Itís probably safe to assume that we all, regardless of how serious we are about our cycling, want to be able to cycle pain-free and as effortlessly as possible. One way to reach these goals is to make sure our overall fitness is as high as possible. Maintaining good health includes all of the usual suspects: healthy eating, plenty of exercise, and a positive outlook on life.
Cycling alone, however, may not be adequate exercise to maintain our good health. One reason is that cycling is not a weight-bearing exercise, and therefore is not sufficient for maintaining good bone density and warding off osteoporosis. Additionally, while cycling does a great job of exercising our leg muscles, it doesnít do much for our upper body and body core muscles, all of which are necessary for comfortable riding. The exercises listed below, along with regular stretching, are a good start to maintaining your overall fitness and health.
For this article, Iíve purposely presented exercises which do not require any special equipment other than your body. While you can increase your strength faster using weights, many of us do not want to add regular trips to the gym to our already busy schedules. Simple exercises you can do at home will at the very least start increasing your strength. You can decide later if you want to go further. Donít forget to check with your doctor if you have any question about starting a new exercise routine.
Letís start with your legs. Even if you cycle regularly, you may still be able to increase your leg muscle strength so you can pedal even more efficiently. The main muscle groups in your legs are your quadriceps (on the fronts of your thighs), hamstrings (backs of thighs), calves, and gluteus maximus (technically your butt, but intimately connected to your legs).
The lunge may be the best overall leg exercise as it works your quads, hamstrings and glutes. Start by stepping forward with one leg and bending that leg until your thigh is parallel with the floor. Your rear leg should be fully extended behind you with the knee almost touching the floor. Straighten your front leg and bring the rear forward to a standing position. Work up to three sets of 20 lunges on each leg. If you have enough room, repetitions are easy to carry out by continuing to ďwalkĒ forward with giant lunge steps.
For the calf muscles on the backs of your lower legs, try calf raises. These are most easily done if you stand on a step on the balls of your feet and with your heels hanging off the step. Hold onto a wall for balance, if necessary. Lower your heels to below parallel to the floor and then lift up as high as you can on your toes. Three sets of 15-20 repetitions will give your calves a good workout.
Your body core muscles (abdomen and lower back) are vital to stabilizing your body while you ride so your legs can pedal efficiently. One of the best exercises for strengthening these muscles is abdominal crunches. Lie on your back with your hands behind your head (or arms crossed over your chest), feet flat on the floor and knees bent. While tightening your abdominal muscles, slowly raise your head and shoulders off the ground. Be careful not to pull on your neck. Raise up as far as you can without straining too hard, hold for a second or two, and slowly lower back to the floor. The key to effective crunches is to tighten your abdominals and do each repetition slowly. Repeat for as many repetitions as you can without hurting yourself.
Arm and shoulder muscles are harder to work without weights. One good exercise is a simple pushup. Starting out on your hands and knees on the floor, stretch your body out straight so that you are supporting your weight on your hands and toes. Your hands should be about shoulder width apart. While keeping your body straight and flat, slowly bend your elbows and lower your nose to the floor (or as far as you can). Slowly push yourself back up until your arms are straight. If you need, keep your knees on the floor, but be sure not to let your back sag. You should maintain a straight line from your neck through the base of your spine. If it is too difficult to complete a push up even with your knees on the floor, try standing an armís length from a wall. Place your hands on the wall at shoulder height and lean your upper body into the wall. Push out away from the wall while keeping your body straight. Repeat for as many repetitions as you can without hurting yourself.
The above are just a few of many exercises you can do to build and maintain your strength for cycling and all lifeís activities. In another article, Iíll describe basic exercises you can do with free weights to further build your strength.
Ride safe and have fun!