Avoid the gym: 7 outdoor strength training exercises for cyclists

Strength training exercises have lots of benefits for cyclists and, even better, you don’t have to go to the gym to complete them

Clock13:55, Thursday 30th November 2023

For many cyclists, the gym is an alien world that should be avoided at all costs. That in turn is an excuse to skip strength training, but should it be?

From preventing injuries to rectifying muscle imbalances, strength training has multiple benefits for cyclists. And, despite some common misconceptions, many can be completed outdoors without ever having to set foot inside a gym.

To learn more, we sought the help of Graham Wadsworth, a lifelong cyclist and fitness coach, who guided us through seven strength-training exercises any cyclist can complete outdoors, so you're still getting some fresh air in.

Why is strength training important for cyclists?

Let’s be honest, for most weedy cyclists, the mere thought of strength training is enough to induce muscle aches. But it shouldn’t be ignored, as it has multiple benefits.

For a start, cycling is a repetitive activity that only recruits a limited number of muscle groups. This leads to muscle imbalances, which in turn can lead to injuries and repetitive aches and pains. Targeted strength training can be used to address these imbalances.

Anyone focused on speed will be happy to hear that there are performance benefits too, most obviously to leg strength. We’ve tested the difference strength training can make to power output before, when James ‘Hank’ Lowsley-Williams completed 30 squats a day for one month. Three thousand squats later, his FTP hadn’t really budged, but his peak power had increased by over 300 watts.

Then there are the benefits to posture through core exercises, the type of strength training that cyclists really dread. Core exercises shouldn’t be ignored though, as they lead to better stability and posture. This is especially important when fatigue kicks in on a ride and many riders lose form.

How to start strength training

By now, you should be won over by the benefits of strength training. Even so, many cyclists believe that it involves a journey to the gym. A gym of course is equipped with the best technology for strength training, but for cyclists, strength training doesn’t need to be that complex and can be completed outdoors or in your own home.

To help you get started, here are seven strength-training exercises recommended by Wadsworth. All you’ll need is a resistance band.

Exercise 1: Step back hip opener

This is a warm-up exercise that will stretch the hip and the hip flexors.

  1. In this exercise, you’ll be stepping back with one leg. Hold onto a bench, bar or any other prop to balance yourself while doing it.
  2. Standing parallel to the bar, step back with one leg, putting your knee close to the ground. Don’t do the biggest step that you can as this can overstretch the hip.
  3. Lean your weight over your front leg so that the knee and foot are in line, while keeping your core straight.
  4. Step back up and then repeat 10 times, before swapping to the other leg.

Exercise 2: Posture 1-2-3

For this exercise, which improves posture by targeting your back, lats and shoulder blades, you’ll need a resistance band. You should aim to complete one set of this at a time, with around six to eight repetitions.

  1. Wrap one end of the resistance band around a bar so that it is secure. Double-check this as you’ll be pulling on it throughout the exercise.
  2. Stand tall, facing the bar, with your abs and glutes engaged.
  3. Pull the band towards your stomach. If this is easy, take a step backwards until the band provides more resistance.
  4. Keeping it taut, rotate the band until it is above head height.
  5. Then pull it further until it is behind your head and draw it behind your head. At this point, you should feel a big stretch in your shoulder blades.
  6. Reverse the process, bringing the band back above your head, then down to your stomach, before stretching your arms in front of you to loosen the resistance of the band.

Exercise 3: Lateral step with band

Those first two exercises should have loosened up your hips and your upper body, so it’s time to step things up with some more specific strength work. This exercise uses a resistance band to target the glutes.

  1. Put both legs between the resistance band and pull it up to ankle level.
  2. Replicating a similar position to what you would hold on a bike, put your legs fairly wide apart with a small bend in the knees and push your bum back so that you’re in a semi-squat.
  3. Keeping your upper body straight, take a step to the side and then a step back. Make sure your leg goes back to the original position and not too close to your other leg as the resistance band will go slack.
  4. Complete 10 repetitions of this for each leg.

Exercise 4: Reverse fly

The next exercise is more cycling-specific and will benefit the key upper-leg muscle groups recruited while pedalling. This one also requires a resistance band and you should aim to complete 10 repetitions per leg.

  1. Starting with your right leg, put the band under your foot while holding onto the other end.
  2. Place your right foot just in front of you, putting all of your weight through it. Put your left leg behind you so that there is a good bend in the knee. Try to position it so you have a good balance.
  3. Draw your right hip backwards so that you can feel your glute and hamstring working, while tilting your upper body forward to keep the weight on the right leg.
  4. With your left arm, pull the band outwards until your arm is fully extended. Complete this 10 times.
  5. Once you’ve finished, hold the band in front of you with both hands, keeping the same posture and leg position, and complete 10 squats.
  6. Move onto the other leg.

Exercise 5: Back lengthen

This next exercise is another one that will improve posture by stretching the back, something that is important for cyclists, especially if you also spend a lot of time hunched over at desks or while driving.

  1. Stand about one metre away from a bench, bar or any other prop.
  2. Place your legs about two hip widths apart in a wide stance.
  3. Lean forward and grab the bench or bar with both hands.
  4. Keep your legs straight and push your hips away from you as far as you can. Maintain this stretch for around 10 seconds.
  5. Then rotate one side of your body, while still holding onto the bar with both hands. Hold that for 10 seconds and then rotate to the other side for another 10 seconds. You should feel a stretch on the inside of your thigh while doing this.
  6. Complete three sets of this.

Exercise 6: Donkey kick outs

While this exercise can form part of your strength-training routine, it’s also great for warming up before a ride.

  1. Place the band under one foot and hold the other end in both hands, with both hands shoulder-width apart.
  2. Go down onto all fours, but make sure you’re on your tiptoes with your knees hovering just above the ground.
  3. Kick out the foot that the band is hooked under until the leg is fully extended and then bring it back to its original position, but don’t put the foot back on the floor.
  4. Repeat this until you’ve completed 10 repetitions and then match that with your opposite leg.

Exercise 7: Step up

For this final exercise, you’ll need something that you can step onto. It could be something in a park or a bench.

  1. Place one foot on the bench or prop.
  2. Try to keep a good posture with a straight back and core.
  3. While keeping most of your weight on your forward foot, reach both arms out in front of you, bringing your hands together.
  4. Then drive up with your lead leg until you’re standing on top of the prop. Your other foot shouldn’t come into contact with the prop, meaning all of your weight is supported through the front leg.
  5. Drop the rear leg back down to the floor and repeat the process six to eight times, before switching to the other leg.

For more training advice and inspiration, head over to the ‘how to’ section of the GCN website, linked here.

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