Cross-Training: Strength Moves Every Cyclist Needs
The secret to a stronger performance on the bike? It has nothing to do with your time in the saddle
If you're hooked on cycling—indoor or outdoor—you've found a powerful, heart-pumping base for a lifetime of activity. But you can’t stay fit on spin alone. "You can't get everything from one thing. The body doesn't like to be unbalanced," says Charles Poliquin, owner of Poliquin Performance in Arizona and strength coach to multiple Olympians, including cyclists. "If you only overload certain areas of the body, the brain will say, 'you're going to be asymmetrical, so I'm going to shut down your rate of progress.'"
When upper-body strength training is incorporated, Poliquin says, his cyclists see progress not just up top, but in their legs too. And your time on the bike needs more than just quad strength—your core, low back, triceps, and even your neck take a lot of strain from long bouts of pedaling.
With just a few simple strength sessions a week, you’ll pedal harder and longer, reduce pain and tightness that builds up on the bike, and create a more balanced body out of the saddle. Here's what to do:
Get to the Core of the Matter
If you've ever left spin class or a long ride with a sore back, a weak core is to blame, says Shawn Arent, Ph.D., director of the Human Performance Laboratory at Rutgers University. "People don't keep their core activated, so they let it sag," he says. "The low back starts to carry the bulk of the work."
In fact, a strong core can be the most important factor in having a strong, long ride, says Dan Ownes, owner of Hyper Fit Training in Wall, New Jersey, and cycling coach for the Full Throttle Endurance triathlon team in New York. "You'd rather have your legs and lungs give out than your core," he says. "When you're driving down in the pedal stroke, your core has to support your body."
To simulate the extended core stability needed for a long ride, Ownes has his clients perform long sets of exercises like the side plank and reach—holding for up to three minutes.
To do it, lie on your left side with your feet stacked, your left elbow directly beneath your left shoulder. Prop yourself up on this elbow and stiffen your body so it forms a straight line from head to heels. Hold this position as you extend your right arm straight toward the ceiling. Maintaining a rigid body, bring your right hand down and thread it under the space beneath your left armpit. As you do this, your hips will rotate until your lower core faces the ground. Bring your right arm back to the top, and repeat, trying to continue for as long as you can—up to three minutes. Switch sides, and repeat for the same amount of time.
"Not everyone will be able to do it for that long at first, but it's the endurance factor of the plank that's important," he says. "Your core is engaged the whole time."
Ownes' other favorite core move for cyclists is called "stir the pot." To do it, grab a stability ball and prop yourself up in plank position—elbows on the ball, feet on the floor, and body forming a straight line from head to heels. Maintain this body line as you move your elbows beneath your shoulders to rotate the ball in a small clockwise circle beneath your chest—your hands will look as if they're stirring a pot. Give it all you've got, take a rest, and then do the same number of circles in a counterclockwise rotation.