With daily adverse weather warnings, even the most enthusiastic cyclist can lose the motivation to train. The playground of the open road has now become a danger zone owing to unpredictable weather: rain, snow, cold, plus the short daylight hours.
All these factors can make it tempting to come in from work and just relax on the sofa, which can have dire consequences for your fitness as you decrease the time you spend on your bike.
Bad weather doesn’t have to stop you. Staying active over the winter will not only mean that it will be easier to regain your top form next season, but it will help beat the winter blues and make you feel more energetic.
Plus, if the colder months make you crave more filling foods and you are tempted to snack more, then keeping your exercise levels up will be a great help in managing your weight, namely, by upping your calorie expenditure and maintaining muscle mass. This will help to maintain your calorie burning potential and keep your metabolism high.
With our immune systems often weakened in the winter, staying indoors can actually be the best way to avoid illness and exacerbating current coughs or sore throats.
Exercising indoors sounds like a good solution, but not everyone has a gym membership or a turbo-trainer, so here is a circuit routine you can follow to keep your fitness up, mix up your training or simply strengthen your body to ensure you’re as ready as you can be to get back on your bike and out on the roads when the conditions improve.
Muscle to the pedal
In cycling, the main muscles used are in the legs and bottom: your quadriceps, hamstrings and gluteals. Meanwhile, your core plays a significant role in force production and balance. A solid and stable core will help to eliminate any unnecessary upper-body movement, so that all the energy you produce can be used to create a smooth pedal stroke. Poor trunk stability will affect your ability to drive efficiently with your legs.
Core stability is the control of the trunk using specific muscles; the main muscle affecting core stability is the transverse abdominus (TA), which supports your lumbar spine (lower back). The ability to keep the trunk of the body stable allows the larger muscles in the legs, which provide strength and power, to generate higher forces as well as influencing factors such as power output, speed and strength. The following circuit is designed to strengthen these muscles to improve your cycling efficiency and speed.
Aim to repeat the circuit on these pages two or three times. Carry out each exercise for 50 seconds with a 10-second transition period between each. This indoor circuit can be adapted to suit you; if you are looking to work at a higher intensity, this can be done by adding in a heart rate raising exercise such as burpee, star jump or mountain climber, at the start and between every three exercises. You can also add weights to increase the intensity at which your muscles work, either using your own set of dumbbells or household objects of a suitable weight that are easy to hold. All you need is a stability ball to complete this circuit.
1. Forward lunge
A great exercise to work your quads and improve the strength of your forward drive when cycling.
Start by standing upright with both feet together. Take a large step forward with one leg, and place that front foot flat on the floor.
You should aim to create a right angle between your shin and upper leg, with the heel of the back foot leaving the ground as the back leg also bends towards the ground, with this knee a couple of inches off the ground.
Push with the front foot back to your starting position and repeat while alternating legs.
To increase the power produced by these muscles, you can also work this exercise from a plyometric perspective by making it an explosive ‘jumping lunge’. Start in a lunge position and explode upwards, swapping your front leg in the air to land back in a lunge position with the other leg leading. Repeat.
2. Squats – Quads and gluteals [Left]
This exercise will strengthen the straight-down push of your pedal stroke.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, imagining that you are sitting down to perch on the edge of a chair.
Aim to keep the weight on the heels of your feet, keeping the pressure on your toes light.
Keep bending at the knees aiming for a 90° angle, taking your arms in front of you to balance your body going backwards, then squeeze your glutes and push yourself back up to a standing position.
3. Reverse lunge to forward reach – Quads, gluteals and hamstrings [below]
Working your gluteals and hamstrings will strengthen the bottom of your pedal stroke.
Stand upright with feet shoulder width apart. Take a step back with the left leg and place the weight on the ball and toes of that foot, lowering yourself by bending the back knee to create a right angle between your shin and upper leg, so the knee is a couple of inches off the ground.
Next, push with the back foot and, while keeping that foot off the ground, bend from the hip and reach for your right foot with both hands. Your left foot will stretch out behind you; take it as high as you comfortably can.
4. Reverse leg lifts Gluteals
Standing upright, engage your deep core muscles by aiming to draw your belly button back to your spine.
Hold onto the back of a chair or other implement to keep your balance.
You’re aiming to keep your upper body as still as possible, moving only from the hip.
Lift one leg behind you as high as you can with minimal movement in the torso, feeling the gluteals of that leg contracting, then lower the leg until the toes touch the ground before repeating.
5. Plank to press-up position
This one is great for core strength, which will help to keep you balanced when riding; and shoulder strength to improve your upper body endurance and stability. Start by assuming the plank position, keeping your back as flat as possible, and your core muscles engaged.
From here, you need to push yourself up to your hands to the start of a press-up position; now lower yourself back down to the plank position. Keep repeating this sequence, making sure you keep your back straight, trying to alternate between right and left arms to get up and down from the plank position.
6. Leg curls using stability ball Hamstrings
By strengthening your hamstrings, you will improve the recovery part of your pedal stroke.
Lie down with your knees bent and the stability ball at your feet.
Place the heels of both feet on to the ball. With knees bent, about shoulder width apart – the wider the feet are apart, the easier it will be to balance – squeeze your gluteals and lift from the hips so only your upper back and arms are in contact with the floor.
Keeping the pressure on your heels, aim to roll the ball away from you, keeping the movement very controlled until your legs are practically straight. From here, bring your heels back towards your bottom in a controlled manner and repeat.
7. Leg lowers Lower abdominals
By strengthening your lower abdominals, you will be more stable and balanced when riding and it will help to prevent any excess lateral hip movement.
Start by lying on your back and engaging your deep core muscles by slightly tilting your pelvis, so that the space where your lower back curves has decreased and your spine is almost touching the floor.
Raise both legs so that your feet are above your hips, creating a right angle to the ground, and try to keep your legs as straight as possible. From here, lower both legs, getting as low as possible, aiming for about an inch off the ground, without letting your spine return back to its normal curved position.
As soon as your spine starts to curve, stop lowering your legs to avoid pressure on your lower back. Return the legs in a controlled way to the starting position. To make this more manageable, lower one leg at a time, keeping to the same guidelines about the spine curving.
8. Straight-let deadliest hamstrings [right]
With this exercise, try to hold something heavy in your hands, which will help increase resistance, getting your muscles working harder to improve your strength.
With your feet shoulder width apart, you are aiming to bend forward at the hips keeping both legs straight and your back as flat as possible, realising as much movement as your hamstrings will allow.
Once you have reached your furthest point, hold for a second, then slowly return to your starting position, squeezing your gluteals at the top part of this movement with a small hip thrust forward. Keep your arms (holding the heavy object) straight.
9. Bridge with leg lift Glutes and core muscles [below]
This is a combination exercise and, if you find it too demanding at first, you can leave out the leg lift bit until you improve your strength.
From a prone position, bend at the knees while keeping your feet flat on the floor with your heels about a foot away from your bottom, arms flat on the floor to help with balance.
Now you will be lifting at the hips, squeezing your gluteals, to the highest position you can achieve. From here, lift one leg up to straighten it, keeping your core muscles strong so that there is minimal movement at the hips, then lower this leg and repeat with the other leg. Now you can lower your hips back to the floor. Take a few seconds’ break to relax the muscles and repeat.
This article was first published in the January 31 issue of Cycling Weekly. You can also read our magazines on Zinio, download from the Apple store and also through Kindle Fire.