In an age of marginal gains, we're all striving for that extra one per cent. While actual riding is still the best way to boost your overall cycling fitness and finesse those key skills, cyclists are increasingly now turning to the gym to help improve their performance.
Whatever you endgame, whether it's training for a strong sportive finish, or just looking to get in the mix on a local club ride, the exercises below will help increase your strength, power and ability on your bike.
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Lunges are a great exercise for cyclists who want to improve their on-bike strength. Simple and straightforward, lunges work every muscle in the lower body, targeting the hips, quads and hamstrings. The humble lunge is perfect for those wanting to workout at home.
There are also lots of variations, so you can mix things up and keep things interesting, such as weighted lunges and walking lunges. Whichever variation you choose, keep the head in line with the body and the core as straight as possible, leading with the chest while trying not to let the knees come past the toes. Drive through the whole foot rather than the toes – this helps you use your whole leg rather than just your quads.
The workout: Three sets of 10 reps with a 45-second rest between sets. From a standing position, step forward with your right leg. Bend your trailing left leg until the knee is almost touching the floor. If it's difficult to begin with, start with the knee lightly touching the ground. Push back into a standing position using your right foot. Repeat with your other leg and then continue to alternate legs, completing 10 reps on each leg.
Essential technique: To remain balanced and prevent injury, remember to keep your spine aligned; head, body and core should be in line. Don't let the knee move past the toes. Keep your shoulders back, your chin up and always look straight ahead.
2. Kettlebell Swing
An explosive full-body exercise, the kettlebell swing is an effective way to improve endurance and develop a stronger pedal stroke.
The workout: Three sets of 15 reps with a 90-second rest between sets. Pick a weight you're comfortable with and stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent. Hold the kettlebell firmly in two hands between your legs and, in a fluid motion, swing the kettlebell up to chest height. Control the kettlebell as it falls back down, hinging your hips to allow it to swing back between your legs.
Essential technique: Aim for full hip extension on that all-important up swing. Thrust through your thighs, tightening your core and glutes as you lift.
Despite what you might think, the deadlift is not to be feared. Activating your legs, back and core muscles, this simple compound exercise will develop your overall muscle strength, increasing power and supporting the key movements required to make you an efficient and fast rider.
The workout: Four sets of eight reps with a 45-second rest between sets. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, bend at the knees and squat down to grip the barbell.
If you have the correct position, your forearms should be gently brushing the outsides of your thighs, with your shins lightly touching the bar. Focusing straight ahead, push your shoulders back and lift the bar until it's level with your thighs.
Essential technique: Start off light and perfect your technique. Don't jerk the bar off the ground, instead feel for the tension of the bar against the weights and then lift with a steady, fluid motion, keeping it as close to your body as possible.
Burpees are a dynamic whole body exercise that you can do anywhere. Stringing together a number of functional movements, the burpee not only trains your muscles and joints, but also raises your heart rate and burns calories. Some people love them, many people hate them, but there's no denying they are amazing for bike fitness.
The workout: Three sets of 10 reps with a one-minute rest between sets. Squat down with your feet shoulder-width apart, hands on the floor in front of you. Kick your legs back into a push-up position, then immediately hop your feet back in towards your hands, returning to a squat. From this position, spring into a jump, throwing your arms up and leaping as high as possible. Land and repeat.
Essential technique: Try doing variations on the standard burpee. For example, add a push-up into the mix when you kick your legs back.
Squats may be simple, but they're one of the most important exercises a cyclist can do. The squat works all the main muscles in the legs, including the quads, hamstrings, hips and knees, increases flexibility and aids athletic movement.
The workout: Three sets of 10 reps with a 90-second rest between sets. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Start to lower your body into a sitting position by bending the knees and pushing the hips back. Attempt to lower yourself down as far as possible, but keep your feet flat on the floor. At the deepest part of the squat, hold the position. Rise back up and repeat.
Essential technique: Try doing weighted squats once you have the technique locked in, but make sure you have good form first. If you're unsure about using a barbell, kettlebells or a weight in each hand will work just as well
6. Press up
Being able to handle your own body weight is key to absorbing impacts as you rattle down hills.
If you can't do full press-ups just yet, find a chair or steps to put your hands on to start with, or even lean against a wall. As you get more proficient, you can work your way down into a full press-up and the more you practice the quicker you'll master the basic move. You can then progress to more advanced forms incorporating weights or balance.
The workout: Move into a plank position with your hands below your shoulders. Engage your core, bend your arms to lower your body, press-up style, hold and then return to the start position. Slower and controlled is more beneficial than quick and good form is important.
Essential technique: Keep your back straight, head in line with your back and your core tight. It's crucial that you keep your core strong throughout this exercise.
A pull-up might not seem very bike specific, but you need to be able to pull, as well as push, to ride a bike. Pull-ups are a great way of working your back and arms really hard, whilst simultaneously increasing grip strength. Pull-up bars that fit over doors are also relatively inexpensive, so this is something simple to have at home.
The workout: If you struggle to lift your own body weight, start off by doing assisted pull-ups by placing your foot or knee in a resistance band to take some weight off your arms. You could also try jumping pull-ups; jump up, grab the bar then slowly lower yourself, and repeat.
Once you have the basic pull-up mastered you can vary the technique, such as trying different grip positions; overarm, underarm, wide and narrow grip, etc. You could also start to add weights by using a weight belt.
Essential technique: Avoid swinging the body and aim for a steady, controlled raise and lower. It's better to work up to a full pull-up using the techniques above rather than going too hard with poor technique.
The plank is a surprisingly tough full body exercise that works the core, upper body and your willpower. This is a good exercise for bikers, as it works both sides of the body separately and it's especially good for the hips because you have to try to keep them level and make sure that one side doesn't dip.
Just like press-ups, there are a number of variations of the plank, which you can make as easy or as hard as you feel like. You can do the basic form on the floor and then when you’ve mastered that try the more advanced form with a balance ball to up the difficulty and workout.
The workout: Lie face down on the floor with your toes tucked under and your hands palm down and flat under your shoulders. Push yourself up as if you were in the high position of a press-up, but hold the position, engaging your core, shoulder, back and leg muscles. Hold for as long as you can without losing form, and repeat three times.
If you can’t manage a full plank, you can start with your knees on the floor, or by resting on your elbows rather than with your arms fully extended.
To make it harder, add a gym ball. Start off in a plank position with your feet on the ball and then pull the ball towards you using your core muscles, hold and then roll the ball back to the start position.
Essential technique: Keep a straight line from your head to shoulders right down to your feet and hold the position for as long as you can handle it, engaging the core at all times. Keep your hips level.
9. Glute bridge
This is another simple exercise that's ideal for working the muscles needed to hold a low position on the bike comfortably. Glute bridges engage and strengthen the glutes and core muscles, but they're also great for stretching out the muscles around the hips and lower back. These tend to be tight in cyclists, particularly if they don't stretch regularly, so it's got a double whammy of benefits.
You can make this more difficult by raising your legs onto a box or step, or by doing single leg glute bridges, with one leg raised in the air while the other works.
The workout: Lie flat on the floor with your legs bent at a 90 degree angle. Drive through your heels, pushing your hips up as far as you can go. Hold, then gradually lower your hips to the starting position and repeat. Complete three sets of 15 reps with a one-minute rest between sets.
Essential technique: Take your time, don't attempt to rush through the reps. Hold your position on each upward lift of the hips and try to squeeze your glutes throughout each repetition.