How To

Conditioning for cyclists with Jo McRae: introduction

How off-the-bike exercises to improve flexibility and core strength can improve performance in the saddle

To fit with the season, next week will see the start of a series of exercise features designed to get you proactive in exercising off the bike this winter.

‘Conditioning’ is a broad fitness term encompassing stretching, strengthening and ‘core’ work. Still an area shrouded in mystery or tainted by fear for many riders, we will be selecting some of most relevant and important exercises from each of these areas over the coming months.

Jo McRae bicycle yoga pics, squat with stick behind back, pic: Mike Mansfield, ©Factory Media

Discussed in a format that shows you the how as well as why you should try these exercises, you will be able to build your own personal exercise program to support your cycling this winter.

With any luck you have had a great summer of riding, but all that pedalling action may well have stiffened your back and tightened up some muscles. Without adequate stretching the repetitive nature and postural strain of cycling can lead to chronic areas of tightness that take some time to unwind, and at worse, start to cause you problems when you ride.

If touching your toes is more difficult than it used to be, or you take moment to stand up straight after a long ride, it would be wise to get busy unwinding that tension this winter

If touching your toes is more difficult than it used to be, or you take moment to stand up straight after a long ride, it would be wise to get busy unwinding that tension this winter so that you swing your leg over the saddle with greater ease come spring.

Core strength is now widely acknowledged as providing a performance advantage for cyclists, whether it allows you to hold your torso still as you pile on the seated power, or drive more effectively with the legs as you climb or sprint. All of us would benefit from a stronger core to avoid injury off the bike as well as on it, and knowing some simple and effective exercises can help you avoid the pitfalls of a thousand sit ups.

Off the bike exercises can be linked with specific training drills when back on two wheels

Strength training has been out of fashion for cyclists for a while because of fear of ‘bulking up’ and carrying excess weight.  Clearly this is undesirable for most road riders, but there is a huge gulf between the strength training that will enhance a rider’s performance and that which will pile on the pounds. Traditional strength exercises performed correctly and included as part of your overall training program can help balance your muscles, improve overall fitness, and enhance cycling performance.

The final and often missing link in conditioning is the connection between off the bike training and integrated exercises on the bike.  Specific drills and practices can be used to turn new found flexibility into a more stable aero position, or to teach your body to use new found strength in cycling specific movements such as seated hills, climbs or accelerations.  With an emphasis on technique, you can maximise any gains you have made as the spring approaches, making you an all -round better rider next season.

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