When coaches talk about strength training for athletic activities such as cycling, often people think of building muscle mass. If done properly, strength training has the ability to create a stronger pedal stroke and running stride and prevent pain from endurance sports without building mass. In today's coaching blog, Kate Cumming examines a few workouts that get people's seasons started off right, but are also designed to combat the stresses of sitting all day at work and on a saddle.
by Kate Cumming
Too often, riders talk to us about aches and pains related to riding and racing. Whether it’s nagging knee pain, a lower back that gives out when the going gets tough, or a stiff neck that tightens up with each bump, symptoms of muscle imbalances really flare up by the last few races of the season.
I have been involved in several conversations lately where athletes indicated they felt one-dimensional and weak at the end of their race season. These feelings are not surprising as the repetitive nature of endurance sports will lead to muscle imbalances over time. While a bike fit or equipment change may help to reduce these problems, returning exclusively to the repetitive movement that created these imbalances will lead to the same aches and limitations over time.
As your early season training resumes, strength training should become an integral part of your weekly plan. With more sport-specific focus on endurance training, you will be able to incorporate strength training without feeling like you cannot hit the top end power or pace numbers you would be fighting for during race season.
Although there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to strength training, the ideal starting point for most athletes is glute activation. Active glutes have the ability to generate significant power through the pedal stroke or running stride and can also help prevent injuries. If you find that your lower back takes the brunt of steep climbs, your hip flexors cramp or ache, your IT bands (or in very loose terms, the band that runs on the sides of your leg from your hip through your knee) are tight or your knees gravitate towards your top tube while riding, your glutes are probably not doing their share of the work. Countless other scenarios can involve your glutes, but these are some common scenarios we are seeing with our athletes.
Thanks in part to significant amounts of time spent sitting, our glutes often remain dormant when we need them most. Begin building your strength foundation today with glute activation exercises. Once your limitations are resolved, the focus can shift to more time spent focusing on sheer strength and then explosive power as your training progresses.
To get the glutes firing, focus on these three exercises:
1. Glute bridge: Begin on your back with knees bent and feet about shoulder width apart. Exhale and push through your heels to lift your hips towards the ceiling. Engage your glutes at the top and inhale and return to the starting point. The single leg version of this exercise is a great progression and will also help address imbalances between your left and right sides.
2. Side lying leg lifts: Lie on your side with hips and legs stacked. Keeping your legs straight, exhale and lift your top leg about 6-8 inches with arching or rounding your back. Inhale and lower the leg with controlled speed.
3. Single leg squat: Standing on one leg, inhale and sit your hips down and back into a squat. Exhale and push through your heel to return to standing. This exercise is best done with visual feedback to ensure your knee does not move forward over your toes or fall inside or outside of the ankle. When starting single leg squats, it can be effective to use a bench or chair as an aid; squat down to the bench and then return to standing.
Looking to keep up to date with the latest blogs and news from Jalapeno Cycling? Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter to get our cycling tips delivered right to your mailbox. Also, if you are looking to prevent those aches and pains of constant sitting, be sure to sign up for our Strength Training, Off-The-Bike Classes, with more info to be found here.