Have you ever been busting your ass on a hill climb or down a long stretch when suddenly some other guy comes cruising by you leaving you only to think “WTF??” If you’re like me you start rationalizing things in your head to make yourself feel better.
“He’s got a better bike than me.”
“He’s probably just starting his ride.”
“I could keep up if it weren’t for these God damn sore knees!”
While there is the possibility of some of those things being true, chances are, they aren’t really a factor. What is more likely a factor, is the size and strength of that guy’s legs. Usually when someone passes me in that manner, I have a Johnny Drama moment… “Great calves, bro!”
There’s good news and bad news. The good news is, with ample training, you can probably catch up to that guy. The bad news? Cycling doesn’t always allow you to isolate an area in which you’re lacking to help improve it.
The solution is cross-training. Different sports and activities can help you gain much-needed strength and endurance to improve your cycling power and speed.
Squats are without a doubt the best leg exercise for improving strength. Squatting with or without weights will build up your hamstrings and quadraceps muscle groups. Lifting heavy weights (maxing out around 6 reps) will improve your fast-twitch muscles which are used for power. The more strength you have in each stroke, the faster you will be able to ride. Lifting light at high reps (12-15) will improve slower-twitch muscles and help with endurance so you can ride at a quicker pace for longer.
Hiking a trail with a lot of elevation change utilizes many of the same muscles as cycling does. Push yourself on hikes and you will see significant gains in your cycling ability as well.
3. Single-Leg Weight Training
Leg isolation is key to improving speed and power on a bike. By isolating one leg for an exercise, your body is forced to focus more on balance and control than it has to with both legs. This helps to activate smaller, supplemental muscle fibers that contribute in each pedal stroke. Active.com has a great article detailing 8 Single-Leg Activities to Improve Cycling.
Personally, I hate running. I mean, I absolutely hate it. But there is no denying its efficacy in improving your cycling game. Running helps maintain aerobic fitness, keeps you in top climbing shape during the off-season, strengthens bone density, and gives you a jumpstart on training for cyclocross season.
Upper body strength is supremely under-valued by far too many cyclists. Upper body strength is vital in your control of the bike and balance which can easily fatigue on long ride. If you think about even the static position you take when riding, it’s the top of a push-up position. Rowing is a great way to improve upper-body strength in the chest, triceps, biceps, and back. It will also work your core and lower body simultaneously.
In the end, the best way to train for cycling is to do more cycling. However, we all know that when the weather gets shitty, and the ground turns to snow, that’s not always a possibility, so cross training us your best alternative.
As we mentioned in the beginning of this article, these cross-training techniques can help tweak smaller muscles that are helpful in cycling, but don’t get a ton of work during a normal cycling workout. Isolating these fibers can help expedite the process of building up these muscle fibers.
Happy biking and stay healthy!