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Whole-Body Strength Training for Cyclists

Whole-Body Strength Training for Cyclists

As a cyclist, you’re constantly joking about only needing “legs and lungs”. The goal of a cyclist is to be as light as possible, with the highest amount of power to weight ratio coming from the legs, pushing into the pedals. That is why there are plenty of memes out there of cyclists with stick thin arms and torso, but with massive quads and hamstrings, and titles such as “Don’t miss leg day!”. Jokes aside, imbalances such as these can have a potentially detrimental effect on your long-term health. Strength training for cyclists is key for injury prevention and performance.

As cycling is a relatively low weight-bearing sport, it is beneficial for cyclists to engage in additional loaded strength training to address a variety of issues from bone density to muscular balance. Obviously, strength demands differ between cyclists – a road cyclist, track cyclist, mountain biker or BMX rider will all have very different needs, but the tips I share below can be used a general guideline, across all types of cycling.

 

 

Strength training for cyclists are a great addition to your training routine

Strength and conditioning programs should be kept as simple as possible. As often is the case, it is the simple stuff that works best and has stood the test of time.  The programs I recommend to a lot of my patients, typically contain the exercises below.

Sample workout
Compound Push (Knee Dominant) Back Squat/ Goblet Squat
Upper Body Push (Horizontal) Dumbbell Chest Press, Bench Press
Upper Body Pull (Horizontal) Bent over rows, Seated rows
Compound Pull Offset/Single Legged (Hip Dominant) Offset Romanian Deadlift, Offset Trap Bar Deadlift
Trunk Stability (Anti Rotation) Pallof Press, Plank + KB drags
*One of the Compound movements needs to be single legged or offset Work in 3 sets of 5-8 repetition with 2 RIR (Reps in Reserve)

By utilising a full body routine such as this, all the major components of the body will be covered, and even if a session is missed, you’ll know you are always covering the full body in each session. Optimally, you would want to engage this routine two times a week for adequate loading-for-strength benefits.

Compound movements are multi-joint movements which utilise multiple groups of muscles at the same time. Utilising a multi-joint movement under adequate weight helps to develop the ability to generate force through those joints. For a cyclist, the ability to generate better force in the hips and knees, coupled with bike specific training, may lead to an increase in power production.

I also added a note in the table to ensure one of the hip or knee dominant exercise needs to be either single legged or offset. Single leg/offset work is often underutilised, but is a very effective tool for stability. It also assists with restoring any imbalances you may have developed over the years, either through injuries or poor habits. I recommend that single-sided work be done towards the back end of the exercise session, as you would not often use as heavy weight. What’s more, doing single-sided work with a bit of fatigue from all the previous work sets will really challenge ones stability under appropriate weight.

The Importance of Upper Body Strength for Cyclists

For a cyclist, upper body work is not hugely important from a max strength or bulk point of view, however having good muscle tone in the upper body musculature is important for general well-being in everyday life. You don’t want to be “that” cyclist who is strong in the legs but weak with poor tone in the upper body, “that” cyclist who injures the neck or shoulder lifting a bag of groceries. Dependent on what field of cycling, some streams like track cycling and BMX may require a bit more upper body bulk and strength compared to road cycling and mountain biking.

Don’t forget to switch it up!

For a bit of variation in your workouts, you can alternate your sessions by switching the compound hip/knee dominant work around so you can focus the heavier work on the other compound exercises whilst offset/single leg work on the other. This will create a nice balance in loading for different movement patterns. I would try to do the heavy and double legged compound work at the start of the session and do the single leg or offset compound movements towards the mid or latter end of the session. Also for upper body work you can switch between horizontal movements like bench press and bent over rows with vertical upper body movements like overhead dumbbell press and lat pull down. See example in the table below.

Sample Variation
Compound Pull (Hip Dominant) Traditional deadlift, Trap-bar Deadlift
Upper Body Push (Vertical) Dumbbell Overhead Shoulder Press, Barbell overhead press
Upper Body Pull (Vertical) Lat Pull Down, Chin Ups
Compound Press Offset/Single legged (Knee Dominant) Bulgarian Split Squat, Lunges
Trunk Stability (Rotation) Woodchop, Medicine ball trunk rotations
*One of the Compound movements needs to be single legged or offset *Work in 3 sets of 5-8 repetition with 2 RIR (Reps in Reserve)

Hopefully what I have covered here about strength training for cyclists will be helpful as a starting point for a simple strength and conditioning program. As always, check in with your strength and conditioning focused allied health professional to determine if these recommendations are suitable for you.

The best advice I can give is, keep it simple and sustainable. The session need not be super long in duration – aim for 30-45 minutes to be done with your program. Over time, as you develop more experience and build up a repertoire of exercises you are familiar with, in each of the categories, you will be able to interchange exercises that are similar in each category to keep your work out fresh and engaging.

 

As with undertaking any new program or form of exercise, if you have any medical concerns, please check with your doctor. Or, should you need some tailored advice for strength training for cyclists – come see us here at PhysioTec.
Eric Huang is a qualified physiotherapist who specialises in cycling related pain and injuries. He has a passion for all things cycling, is a competitive cyclist himself, and runs his own cycling crew. Call 3342 4284 to book an appointment with Eric.

 

References:

Nicols JF, Palmer JE, Levy SS (2003) Low bone mineral density in highly trained male master cyclists. Osteoporos Int. 14:644-649

Rønnestad, B.R., Hansen, E.A. & Raastad, T. In-season strength maintenance training increases well-trained cyclists’ performance. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 110, 1269–1282 (2010)

Westcott, Wayne L. PhD. Resistance training is medicine: effects of strength training on health. Current Sports Medicine Reports: July/August 2012 – Volume 11 – Issue 4 – p 209-216

Louis, J., Hausswirth, C., Easthope, C. et al. Strength training improves cycling efficiency in master endurance athletes. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 112, 631–640 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-011-2013-1

 

Back into the Spring of Things

Back into the Spring of Things

Back into the Spring of Things: How to get back on track after the lull in the Winter

In winter, it is normal to feel less motivated with exercise and physical activity. Now that the days are getting longer and nights are shorter we can help you get into the spring of things! Research has shown that being active has many health benefits and helps decrease your risk of chronic disease. But if you don’t know where to begin, here’s a list of activities that are inexpensive and fun, especially if you do them with friends, to help you get started:

Outdoor Activites

Gladwell and his colleagues in 2013 reported that exercise performed outdoors helped increase levels of physical activity and decreased the rate of perceived exertion – that is, for the same amount of energy burnt, it felt easier to exercise outdoors than indoors. Psychological benefits of exercising outdoors include improvement in mood and reduced stress levels. Outdoor activities are not only confined to thrill seeking activities but also include simple activities such as walking or cycling around the neighbourhood, around the park or hiking or trail-riding in the bush. Green exercise is good exercise! Trade the treadmill walking for outdoor walking near the river or amongst the trees.

Walking & Running

An outdoor activity such as walking, especially one that accomplishes 10,000 steps a day, can help reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes (Brown et al 2006) and in a study done in Rockhampton where they walked 10,000 steps for 15 weeks, it was found that the participants reported improved well-being and fitness levels. Using a pedometer to track the number of steps has been found to be effective in increasing physical activity (Chan et al 2004) and significantly decreases Body Mass Index (a measure of determined by height and weight) and blood pressure (Bravata et al 2007). Walk to work if you can and incorporate it to your daily activities.

If walking on the streets is not exciting enough then hiking or nordic walking (walking while using poles) also benefits resting heart rate, exercise capacity and improves quality of life of people with various diseases (Tschentscher et al 2013).

You then may be able to progress to increasing your pace and start adding some jogging or light running intervals to increase the intensity of the exercise. If you have never been much of a runner though, it might be a good idea to visit www.mylocalnews.ie and to have a running assessment and get some instruction on good form and training techniques from your physiotherapist. Always progress a new activity slowly, and if you do develop niggles anywhere, don’t ignore it, pop in for a check-up and advice so we can keep you on the road.

Back into the Spring of Things - beach_running

Cycling

Is your work near your home? Then ditch the car and ride the bike. In Brisbane city, we have access to public bicycles and they are situated in different, easy access locations around the city. Just like walking, researchers have found strong evidence for fitness and health benefits and moderate evidence for risk factors for cardiovascular disease (Oja et al 2013).

Did you know that countries such as Netherlands and Germany have included promotion of safe walking and cycling in their campaign for improving public health (Pucher, Dijkstra 2003). Just recently in July, the Australian Walking and Cycling Inc (AWCC) was formed and it is the only national forum in Australia that has focused on research and promotion of mobility in Australia. They have recently joined forces with the Heart Foundation, which aims to prevent premature death caused by cardiovascular disease in Australia. Be part of the movement! Live long!

mountain_biking

Clinical Pilates

Now, if you are limited by time or musculoskeletal injury, Pilates is a good way to get active if grunting in the gym and crossfit are not your thing. Pilates-based exercise and functional strengthening have been very popular in recent years, especially for people who enjoy performing slow, controlled movement. In fact, for rehabilitation, this form of controlled movement retraining and strengthening under the guidance of a physiotherapist, can provide an ideal foundation for return to normal daily activities and for dynamic higher level sports or work tasks. There is evidence that Pilates helps improve functional ability and decrease pain in people with chronic low back pain (Wajswelner et al 2012). It can also help improve dynamic balance (Johnson et al 2007) which would be beneficial both if you are feeling a little unsteady on your feet, or for higher level sporting activities where balance and control is critical for performance and injury prevention.

As we mentioned above, green exercise is good exercise. You get the best of both worlds with the outdoors all around with our Pilates classses. Try it out.

barrel exercise annie

Now we have given you something to think about, have you decided what activity you would like to spring back into? Once you have decided, set a goal and train for it.

Here are some useful links to activities around Australia for events you may be interested in:

https://www.runningcalendar.com.au/

http://www.cycling.org.au/Events/Events-Calendar

If you are still not sure where or how to start, come and see one of our highly trained physiotherapists to help you spring back into action.

References:

Bravata et al (2007). Using Pedometers to increase Physical Activity  and Improve Health: A Systematic Review. The Journal of the Americal Medical Assoc. 298 (19)

Brown et al (2006) 10,000 Steps Rockhampton: Evaluation of a Whole Community Approach to Population Levels of Physical Activity. Journal of Physical Activity and Health 1:1-14

Johnson et al (2007). Effects of Pilates-based exercises on Dynamic Balance. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies . 11 (3)

Oja et al (2103) Health Benefits of Cycling: A systematic Review. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports. 21(4)

Pucher,Dijkstra (2003). Promoting Safe walking and Cycling to Improve Public Health: Lessons from the Netherlands and Germany. American Journal of Public Health . 93(9)

Tschentscher et al (2103).Health Benefits of Nordic Walking. American Journal of Preventive Medicine . 44(1)

Wajswelner et al (2012). Clinical Pilates vs. General Exercise for Chronic Low back pain: Randomized Control Trial. Med Sci Sports Exerc . 44 (7)