The answer to this question will differ depending on what type of riding you do. If you’re a mountain biker, especially if you’re training for enduro or downhill, then you definitely should be in the gym to improve your performance. On the road, this remains to be a fairly contentious issue, but what isn’t debated is that if you’re a sprinter, and want to improve, you need to be pumping iron.
Whenever a short, sharp sprint is needed, if you’re against someone who doesn’t hit the gym, the chances are you’ll come out on top.
Working out isn’t going to help you ride further, rather the benefits gained through working out are to do with the recruitment of additional fast twitch fibres in your muscles, meaning that at the end of a race, or whenever a short, sharp sprint is needed, if you’re against someone who doesn’t hit the gym, the chances are you’ll come out on top.
Before we continue, a term I’ve used throughout this article is your ‘one repetition (rep) max.’ This is the maximum weight you can lift only once. This is a measure used to estimate the amount of weight you should be lifting for different performance benefits.
I will explain in further detail the why, when, and weights of each, but in short, the exercises I’ll talk about are:
- Seated Rows
- Core Training
- Shoulder Press
A fairly obvious one to begin with, but possibly the most important exercise for us cyclists. Training your quads, glutes, back and abs, it’s one of the most encompassing exercises you can do. The most important muscles in any cycling discipline are your quadriceps, made up of your rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius and vastus medialis. It’s essential to generate new muscular fibres and new synaptic connections in these areas to increase your power output, so squats are a great exercise for this. Remember, it’s essential that you get a qualified personal trainer to show you the correct form, because having a large amount of weight above your shoulders is always going to present a risk of a back injury. If you’re looking to train for sprints, you should be doing about 3 sets of 6 reps at about 85% of your one rep max.
This is more an exercise for the road riders out there, and acts as a corrective exercise, rather then giving you a direct performance benefit, but it is essential, nonetheless. When you’re riding in an aero tuck , or even just resting on the hoods for an extended period of time, you’ll tend to be pulling your shoulders forward, resulting in poor posture and possibly causing issues later in life. This can easily be reversed by exercising the back muscles which retract your scapulae, which can correct that poor posture. Since your aim is to build muscle for this exercise, aim for 4 sets of 10-12 reps, at 75% of your one rep max.
The core is probably the most unrecognised muscle group in the cycling world. Allowing for better stabilisation, power transfer and better position on the bike, training your core is essential for every rider. The biggest thing is to engage the whole core, and the best way to do this is by using a BUSO ball. A BUSO ball is essentially a stability ball cut in half, that you stand on whilst doing other exercises. Whilst it doesn’t improve the efficiency of the exercise that you are performing, it engages your core whilst exercising other muscles to create a more efficient workout. If you don’t want to invest in one of these, then a standard ab workout of crunches, oblique crunches and leg raises will work to improve your performance on the bike, and give you a more efficient power transfer. Personally, I like the core workout prescribed by body builder, Calum Mon Voger.
Allowing for better stabilisation, power transfer and better position on the bike, training your core is essential for every rider.
An exercise more for the mountain bikers out there, but even if you spend most of your time on the road, then it definitely wouldn’t hurt. Having solid shoulders is essential to staying on your bike in any rough terrain. Toning up your shoulders and arms can help you to withstand rougher terrain for longer periods of time. Both strength and endurance are the goal for this muscle group, so you should be doing 4 sets of 10-12 reps, at about 80% of your one rep max for this exercise.
Of course this list isn’t comprehensive, but this should give you an idea where to get started. For a more tailored workout, and also to get their direction on the correct form before hitting the weights, you should see a personal trainer. If you are at the gym 2-3 times a week, it shouldn’t take long before you start seeing some performance enhancements. However, because most of us aren’t elite athletes and don’t have hours to spare to spend on training, simply swapping out one of your weekly rides for a gym session may just give you those performance benefits you’re looking for.
(1) Photo by Urutseg / CC BY SA 3.0
(2) Photo by Everkinetic / CC BY SA 3.0
(3) Photo by Everkinetic / CC BY SA 3.0