What a wonderful time of year to get out on your bike. Any kind of bike. Road, mountain, hybrid, cyclo-cross, cruiser, BMX, single-speed – you name it. Biking is a fabulous way to work your big muscle groups, burn calories and improve your cardiovascular fitness. Consistent cycling is going to give you some nice legs and a great butt, but it’s not all about the lower body. Mountain biking, cyclo-cross and BMX are all going to give you an upper body workout, too. Cycling is low-impact and high-enjoyment. So dust off that bike, or visit one of our many fabulous locally owned bike shops to get set up with the right bike and the right gear to match.
Since daylight is short this season, you may want to do some cross-training in the gym to keep fit. That could mean joining a spin class with one of your favorite instructors, who will throw in lots of drills so you get the maximum benefit out of that 45 minutes. In addition, spin classes allow you to avoid traffic and traffic lights, and give you the weather-condition-free advantages of an uninterrupted cycle session. And spin class is a great chance to practice skills and drills.
There is a lot of discussion about whether lift ing weights benefits performance in endurance- type exercises like cycling. My response is that it does improve performance, and there are numerous scientific studies to back this up. Of course, there are contrary points of view and research to back that up as well. So you may want to hit the weights for cycling-specific exercises, since there are lots of exercises to build up cycling-specific strength. Some more traditional leg exercises are a great place to start. Squats, lunges, leg presses, hack squats and dead lifts all provide a great leg workout and have cycling-specific benefits. Keep in mind when doing this that when you work in the top of the squat or press range of motion, you will mostly work the quadriceps, while at the lower portion of the movement, you are going to engage the back of the leg.
As always, core exercises are an integral part of training. Your movements are always going to originate and radiate from the core. Maybe you want to add some more dynamic core exercises in to the mix of planks, bicycles and leg lowers. Adding a stability ball is a good way to engage more core muscle and add an additional range of motion to a plank position. Get in a plank position with your hands on the floor as if you’re going to perform a push up, and place your toes on a stability ball. From here, roll the ball in by pulling your knees to your chest. Try picking up one leg at a time. For a more advanced position, pull one knee toward your chest at a time.
Do you want to build strength? A good prescription for building strength is to do three sets of an exercise for eight to 15 reps. To build power, lift heavier weights more rapidly for fewer reps. To build endurance-type muscles, lift lighter weights for more reps. Of course, if you’re in to cycling, some day you are going to take a fall. I have taken my fair share, and I attribute my ability to handle impact without major injury to my muscular shoulders and delts (and lots of good luck). This has not been proven in a lab, it’s just my gut instinct. In any event, I work my shoulders by doing overhead military presses, and side, front and rear delt raises. I think it helps to have a little muscle cushion there to break the inevitable fall.
One more important consideration in cycling is counter stretching. Road cycling, in particular, has you in a crouched, crunched-up position. Some yoga backbends are good to counter- act that and keep your shoulders from taking up permanent residence next to your ears. Simple “cobras,” “bridges” or full “wheels” can help open up the front of the body after a day spent getting aero on a bike. All cyclists should work to keep the shoulders loose.
Remember to invest in a helmet! A friend wisely told me once that it hurts just as badly when you fall from your bike at a slow speed as it does when you fall from a faster speed. A helmet can dramatically change the severity of injury you may incur in such a fall.
New bike riders should talk to the experts at a local bike shop and have them teach you the proper way to change a bike tire. While you’re there, you should invest in a pump, some spare tubes and possibly some carbon dioxide to change your tire on the fly. Everyone had to learn to change a tire once so don’t be intimidated to ask for a quick lesson; the experts will be pleased to show off their skills.
Get geared up, be safe and have fun out there!