By Coach Rick Schultz
As a cyclist, it’s not so much that we’re really weak in some key muscle groups. But it’s clear that doing some specific things to address our three weakest muscle groups can have a profound effect on our riding.
It’s also clear that the “off-season” for many of us is a time when – even if we happen to live in one of those year-round riding climates – we tend to not feel quite so compelled to ride as often, and instead don’t mind actually doing some other types of workouts.
As many other coaches have often said, a change of pace and a mental break will only help to make you better and more eager to hit the road again strongly in the new season.
So, if you’re open to working on some weaknesses this winter, here are the three muscle groups you might target:
Cyclists rely on their core as their main support structure. A strong core supports the cyclist for nearly all the movements of cycling, and is especially important to the pedal stroke.
We’ve surely all done loads of sit-ups and crunches over the years. But there’s nothing better than a plank to really work the core.
- Put your hands on the mat perpendicular to the floor and shoulder width apart. You can warm up with this basic plank push up.
- Hold for a count of 60, then lower your knees and upper body back to the mat.
- Repeat several more times.
- If this is new to you, try and hold for 10 seconds, slowly building strength until you can hold for a full minute or two.
- Form is important. Keep your back flat and straight.
The glutes are the most powerful muscle group in the body and are the muscle group that most affects how much power you can apply to the pedals. Weak glutes make for a weak cyclist. The stronger your glutes, the stronger you’ll be on the road.
- Top photo: Lay flat on your back with feet flat on the floor.
- Bridge up using the glutes only.
- Middle and Bottom Photos: If you have a ‘Stability’ ball, this is a harder exercise since you are isolating the glutes more as well as kicking-in stabilizer muscles using your core.
- Repeat 2 sets of 10 repetitions. (Many alternative exercises are discussed in our eBook.)
3) Upper Back
As the miles roll on and fatigue sets in, the upper body starts to “slump” over the bars. You will know this is happening to you when your shoulders start to get closer to your ears. This position, in addition to demonstrating fatigue, zaps your power as well. Because of extended hours in the saddle, desk jobs, working at the computer, poor posture, etc., cyclists tend to have weak back muscles – which, when strengthened, will help pull you back straight again.
- Lay on top of your stability ball, maintaining a straight/flat position.
- Starting with your hands flat on the mat, raise your elbows toward the ceiling, concentrating on using your shoulder blades to pull your arms up and off the mat.
- Repeat 2 sets of 10 repetitions. (When this gets too easy, go to 3 sets or use a 5 pound weight in each hand.)
If you’re open to adding some stretching and core strengthening to your workouts this winter, our eBook Stretching & Core Strengthening for the Cyclist is a great place to start.
All stretches and exercises are illustrated with photos of co-author Amy Schultz (like those above), with text descriptions below the photos explaining how to do each exercise.
If the plank is done from the forearms the triceps work less and although this version opens up the shoulder joint, the core is working much more due to the shift in center of gravity so if your goal is core strength then you should choose the lower forearm position. When the plank is performed on the hands the triceps and shoulder muscles are more activated while the body is positioned more vertically against gravity . So when a plank is performed on the hands, you’ll feel your shoulders and triceps more and your core less. If your goal is to develop shoulder strength and stabilization then the elevated plank on hands is probably more appropriate.
Thank you, Howard – I wondered about this, especially why I suck at the low plank (weak core!) and you explained in a way I can understand.
Bike Fitness Coaching says
Thank you Howard. We are working on a new ebook and this is an EXCERPT from this new ebook. Other Plank options are included but, since not everyone’s core strength is the same, we try and cover the plank from beginner to advanced – plank exercises for everyone!
David L. says
As a life long active athlete and now an older rider (65) it is imperative for me now to have a regular day (1 1/2 -2 hrs.) at the gym for strength training the includes core, upper and lower body work. About 18 months ago I noticed I was losing body mass and my FTP was dropping. Now with just one day a week at the gym, 4 days riding and two days rest I am a much stronger person and a stronger rider with FTP better than before.
Rick Schultz says
David, sounds like the perfect plan!
Could you please explain what FTP stands for .
Rick Schultz says
Functional Threshold Power. It’s defined as your (average) Maximum power you can sustain for an hour. Since there are very few locations where you can actually ride all out for an hour without hitting a red light, having to turn around, etc.,There are several abbreviated tests. 20 min, several 12 minute, sets of 8 minute, almost as many new testing ‘standards’ as there are bicycle bottom bracket standards.. The problem with abbreviated tests are that there is some factor that you need to reduce the results by so you can come up with the same effort as an hour test. Hunter Allen has one of the best where he pre-exhausts the cyclist before the actual 20 minute test starts thereby making the results pretty equal to the actual hour-long result. The resulting power number is perceived as your general fitness and all resulting training is based on a time at a % above or % below this FTP number. For more detailed information, please give me a shout out at [email protected] or look up the following website – http://www.peakscoachinggroup.com/PowerInfo
John Mulvihill says
Also helpful to the lateral obliques are side planks. Like on your side then prop yourself up on your extended arm and feet, keeping your back straight. You will feel a burn! Hold for 30 seconds. Then repeat the exercise on your other side. Add more time every week or so. After a few weeks of these you will feel the added muscle by holding and compressing your torso’s side area below the ribs.