Many of us have put a stamp on the 2022 event season. We trained for and completed our gran fondo, big race, or event series. What now? Transition? I’ve been preaching strength to my athletes in recent weeks. What does that mean? “Strength” is so vague and without direction, it’s easy to get lost. Where to start? What is the goal? Why do we even have to strength train? Why not just ride the bike more and more?
As cyclists, we train our aerobic and cardiovascular systems. We also condition the muscular system but only in a limited fashion. Pedaling only covers a fraction of our possible movements. Without other activities, important stabilizing muscles can become deconditioned or weak in relation to the pedaling muscles. Get off the bike and weak muscles cramp, cause pain, and can lead to injuries. Do a self-check. If you have any unexplained aches or pains in your knees, hips, or low back, muscle imbalance could be a likely culprit. Targeted exercises can help prevent muscle imbalances possibly caused by cycling. Sitting all day is another likely culprit.
Let’s look at the movements of the hip, ball, and socket joint. To pedal a bike, the leg goes up (flexion), and the leg goes down (extension). The muscles that perform these movements are conditioned, but our legs also move out (abduction), move in (adduction), and they rotate inward and outward. The muscles responsible for Abduction, adduction, inward and outward rotation work as stabilizers while cycling but are not conditioned for any other performance.
Our trunk, the area between ribs and hips, can also move in all planes, however it stays relatively fixed while cycling. The muscles that perform Lateral Flexion (Bend to one side from your trunk), and Trunk Rotation (turn your ribs and shoulders in relation to your pelvis) keep a stable platform for the legs to pedal. Off the bike, they may be weak, and unable to perform.
I rode my bike for 5 hours one day in October without any problems. A week later I raked leaves for 20 minutes and my back was painfully sore for days. Sound familiar?
Let’s pour a solid strength foundation by training movements to address muscle imbalances. Condition the lateral movers and rotators of the hips and trunk to create a solid base for cycling also capable of all other tasks, pain-free. A more stable base means more power to pedals and fewer injuries will equal less downtime.
There are countless exercises to strengthen the muscles that perform these movements. (Abduction, adduction, rotation of the hip and lateral flexion, rotation of the trunk) A commercial gym has machines for most, but below is a group of exercises that can be done at home. I suggest starting conservatively with 1 or 2 sets of 10 or less slow reps, every other day for 6 weeks.
This all may seem like the zone 2, base training of strength. It is. As you progress, reps, sets, movements, and frequency can all be adjusted to fine-tune the overall strain. Functional, dynamic movements like squats, deadlifts, or push-ups with dumbbell rows, can be really useful in sport-specific training, but lay the foundation first. Hopefully, this helps you feel more confident and organized about strength. When choosing your own exercises, think about muscular balance.
Please use your best judgment if doing these or any strength exercises. If something is painful or doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t and you should consult an in-person professional before continuing.