As the evidence builds in the sports medicine and sports science literature, we know strengthening helps prevent injuries for all sorts of sports, cycling included. The great thing about injury prevention exercises is not only do they help reduce the chance of injury, but they also improve performance. I swapped notes with some of my colleagues who work in pro cycling, and here’s our top six exercises for cyclists.
To start: 3 x 20 double leg Progression: 3 x 15 single leg Pro: 3 x 12 with plate weight on front of hips
Rationale This is a great exercise to start your program with, often used in elite sport as an ‘activation exercise’ – to get both the neuromuscular system fired up as well as to improve strength.
The bridge uses the powerful gluteal and hamstring muscles, and the action and hip/knee joint range of motion mimic that of the cycling action. The deep hip flexion angle (70-800) brings in the often-forgotten, but super powerful adductor magnus – a key muscle that contributes significantly to the power phase of the pedal stroke.
Technique Tips - Push through your forefoot in exactly the same spot you would apply force through to the pedal whist cycling. - Ensure the push is upwards and not pushing out against the bench or chair. If the chair or step moves, you know you’re not quite on the money. - Focus on smooth and controlled movement, when you start to ‘vault’ the first part of the movement you’ve reached ‘technical failure’, so finish the set, recover, and tackle the next one.
To start: 3 x 12 single leg Progression: 3 x 25 single leg Pro: 3 x 20 single leg with resistance
Rationale The calf muscle is one of the most active muscle groups in cycling, with the soleus muscle being active from 1 o’clock to 5 o’clock, and the gastrocnemius being active from 2 o’clock to 8 o’clock – so the calf contributes to both the power and recovery phase of the pedal stroke.
During the power phase, a well-functioning and strong calf muscle keeps the foot rigid and allows optimal transference of power to the crank.
Technique Tips - During the exercise, the majority of pressure should be felt through the 1st and 2nd toes. If you find yourself progressing your weight over to the outside of your foot, make the change. - It’s a good idea to vary the speed of movement between sets to bring in slow and fast twitch muscle fibers – you need the slow twitch for steady state flats, and fast twitch for sprints, hills, and when you get out of the saddle.
Toe Touches with a Controlled Core
To start: 3 x 8 Progression: 3 x 15 Pro: no more reps, but more range
Rationale It may seem like it’s for ballet, however this exercise is amazing for movement differentiation and flexibility, which is highly specific to the cyclist.
The hinging action at the hips whilst ensuing control through your lumbar spine and pelvis is brilliant for improving hip flexion flexibility which is essential for optimal positioning on the bike and reducing lower back pain.
Technique Tips - Keep the movement slow and controlled - Keep your lower back neutral – a small amount of movement is ok - Don’t overstretch. Take the movement down until you feel a moderate stretch, but no more. You’ll improve with time and frequency, not mastering it in one session
To start: 3 x 12 body weight (both sides) Progression: 3 x 8 with dumbbells (both sides) Pro: 4 x 6 heavy dumbbells (both sides)
Rationale This is an exercise where everything is drawn together into one cycling specific exercise. The Bulgarian lunge, also known as a split squat, works all major leg muscle groups, differentiates front leg and rear leg function, challenges proximal stability and control, and requires flexibility of the hips and hamstrings.
Technique Tips - Think alignment: knee over the toes, pelvis nice and level - Focus on your gluteals to generate the power in the exercise (focus on squeezing your butt during the entire movement) - If you feel knee pain, don’t do the exercise
To start: 3 x 8 Progression: 4 x 20 Pro: 4 x 15 single leg
Rationale This is known as ‘core’ exercise, however it’s more than that – and great for cycling. The jacknife requires strength and stability around the upper back, shoulders and arms as the upper body is important in cycling.
And, the combination of maintaining a strong core whilst performing hip flexion is a movement pattern that is of high importance to cyclists, and this exercise achieves that.
Technique Tips - When you start to fatigue, pay attention to where that fatigue starts – arms, core, or hip flexors? Additional exercises to work those areas of weakness may be indicated. - Don’t allow your middle to sag down towards the floor - Don’t brace too hard in your core. The muscles should be active enough to maintain position, but if you’re contracting as hard as you can you’ll fatigue your core in no time (not good)
To start: 3 x 6 – ½ way down Progression: 3 x 8 – ¾ way down Pro: 3 x 15 – all the way down
Rationale Of course this exercise will challenge the lower abdominals, however it also works the hip flexors very hard too. The hip flexors are prone to becoming tight in cyclists, and the weaker they are, the tighter they get. Having optimal strength in the lower abs and hip flexors will also balance out the strength in the gluteals, quads and hamstrings. It’s all about muscle balance.
Technique Tips - Maintain a flat lower back. You should be able to feel your lower back staying in contact with the floor or mat. When your lower back starts to arch, you’ve lost control, and that’s when you bring your legs back up. - Don’t hold your breath - If you feel back pain, don’t do the exercise
What’s your favourite exercise for cycling? Please feel free to share this article, tag Premax in, and suggest what you think we could include.
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