates up a climb like they’re standing still, then listen up! There are a number of ways in which you can improve your cycling i.e., ride more, get a physio bike-fit, improve your pedalling technique, enrol into regular spin classes, buy a new bike, or even lose weight. But there is one way that I believe the recreational cycling community hasn’t caught onto yet. No, it doesn’t involve any illegal Lance Armstrong methods, it is weight training that’s tailored specifically for cycling.

Just one dedicated leg weight sessions per week is a game-changer. If you want your legs feeling fresh over the weekend I recommend a leg weight session to be completed early in the week to allow enough time for recovery. The session needs to be no longer than 45-50mins and you will need access to gym equipment. All facets of power, speed and endurance can be addressed using resistance of varying weight.

When you break down the movement of a pedal rotation, the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and deep calves all work in unison to create energy to propel the bike forwards. So by placing these muscle groups under the heavier stress of weight training it will accustom them to a higher output. Squats, a bilateral exercise, are a perfect way to achieve this as it loads the whole body and engages the deep core. Practicing squats at a lighter load with higher repetitions will increase muscular endurance helping with long distance rides, whereas heavy loads with low repetitions will give more power and speed for climbing and sprint efforts.

Picture 1.1 - Barbell Squat

The motion of a pedal stroke is opposite at any one time in the legs. Therefore whilst the left leg is applying downward pressure onto the pedal the right leg is in the lifting phase. This has great application in single leg (unilateral) exercises in both pushing and pulling movements and will also even up any strength imbalances from left to right that may be prominent. Bulgarian squats (also known as split-squats) are ideal in replicating the pushing phase, whilst single leg swiss ball curls address the pulling movement.

Picture 1.2 - Ketlebell Bulgarian Squats

Picture 1.3 - Swiss Ball Single Leg curls

Travelling higher up the body chain, the hips then need to stabilise so that the power can be transferred directly to the legs. This involves having a strong core to limit upper body movement, and strong hip stabilisers so that the pelvis stays horizontal with each pedal stroke. So to put the body under load with the need to stabilise through both hips and core, single leg deadlifts is one that hits the spot.

Picture 1.4 - Ketlebell Single Leg Dead Lifts

A combination of bilateral, unilateral, hip stability and core exercises need to be included in a well-balanced weights program. The exercises also need to be compound in nature which encourages several muscle groups to work together to produce the output making it specific to cycling. Progressions to the weight, sets, repetitions, and exercises also need to be considered to keep the body challenged once adaptation occurs every 3-4 weeks.

Article written by Tammy Curtis, AFA lecturer and Assessor and owner Fit for All personal Training. You can contact Tammy at www.fitforall.net.au if you would like a tailored cycling strength program that will help you get bike lengths ahead of the peloton and earn more silverware on Strava!

Tammy Curtis – Fit for All

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