7 strength exercises you can do at home to improve your cycling
Hopefully you’ve been able to ride your bike during this difficult time, either indoors or out. If the gym was an integral part of your training programme however, I guess that’s no longer an option. Here then are a select few home strength training exercises which don’t require any equipment, and that will benefit your cycling.
Even if you didn’t previously use resistance training as part of your schedule, these exercises are a great place to start. Perform one or two sets of each exercise with a slow repetition speed of four seconds each way unless otherwise stated. Pause briefly at each end of the repetition to ensure you approach the end ranges of your joints with care. Go until you experience mild fatigue in the target muscles.
If you haven’t used resistance training before, start cautiously. Now is not a good time to require medical assistance!
Straight leg hold
It will come as no surprise that your quadriceps take a hammering from cycling, in particular your rectus femoris which is the only quadricep that crosses your hip. This exercise works on your ability to contract this muscle effectively. It may also have the added benefit of loosening off your hamstrings.
Lay down on your back, lock out one knee and slowly lift your leg around 2 feet (60 cm) off the floor. Hold that position for five seconds, focussing on keeping the knee as straight as possible. Relax the leg back to the ground before repeating a further five times. If you find you cramp, place your leg up on a couch or something similar for support. Extend your knee again but let the couch take some of the leg’s weight.
Adapted side plank
Studies have shown your trunk side-bends during the cycling motion. Strengthening the muscles that are responsible for that motion is a good idea.
The side plank is often used to target these muscles. Whilst it achieves that to a certain extent, it also represents a significant challenge to your shoulder and the muscles of your hip. In this adapted version we remove the shoulder and reduce the challenge to your hip to enable a better focus on those side-benders.
Support yourself on your couch or something similar and place a towel between your legs to keep your hips in a neutral position. Imagine you’re attempting to move your waist away from the floor by squeezing the muscles that sit between your rib cage and your pelvis. Hold that position for 10 seconds before slowly letting your pelvis fall towards the floor a little and repeating. Aim for six, 10-second holds.
The split squat provides a significant challenge for your quadriceps and your glute max without requiring additional weight. If you have dumbbells available then feel free to use them. This exercise will work well regardless however.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and slide one foot back as far as it will go without your lower back arching. Lean your trunk forward slightly and then slowly lower yourself towards the floor. Keep the foot of your leading leg flat on the ground and stop before your trailing knee touches the floor.
Slowly begin to push yourself back up again using your front leg as much as possible. Your trailing leg will contribute, but focus your attention on the glute and quadricep of the forward leg. Ensure your forward knee tracks in the same direction as your foot throughout.
The muscles of your lower back make a significant contribution to the cycling motion. There is also evidence that weakness in these muscles may be a factor in the back pain many cyclists experience. This exercise is a useful way to begin strengthening those muscles.
Find yourself a cushion or two around the size of those shown above. Lay face down over the top of them, but make sure the front of your pelvis remains on the floor. Curl your trunk around the cushions until your nose nearly contacts the ground. Now slowly start to extend your spine, raising your trunk as high as you can without moving your pelvis.
To make the exercise more challenging, lightly place your hands on the back of your head. Repeat until you feel mild fatigue in your lower back muscles.
Single-leg calf raises
Your calf muscles play a role in both transmitting power to the pedals and flexing your knees as you pull through at the bottom of the pedal stroke. Let’s face it, defined calves also look cool. Don’t judge me.
Stand face-on to a wall or the back of a chair. Shift your weight on to one leg and slowly start to lift your heel off the ground. Make sure you keep the knuckle of your big toe in contact with the ground and lift the arch of your foot as high as possible. Hold the top position for a second before slowly lowering your heel back down to just above the floor. Maintain a small bend in your knee throughout and keep your weight over the working leg.
Below are some norms for this exercise to add a little motivation. (Note: I’ve yet to meet anybody ‘normal’ that can achieve these numbers. I’m 45 and can do about 15 with a tailwind!)
20-29 years – Males 37 reps; Females: 30
30-39 years – Males: 32 reps; Females: 27
40-49 years – Males: 28 reps; Females: 24
50-59 years – Males: 23 reps; Females: 21
60-69 years – Males: 19 reps; Females: 19
70-79 years – Males: 14 reps; Females: 16
80-89 years – Males: 10 reps; Females: 13
Side-lying hip abduction
Weakness in the muscles that abduct your hip (take it out to the side) has been linked to knee pain. In particular Patellofemoral pain syndrome and Iliotibialband friction syndrome. Train your hip abductors to both prevent knee pain and improve it. This exercise will get them cooking.
Lay down on your side with your bottom leg bent at the knee. Have your head supported and place a hand on the top of your pelvis to monitor for any unwanted movement. Lock out your top knee and slowly start to lift your leg. Make sure the leg doesn’t move forwards into hip flexion as you lift and that your pelvis doesn’t move up towards your rib cage. Once you reach the top position pause for a second before slowly lowering the leg back down towards the floor. Stop when you feel your pelvis begin to move down towards your feet, and repeat.
What home exercise programme would be complete without press-ups? I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t include these, especially as your triceps are active in maintaining your position on the bike.
First check how deep you should go. This is governed my how much shoulder motion you have available. Stand up with your hands level with your chest and your elbows at shoulder height. Bring your elbows back as far as you can and note the distance between your hands and your chest. This is how far from the floor your chest should be in the bottom position. Now lay down on your front and place your hands slightly inside of your elbows and level with your chest.
From there come up onto your toes and straighten your elbows. You’re now in the perfect position to begin the exercise. Keep your abdominals braced and slowly begin to lower your body towards the floor. As your chest approaches the pre-determined distance from the floor, pause for a second and then slowly start to push yourself back up again. If a full press-up is too challenging, perform them from your knees to begin with.
Perform these exercises once or twice a week depending on how often you’re riding your bike. If you’re consistent, you’ll see improvements in strength that will make you a better bike rider with fewer aches and pains … and all from the comfort of your own home.
About the author
Paul Argent is a former Category 1 road racing cyclist from the UK. He now runs an injury rehabilitation and sports performance business in the City of London, Human Movement, which specialises in helping chronically injured athletes and weekend warriors alike get back to doing the things they love better than ever. This article first appeared on the Human Movement website.