The ultimate TRX session for cyclists
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Looking for a new way to boost your off-bike training? World Cup winner Laurie Greenland's coach Andy Wadsworth explains why a TRX can be a cyclist's secret weapon and how to get the most out of one.
It is often thought that the only way to improve your cycling performance is by spending more time in the saddle. While certainly true for mastering technique, when it comes to form and strength, a lot of gains can actually be made away from the bike.
Before you fork out for a gym membership or the cost of a home gym set-up though, there is an affordable, compact alternative – a TRX suspension trainer.
What is a TRX trainer?
Standing for Total Resistance Exercise, the TRX provides a great alternative to regular gym-type exercises without needing to invest in a gym membership or a set of dumbbells, bench and squat rack. It turbocharges bodyweight exercises – adding gravity as resistance to work your muscles – and is great for increasing strength and stability in the stabilising muscles surrounding joints, making it easier for your body to cope with the demands of cycling. Many top cyclists even use the TRX as a great way of warming up and engaging all the core muscles before bike training and racing.
The TRX has some big advantages in that you can use it wherever there’s somewhere to hang it – whether it’s a doorway at home or a tree in the garden – and you don’t need a lot of space to use it. It's adaptable, so the same set of straps can be used to make exercises easier or harder; you simply change your positioning. Finally, it’s also incredibly compact, meaning it can be easily stored when not being used and can even be packed in a suitcase for trips or taken in the kit bag for training camps.
How to perform the session
Aim to do two sessions per week and pick five of the exercises below for one session and the remaining five for the second session. Do the exercises as a circuit with 10 reps of each (or as instructed below) and rest for 30-60 seconds between exercises. Build up to doing three sets of the circuit and once the exercises start to feel easier, follow the instructions to make each one tougher.
Benefits: Gets the powerful leg muscles working at the same time as working the upper body posture muscles to give the strength to pull on the bars and powerful legs to drive the pedals. Squats are a great all-over body exercise and a good way of getting the body ready for more demanding movements later.
- As you squat down push your hips back and let your arms go straight.
- Push your weight through your heels and pull with the arms until your back is upright and your hands finish next to your ribs and elbows are facing back behind you.
- Avoid your knees going in front of your feet when down in the squat and keep good upper back and shoulder posture throughout the movement.
How to make it harder: Move your feet out further in front of you so gravity kicks in even more. Also try lifting and extending one leg out straight in front of you to turn it into a single leg squat.
Benefits: Compared to a normal press-up, the straps provide the perfect platform to make the small stabilising muscles work harder. These are the muscles you will use not just all day long on the bike but also to rescue yourself from difficult changes in direction and challenges the terrain throws at you.
- Keep your body in the plank shape with your core and glutes activated and working hard.
- Bend the elbows out to the side and let gravity take your upper body down into the bottom of the press-up.
- Once elbows are back just behind the body press back up to the straight arm position.
- Keep your head facing 10 feet in front of you to avoid strain on the neck and try not to let your shoulders rise up.
How to make it harder: Take your feet further back behind you to create more gravity for your upper body to deal with. Also try raising one foot off the floor to make your core and stabilising muscles work harder.
Benefits: This a great way to prepare your body for doing full chin-ups on bars in the future. It gets the big muscles in the upper back and shoulders working whilst still making the core muscles throughout the rest of the body work. Getting strong on these will enable you to pull on the bars of a mountain bike or road bike with ease.
- Get the core and glute muscles working hard to maintain a plank like body position throughout the movement.
- Starting with your arms out straight, feel the upper back muscles engage and squeeze together as you pull yourself up with your elbows going out the side.
- Avoid pushing your neck and head forwards and keep your eyes looking at the anchor point of the TRX.
How to make it harder: Put your feet further out in front of you or even up off the floor resting on a chair or wall out in front of you to make gravity provide more resistance.
4. Reverse Fly
Benefits: Cyclists often complain of bad necks and this is due to holding the head still for long periods of time and taking the bumps at the same time. Making the upper back and shoulder postural muscles stronger will make a big difference. These muscles are so often missed in normal gym workouts but essential for cycling.
- Get the core and glute muscles working hard to maintain a good plank-like body position throughout the movement.
- Lean back, letting your body weight take over and then, keeping your arms almost straight, pull yourself up with arms, drawing them out to the side.
- Pause at the top of the movement with arms out to the side for two seconds to get a good squeeze on the rear deltoid (the muscle at the back of the very top of your arm that connects to spine).
- Avoid shoulders rising up and overusing neck muscles.
How to make it harder: Move your feet further in front of you to let gravity take over and make it tougher. Also try doing these on one leg to make core muscles work harder.
Benefits: This simple move works the entire core. The mid-section of the body has to be strong to provide the stable base to push power downwards and the reward is more speed. The straps make the movement harder to control and forces stabilising muscles to work even harder.
- Start in a strong press-up position with feet in the straps and core muscles fully engaged.
- Lift your hips as high as possible, keeping your legs as straight as you can. Once into the pike shape pause for one-to-two seconds and then lower back down.
- Keep the movement slow and controlled and make each movement last two seconds to avoid relying on momentum and make the core muscles really engage.
How to make it harder: Bend your arms once in the pike position to make it tougher on the upper body and force the core to work even harder. You can also try adding a press up in between each pike.
6. Single leg knee tucks
Reps: 10 on each leg, alternating one after the other
Benefits: Perform in a pedalling motion by working one side of the body and then the other to simulate the cycle position and improve the chain of movement you need on the bike.
- Start in a strong press-up position with feet in the straps and core muscles fully engaged.
- Tuck one knee in towards your chest and back out, alternating legs.
- Tense the abs to help with tucking the knee in and tense the glute muscles of the other leg to maintain a strong position.
How to make it harder: Bend your arms and you will notice the core having to work twice as hard. This will simulate the high stress you might face on the mountain bike when hitting harder terrain or bending arms into fast corners on long road descents.
7. Single arm squat row
Reps: 10 on each arm
Benefits: Gets the upper body rotating at the same time as using the legs to provide power and improves your chain of movement. When you get out of the saddle and pull on the bars, this link between upper and lower body is crucial in harnessing the power. Mobility and strength in rotation muscles surrounding the spine is so important.
- Start in the upright position, holding the straps in one hand. Squat down and extend the arm not holding the straps around behind you to touch or get close to the floor. Use your arms and core to control the downward movement.
- Initiate the core muscles to get the movement started on the pull back up and then engage the upper back muscles and biceps.
- Use the legs to help with the last part to get upright and tense glutes to finish the movement at the top as you reach forwards.
How to make it harder: Move your feet further out in front of you to make gravity take over. Also, try using fewer fingers on the handle to make grip strength work even harder.
8. Bicep curls
Benefits: This is one of the few exercises that can work your biceps and core at the same time while keeping your feet on the ground. It’s a great way to really isolate the biceps and get strength gains while simultaneously improving your stabilisers. Not only will it help with pulling on the bars but no one wants to be known as the one with stick-thin arms...
- Get the core and glutes engaging to keep a plank-like body position with arms straight out in front, lifting the arms in line with the straps.
- Curl the arms, keeping the elbows high to avoid your back muscles taking over, before releasing in the same motion.
- Keep your head facing forwards towards the anchor point of the TRX.
How to make it harder: Move your feet further out in front of you to get gravity to add more resistance and up the reps as they get easier.
9. Tricep dips
Benefits: Hanging onto the handlebars for hours will always take its toll on the arms. However, getting the triceps stronger will make any bumps in the road or trail a whole lot easier. Controlling the straps independently in this position will make the stabilisers around the shoulders, elbows and wrists work harder and make the triceps far more effective at dealing with the demands of cycling.
- Start with arms straight, holding your weight and then gently lower yourself down by taking your elbows back behind you.
- Once your hips have dipped below your hand position (or as low as you can go), push down with your hands in a steady, controlled way to return to your starting position.
- Try to prevent the shoulders rising up to put more emphasis on the triceps.
- Keep your hands close to your side throughout the movement and head facing forwards.
How to make it harder: Straighten your legs out in front of you to make it harder on the arms. You could also try raising one foot off the floor or increase the number of reps.
10. Plyo Squat Jumps
Benefits: Maximum bursts of power are important to any cyclist, whether it’s for getting a fast start or breaking away from the pack. Using plyometrics will add big power gains. Those who can tolerate the leg burn in cycling will be the ones up front and this exercise will get you familiar with that build up of lactic acid.
- Squat down to pre-load the muscle and then leap up high using the arms just to help steer the jump.
- Land as softly as you can by bending the legs and using them like shock absorbers to make the muscles work harder. Once landed, jump straight back up again.
- Keep core muscles engaged all the time to control the movement and maintain good posture.
How to make it harder: Jump higher, squat lower and add more sets and reps to really feel the leg burn.