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Strength training for cyclists: master muscle control for maximum on-bike gains

To convert strength training to cycling performance, you need to create stiffness and power exactly when it’s needed. Here are three great exercises that will help you nail muscular control

When it comes to converting your strength training to performance on the bike, you need exercises that help you learn the ability to create stiffness at times and in places where it’s needed, and to direct forces in the correct ways. 

> Strength training for cyclists part 4

While many think of box jumps and jump rope as being our go-to's, in fact there are a number of far better exercises, so long as you do them correctly. Here are some considerations, plus three great exercises to help you convert your strength gains to on bike power and performance...

The four pillars of athletic progression

Before we get into the exercises, let's discuss this concept first. While I’d love to tell you to ride your bike and do a little strength training to see great results, it doesn’t quite work like that... in fact, there are four 'pillars' that need to be addressed in order for you to train and see results. Understanding the four pillars that your performances stand on top of is an absolute must; whether you’re a pro, or just enjoy being able to see progress on your weekly group rides.

These four pillars are: 

Neuromuscular Your ability to recruit and fire your muscles
Hormonal Your body produces hormones in response to stresses and periods of relaxation and sleep
Cardiorespiratory  Your heart and lungs abilities to work well.
Metabolic Your energy systems abilities work capacities and abilities to recover from efforts to 'go again'. 

Addressing all four of these areas will help you build sustainable fitness relatively quickly, and in a much easier than many tend to. For a detailed explanation in moving picture form, see the video below and read on for the three exercises...  

Crocodile breathing

Fast is Loose, and loose is fast, so we say - when we think of something or someone fast, we often think about their ability to stiffen/lift heavy things. However, the true secret to being fast is learning how to be 'loose'. Completely loose, with no muscle tension except the very little bit necessary to stay still... and then BOOM! A quick sudden burst of energy, followed by relaxation again. 

For many cyclists, our shoulders, upper back and hips/hip flexors tend to get really tight. Some turn to yoga or stretching to try to fix this, but in fact, there is a far easier, and more rewarding, way to get this looseness in the body.

Crocodile breathing is done in a way where you need to learn how to relax the entire body, and lay still. This exercise is used as not only does it help you understand where you’re tight and unable to relax, but it also teaches you diaphragmatic breathing for the bike, which has massive benefits. These include being able to drop your heart rate quickly after an effort, being able to better control your stress (and thus recover faster), and keep things nice and loose on the bike.

Start with two sets of four breaths - 4 secs in through the nose, hold four seconds, and the 5 secs out through a relaxed mouth.

Snap-downs

Being able to create stiffness and control the forces you’re producing is something very few will talk about; but if you don’t learn how to control your power, your power will be much less, and even a danger to yourself, as you can wear out parts of your body (such as the spine, hips and knees) since you don’t know how to displace it well.

The Snap-Down helps you learn how to take this newly learned looseness and turn it into speed, while being able to control and absorb the forces you’re now able to produce. Bear in mind that while this exercise looks simple, it’s not easy. It’s all about speed from the hips, getting a quick pulse of movement, and then getting loose until you're at the bottom of the movement. Then applying just enough stiffness, in the correct postures, allow those forces to be safely absorbed.

Confusing? Stand tall but relaxed, down fast from the hips, and freeze at the bottom position. Make sure to film yourself from the side, so you can see how you’re doing!

Start with three sets of two repetitions, with 3 mins rest in between each set.

Kettlebell swings

May the force be with you! Now that you’ve learned how to be loose, and to control and dissipate forces, we can begin pushing the power. Kettlebell swings are a great exercise for cyclists, as they are very close to the demands of our sports themselves. You need to create small pulses of energy in order to move the kettlebell, similar to cycling. 

Technique matters here, and it’s best to start and stay light until your technique is nice and crisp, before adding any more weight. Aim to master the weight you’re using for 8-10 rounds of 10-15 swings, before you even consider going up in weight. Patience and precision pay off here, as taking your time to progress correctly reaps massive rewards on the bike!

Start with five sets of 10 swings, aiming for a great starting position and 'top' position. Rest between 1:30-2 mins between rounds.

Conclusion

Building your strength and power to be sustainable and help you ride stronger and faster now, and in the future, takes a little more time than many would like; however, those who make the effort and follow the progressions will be handsomely rewarded, not only in their riding, but also in how they look, feel, and move in their daily lives.

The exercises we’ve covered in this series are very different than what many might think of when it comes to strength training for cycling; however, cycling is a sport unlike any other, and as such requires us to train differently to meet its demands. As many have discovered, focusing on the weight on the bar, or simply how many repetitions you can do at a given weight, have little to no carryover to on-bike performance, and often lead to injury. 

Take your time to improve the skills needed to get stronger on the bike, use strength training to aid in that process, and you’ll be handsomely rewarded; usually with far less effort and soreness along the way! It should be relatively easy to see progress on the bike and in your strength training, following the path we’ve laid out in parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 and this final instalment. I'd love to hear how you're getting on, so if you're following the programme tag @HVTraining in your Instagram, Facebook and YouTube posts. 

Remember, train smarter, not harder... because it is all about you!

Buy The Vortex Method: The New Rules For Ultimate Strength & Performance in Cycling here

Visit the Human Vortex Training website here

Disclaimer: We strongly recommend that you consult with your doctor before beginning any exercise programme. You should be in good physical condition and be able to participate in the exercise. road.cc is not a licensed medical care provider and represents that it has no expertise in diagnosing, examining, or treating medical conditions of any kind, or in determining the effect of any specific exercise on any medical condition. You should understand that when participating in any exercise programme, there is the possibility of physical injury. If you engage in any part of this exercise programme, you agree that you do so at your own risk, are voluntarily participating in these activities, assume all risk of injury to yourself, and agree to release and discharge road.cc from any and all claims or causes of action, known or unknown.

Menachem Brodie is a leading strength coach for cyclists and triathletes. He is the author of The Vortex Method: The New Rules for Ultimate Strength & Performance in Cycling, and the Strength Training for Cyclists Certification. He works with cyclists and triathletes from around the world to improve their performances through strength training designed to meet their sport's needs. 

www.HumanVortexTraining.com

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