Adding Weight, the Good Kind
Now that the holiday season is over, the last thing most of us want to think about is adding more weight. But as a cyclist, you will actually greatly benefit from adding the right kind of weight … gym weight.
Weight training isn’t just for bodybuilders. Contrary to popular belief, if you are female, you will not bulk up from lifting. Weight training helps to increase your muscle mass, and lean muscle burns more calories, which in turn means your metabolism will increase burning more fat. Additionally, concentrating on lower body exercises will make you stronger on the bike, which is the ultimate goal.
While you could just use every machine in the gym and lift random weights, the most effective exercises are those that are movement-specific. This means that they mimic the movement of your body as you ride, which makes you a stronger rider, rather than just giving you muscles for the sake of having muscles. While there are many popular exercises for cyclists, I will outline 5 of my favorites, three for your lower body and two for your core.
While the need for lower extremity exercises seems obvious, much of cycling involves activating all of your abdominal muscles. Core exercises are important for cyclists because it is your abdominals and your back that hold you upright during long hours in the saddle. Having a stronger core means your back won’t ache after those 70 mile days.
Begin each exercise with zero or minimal weight until you are comfortable with the movement. You should aim for 2-3 sets of 12-15 reps to begin with. Weight should be added so that you can comfortably do these, plus a few extra. After a month or so, you may reduce the reps to 10-12 and increase weight. Never use so much weight that it is difficult to finish your sets.
Squats work the quads and glutes. They will not make you huge. They will make you a stronger climber and help you pedal through headwinds. When you pedal you use primarily the quads and the glutes (butt muscles). The squat is a two in one exercise as it strengthens the glutes and quads simultaneously. In this way they will each be as strong as they need to be in proportion to each other. The motion also mimics pedal stroke, which makes it a movement-specific exercise. Begin the exercise with an empty bar or kettleballs in either hand. Be careful to watch how far you squat. You should only go so low that the lordosis/arch in your lower back is intact. If you lower yourself too much, your butt will begin to tuck under and undermine the exercise.
This exercise primarily works hamstrings and the low back. Start with a hanging, or Romanian, deadlift where you start standing up straight and the bar/weight is in the hand, ie. not from the floor. Once again, begin with minimal weight until you have mastered the movement. This is safer and allows you to perfect the technique more easily and establish your range of motion. Again here the lordosis/arch in the low back must be maintained at all times. Keep your knees slightly bent and lower the bar to the floor. As you stand, use your glutes/hamstrings rather than your arms to lift the weight. Aim for fluid movement.
Once you have gotten used to beginning the movement from a standing position, you may begin deadlifting from the floor. Make sure that the back does not round when picking up the bar. If the floor is too far to reach due to tight hamstrings, place the bar on blocks until you become more flexible.
This exercise primarily works the glutes and quads. Pick a box so the knee gets close to 90 degrees of bend (flexion). Step up onto the box using the heel and glute (butt) muscles of the leading leg. It is important to not try to push up or bounce up with the other leg. You can do this exercise with weights or without. If you do not have access to a box or very stable bench, these may also be done on stairs.
The plank has become the classic core exercise as it works on the strength and stability of your abdominal muscles. It is a great exercise for posture. It is a static exercise meaning you do not move during it. They may be done either with both elbows on the ground or as a side plank (pictured). Try to tighten your abs while holding the position and maintain a strong line between your head and feet. Do not hold your breath while performing these. Start short and work your way up to 60 seconds with a short rest between.
Finally, weight/gym training wouldn’t be complete without the classic crunch. Rather than pinning your feet under a box and curling up and back ad nauseam, try the crunches on an exercise ball. Arch your back around the ball so that you have some spine extension. Use your hands to support your neck, but try to not pull up with them.
As with any exercise, work into them gradually. If you have history of knee or back injury, talk to your doctor first. They may be able to set you up with a physical therapist who is able to modify the exercises to accommodate any prior injuries.