Strength training for cyclists
Combine power moves with sprint work
This article is adapted from a 2017 article covering Laurence Boma-Fischer (pictured below), an amateur competitive cyclist and physiotherapist at Medcan, who was training for the Race Across America (RAAM), a competitive cycle across the U.S. – while raising funds for True Patriot Love Foundation.
“My training approach is two-pronged,” says Boma-Fischer. “Strength training at the gym and endurance and speed training on the bike, all trying to get adequate rest and nutrition while balancing family and work.”
Strength training at the gym
Boma-Fischer is working with Francesca McKenzie, a personal fitness trainer at Medcan. She has three main priorities for Boma-Fischer: strength, power, and flexibility.
“Once we build good core strength, he’ll have more power and endurance coming from the abs, hips and legs,” says McKenzie. “I ensure that he has a lot of strength-building exercises in his sets like squats, deadlifts, and single leg stability exercises. We combine power moves such as snatches with bar bell or kettle bell, coupled with sprint work.”
Strength: squats and single leg step ups
“Squats are fantastic for building strength and power in the quads and hips. There are many variations of squats that work great, but we chose barbell squats for Laurence,” says McKenzie.
- Position the barbell on your back from the rack, sitting on your shoulder blades, grip the bar firmly
- Breathe and brace your abdominals, plant your feet firmly into the ground
- Maintain abdominal brace as you lower into the squat, opening your knees as you descend
- Push your feet down to stand up, squeezing glutes, exhale on the way up. Repeat
“Weighted step ups are great for single leg strength and stability,” adds McKenzie. “I like Laurence to use a rather high step to challenge the quads and glutes at a more difficult angle, therefore greater potential for increased strength. Single leg step-ups put more demand on the glutes for strengthening them when you do one at a time. So when you incorporate this, you can pay more attention to the glutes.”
- Position a dumbbell/kettlebell over the same side shoulder that you will step with (right shoulder, right leg)
- Lean your torso forward over your thigh, butt back, and brace core
- Press the right leg down hard to stand up on the step
- Lower yourself back down as slow as you can, then repeat, then switch legs
Swing kettle bell for explosive power
“Kettlebell swings work all muscles of the core and has them firing on all cylinders,” says McKenzie. “This exercise is great for also building power in the hips.”
- Stand with feet hip width apart and facing forward, hold the kettlebell with both hands
- Hinge at the hips to lower the kettlebell behind your feet. Back should be straight, not rounded
- To propel the kettlebell back to start, push feet down and thrust your hips forward (as if you were to jump off the ground). Repeat
Flexibility: Reverse posturing to prevent ailments
McKenzie says common ailments among cyclists include back pain, which usually results from overcompensation for core weakness, as well as being in excessive flexion for extended periods of time.
“A lot of amateur road cyclists sit at their desks or in their cars for most of the day. This results in poor posture. That’s why I also include “reverse posturing” to keep the upper body and back flexible and mobile,” says McKenzie, who adds this is great for opening up the chest and a good hip flexor stretch after a long ride.
This movement can be done dynamically or static, before or after a ride, or anytime you need a great stretch for the entire body.
- Position yourself in a deep lunge, right leg forward, left knee on the ground, far apart from each other
- Place both hands on the ground on the inside of right leg
- Take a deep breath in, then exhale and twist left arm to the sky, hold for 5 seconds
- Follow your left arm with your eyes for complete rotation
- Repeat as many times as needed, then switch sides
Speed (and mental) training on the bike
“The riders have to train both their sprinter’s brain and body to be able to ride short, hard bursts,” says Hannah Spence, the team’s coach and two-time RAAM competitor. “At the same time they have to train on endurance, their slow-twitch muscles, in order to endure 10 hours a day, for more than five days.”
“It’s always best to train for the same conditions you’ll face in a race. Mix of short, hard workouts on flats and hills to reflect the 20 to 30 minute individual shifts and longer endurance rides to reflect the shifts in rain, at night, in hills, on flats, into headwinds, in intense heat, and so on,” adds Spence who says the right attitude will carry the team a lot further in this race than their legs will.
“A week across a country of vastly different landscapes, weather conditions and different personalities under extreme stress can conjure a magnitude of situations you’ve never experienced and could never train for. Training for all the things you CAN control will only help make those unexpected situations easier to deal with and get over.”