Cycling Strength Training and Exercises

Whether a cyclist competes as a road racer, a mountain biker, or as a velodrome (graduated oval track) sprint specialist, the mechanics of cycling have common features. The legs of the athlete are used to propel the bicycle, with the body in a primarily seated position. This repetitive physical action places similar demands upon the bodies of each type of cyclist, both with regard to the musculoskeletal structure as well as the energy-producing body systems.

The development of both the cardiovascular and the cardiorespiratory systems are essential to the physical demands created in all forms of cycling. The ability of the athlete to most efficiently inhale and utilize oxygen, referred to as the "VO2max," has long been understood as a key performance benchmark for cyclists; the more oxygen the cyclist can consume while working at peak effort, the more energy can be expended.

Conversely, the sprint racer, whose primary energy system is the anaerobic system, builds aerobic capacity as a recovery tool, as greater endurance will permit the rider to maintain short intervals of intense effort more readily.

To build short-term speed and hill-climbing ability, road racers and mountain bikers apply the principles of interval training used by runners and swimmers. The intervals are typically of varying distances and, in the case of hill training, of varying degrees of difficulty. The intervals are performed, with an appropriate rest period between (a common work-to-rest ratio is 1:3, or greater). Research studies confirm that road racing success is as dependent upon the ability to generate powerful intervals as it is upon long-distance endurance capabilities. It is thought that for elite racers, given the large portion of a race that may be spent riding in the pack, or peloton, where the dynamics of the large group of riders in cutting resistance make large portions of the race relatively easy. The ability to make an explosive, anaerobic burst will define success.

Interval training that does not involve the bicycle is equally beneficial to the lungs and anaerobic system training; the body does not differentiate between the activities that draw upon it for energy, the body answers the demand. For this reason, hill running and interval running will improve the ability of the cyclist to utilize the anaerobic energy systems.

Given the importance of the cardiovascular system to effective cycling, any other form of exercise in which the athlete is required to move against resistance will be of benefit. Distance running, the use of stair climbers, other elliptical training devices, and rowing machines all create a cardiovascular benefit that is immediately transferable to cycling.

All cyclists have an interest in a lean physique. The greater the amount of excess weight carried on the bicycle, the greater the effort demanded to propel the greater mass. Larger body size will create a more significant degree of wind resistance for the rider, as well as an increase in the rolling resistance between the tires and the surface of the road. Cycling exercises will address the secondary purpose of optimum weight maintenance for these reasons.

In addition to the exercise derived from the sport itself, cycling places a premium on the strength and flexibility of the legs. A strength and training emphasis is an important part of a balanced program that develops all leg muscles, as imbalances between thigh and calf, Achilles tendon, calf and foot, or quadriceps and hamstrings will ultimately lead to inflexibility and the greater likelihood of leg injury, especially when the cyclist attempts to move explosively.

The potential for the body to be rather rigidly positioned in the saddle for lengthy periods creates a need for training exercises that will counter this effect. Stretching programs, both those dedicated to the leg muscles and joints, as well as whole body stretches, will help negate the stiffness typically generated by long periods of riding. More dynamic programs that both stretch the muscles and tissues as well as build strength include traditional calisthenics such as push ups, crunches, and squat exercises, yoga, and Pilates.

Leg strength is essential to cycling success, but as with the muscles of the leg itself, an imbalance between the power of the leg muscles and the muscles of a cyclist's upper body can lead to strain, especially in the lower abdomen and lower back structures, which must resist the downward forces generated by the pedal action of the cyclist on every stroke. Swimming is an exercise that emphasizes an overall body balance, particularly through the development of the upper back and shoulders, without placing an additional strain of the leg muscles that are consistently worked to a high level in cycling.

Weight training is another proven effective measure to achieve balance between the upper and lower body capabilities of the cyclist. As large increases in body mass are counterproductive to the cyclist, routines that require relatively low weights and higher numbers of repetitions will tend to create the desired

Cyclists in a training session during a rest-day of 2005 Tour de France.
effect. To ensure that the leg muscles are exposed to resistance in ranges of motion other than that of the bicycle, exercise machines such as the leg press and routines using low weight dumbbells such as lunges and squats are very effective.

SEE ALSO Cycling; Diet; Endurance exercise; Exercise, high intensity.