Leg Strengthening Exercises for Cyclists
Cycling is an endurance sport and many people shy away from strength training in exchange for more time in the saddle. However, there is endless research to support that an extra hour or two in the saddle may not be as good use of your time as two or three, 30-45 minute gym sessions per week.
During the pedal stroke, the main power production comes from the gluteals, quadriceps, hamstrings and calf muscles. With most power produced in the down phase of the stroke. Strength work should therefore be focused on increasing the maximum strength and power capacity of these muscles.
Here are three of the essential exercises for all cyclists to get you stronger, to be more efficient and faster on the bike.
Quad and Glute Exercises for Cyclists: Single leg squat
This is a great exercise for activating leg muscles in a similar way to the cycling stroke. All the key cycling muscles are activated with this exercise. You should focus on keeping a straight alignment of your foot, knee and hip and keep your weight back on your heel so your knee remains behind your toes. This posture is to ensure a high activation of the gluteal muscles with this exercise.
With the squat movement if your weight shifts forwards onto the ball of your feet or your toes you will get greater activation in your quads and a lot of force going through your knee. If you have a good bike fit you will see that your knee stays behind your toes when you a powering your pedal down. On the bike, due to the highly repetitive nature of cycling, if your knee is too far forward, this increased pressure on the knee can increase your risk of knee pain and injury.
Hamstring Exercises for Cyclists: Single leg straight leg deadlift
Another great exercise that targets all of the relevant muscles for cycling, especially the hamstrings and the gluteal muscles. Unlike the squat movement, this exercise lengthens the hamstrings which are commonly tight in cyclists and can therefore be just as effective at encouraging lengthening of the hamstring muscles as strengthening.
Key focus should be on keeping a straight alignment between foot, knee, and hip. Also to keep a small bend in the knee to prevent straining the structures at the back of the knee.
Calf Exercises for Cyclists: Heel raises
The humble heel raise is a under utilised exercise. The foot pedal interface is through the ball of our foot, therefore we are always using the calf, at very least to stabilise the foot to prevent the heel dropping. Heel raises done with a bent and straight knee are effective to strengthen both the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles which form the calf complex.
For a more efficient and powerful pedal stroke the calf muscle will activate for the downstroke, logically. But it also works powerfully at the bottom of the pedal stoke and helps to prevent the ‘dead zone’, typically seen at the end of the push before the opposite leg takes over.
Feel Good, Move Well, Be Better