Although cycling is often thought of as purely leg focused, other muscles are also engaged to help stabilise the body.
The quads and glutes are the powerhouse muscles for any cyclist, however in order to stabilise the hips during a pedalling motion the hip flexor muscles must be engaged. Other muscles in the back – primarily the quadratus lumborum (QL) and the obliques need to work to reduce hip tilt and keep the lower back stabilised.
The quads and glutes are exceptionally strong, however when these start to fatigue more demand is placed on the back muscle and this can result in lower back soreness or tightness after a long day in the saddle. Combine this with sitting at a desk for eight hours a day which shortens the hip flexors and stretches the glutes (this can eventually inhibit the glute muscles as they remain in an inactive state for a large proportion of the day), and you have a recipe for muscular imbalance. The following exercises not only will make you stronger on the bike, but will start to address some of the muscular imbalances resulting from day to day living and time spent on the bike.
Before starting this session, complete a good 10 minute warm up on any piece of cardio equipment in your gym.
1. Lateral banded walks
This is a great exercise to activate the glute medius, which is a muscle that stabilises the hips and helps to sustain power when riding.
• With your feet shoulder width apart the band should be taut.
• Maintain a slight bend in your knees, then take a small step to the side keeping your hips level. Slowly shift your weight to the moved leg and bring the other leg inwards, still maintaining tension in the band, you should feel resistance in the band during the entire ‘walk’.
1 set = 6-10 side steps to the left then change direction to take 6-10 steps to the right.
Repeat x 2-3 times for maximum results.
2. Renegade row
This exercise is a fantastic full body exercise that targets the core, back, shoulders and arms.
It can be progressed by adding a push up between reps.
• The starting position looks like the beginning position of the push up with a few differences: The hands will be closer together (shoulder width or less and directly under chest). The feet will be hip width or wider for beginners to give more stability.
• While allowing as little movement as possible to occur throughout the rest of the body, pull one of the dumbbells off the floor and complete a rowing motion by pulling the weight upwards and slightly towards the hip, pinching the muscles in the middle back.
• Do not allow the body to rotate as you perform the movement.
• Return the dumbbell to the starting position and repeat the motion on the other side.
• The body should remain motionless with no tilting.
• The glutes and abs should feel ‘switched on’ – this will help keep your body from moving.
1 set = 6-8 rows each side.
Repeat x 3.
3. Bulgarian Split
I love this exercise as it stretches the hip flexors, it gets the quads burning, it makes those lazy glutes work and it builds single leg stability. Most people can do this exercise with good form, you don’t need to lift huge weights to get great results and the risk of injury is very low.
The most important factor in this exercise is determining how far away from the bench your front foot should be. The closer to the bench, the more it works the quad, but it will be harder to balance and remain upright. Standing too far away from the bench can cause excessive flexion of the hip flexor and excessive lower back arching.
• Keep the hips square, and chest up.
• Keeping the core engaged and a straight spine
• Descend under control, bending the back knee down towards the ground.
• Power back up by pushing through the front heel, squeeze glute.
• Front knee should not extend past toes.
• Front knee should remain in vertical alignment with ankle.
• If you feel a pinching in your lower back then the height of the bench might be too high. Try using a lower bench until your hip mobility is better developed.
1 set = 6-8 rows each side.
Repeat x 3.
4. Face Pulls
This exercise gives a great bang for you buck when it comes to shoulders and upper back. As a cyclist and most likely someone who spends some time sitting at a desk, there is a tendency to round the shoulders. Face pulls are a great exercise to help correct this imbalance as well as strengthen the rhomboids and middle trapezius muscles.
• Set up a resistance band or the cable machine (with rope grip attachment) between chest to head height.
• Hold the band or rope so that palms face towards each other and thumbs on top.
• Bend the knees slightly to maintain a stable stance.
• Retract the shoulder blades and keep chin tucked in, pull the band slightly up and towards the face.
• Hold for 1 second at the top of the movement before slowly lowering to starting position.
• Keep the elbows in line with the shoulders – this keeps the emphasis on the upper back muscles.
Note: do not go too heavy with this exercise; it should be a slow, controlled movement.
1 set = 8-10 reps.
Repeat x 3.
5. Dumbell Goblet squat
Squats in general are a great way for cyclists to build lower body power.
This is a widely accessible squat for most people to do with good form and it has the added benefit of training core strength.
• Position your stance wider than shoulder width, with toes pointing out.
• Start by holding the dumbbell close to your chest with your elbows tucked in.
• Squat down and back, keeping your chest up the whole time.
• Elbows touch the inside of your legs at the bottom of the squat.
• Push through the heels to power back up to the start.
• Use an eccentric tempo: lower down for a count of 4 up for 1.
1 set = 8-12 reps. Repeat x 3.
6. Cable wood chops
It is a good idea to perform some exercises for the obliques to correct structural and sporting imbalances that come with the lifestyles we lead. The muscle fibres of the obliques are arranged in a diagonal pattern so the wood chop which moves from high to low trains the obliques in these natural patterns.
• Step out from the cable machine so you are approximately an arm’s length from the pulley.
• The cable should be under tension at the beginning of the exercise.
• In one motion pull the handle down and across your body towards the opposite hip.
• Keep arms straight and core tight.
• Allow the weight to pull you back to the start in a slow controlled manner.
1 set = 8-12 reps completed on one side before switching to the other side. Repeat x 3.