Summer Sports Prep: Exercise Tips For Cycling

Wednesday, September 27, 2006 - 8:52am

By Krista Scott-Dixon, PhD

Now that summer is here and the living is easy, who wants to be cooped up in a stuffy old gym? Time to get out and enjoy the sun and fresh air!

Two favorite summer sports are cycling and rock climbing. Cycling is also a great way to get places (I suppose climbing is too, but it’s a lot slower, and ideally not part of your daily commute). Although you might prefer to avoid the gym altogether when the weather’s nice, a little bit of weight training will help you stay strong, put more power in your leg drive or arm pulls, and keep you injury-free.

Pointers for creating a routine especially for cycling

Here are some tips for creating a weight training program based on cycling:

  • Cycling is primarily a lower-body activity. The cycling stroke is driven by three interrelated movements. Thus, your #1 choice for cycling-related weight training should be movements that do all these things:
    1. Extend/straighten the hip joint
    2. Extend the knee joint
    3. Extend the ankle joint
  • Cycling is done one leg at a time. When one leg is pushing down, the other one is coming up. When possible, train one leg at a time. Just about any free weight, bodyweight-only, or machine exercise can be modified so that you’re using only one leg at a time.

  • Cycling is generally a strength-endurance activity. This means use lighter weight and longer sets. Do 15-20 or more reps per set. (Tip: Working up to 100 or more bodyweight-only squats is a fun summer project.)

Cycle training: Don’t neglect your upper body

We can all figure out that cycling is a lower-body activity. But did you know that the upper body is involved too? Your forearms have to support your torso’s weight; your spinal muscles have to contract isometrically, your abdominals have to resist the downward push of your ribcage, and your neck has to work to keep you looking ahead for potholes and car doors.

Upper and lower body exercises good for cycle training

You’ll notice that most of the following exercises don’t require any additional equipment besides your own body and a little bit of floor space. So you needn’t feel obligated to add gym time to your training schedule.

Lower body

  • Squats
  • Reverse bodyweight-only squats
  • One-legged squats (aka pistols)
  • Lunges
  • Boot strappers

Upper body

  • Pushups
  • Plank pose and side bridge (do these on your hands, not your forearms)
  • Cable row
  • “Superman”

Stretching improves your posture

Finally, don’t neglect some strategic stretching. It’s easy to recognize a hardcore cyclist by the Quasimodo posture: shoulders internally rotated, head pushed forward like E.T., tight hip flexors. This unique and cave-person-like posture comes from the position in which cyclists sit for long periods.

Remember to stretch these areas:

  • Front of shoulders / pecs
  • Front of hips (hip flexors)
  • Hamstrings
  • Hip rotators and extensors (glutes, piriformis, deep hip abductors)
  • Iliotibial band
  • Quadriceps
  • Neck
  • Upper back, especially the lower fibers of the trapezius muscles

(For stretching ideas, check out ExRx.)

Recommended cycle training schedule

How often should you weight train? A lot depends on what you’re already doing. If you’re already cycling several days a week, a twice-weekly weight training schedule that last 20-30 minutes per session should be quite adequate. Remember to base your activity on your total workload.

Happy trails!