Winter = Less outdoor rides. But that doesn't mean your cycling fitness has to take a hit...It's a great time to ramp up your off-bike conditioning.
Off-bike conditioning includes all the exercises you do off the bike that support, strengthen, and maximise your efforts on the bike.
Strength training tends to be overlooked by cyclists in favour of aerobic training. This is a mistake: off-bike training will transform your cycling performance, no matter your current fitness or cycling level.
Why? It’s quite simple: if your key cycling muscles are not properly conditioned, they’re going to limit your power on the bike. You’ll tire quickly, open yourself up to injury, and waste energy and power.
TOP THREE BENEFITS OF OFF-BIKE CONDITIONING
1. Greater Muscular Strength
Off-bike conditioning will help strengthen your key cycling muscles and build a stronger support system for you on the bike. With an increase in your body strength, your cycling will become more efficient and you’ll be able to drive more power through the pedal stroke on each revolution.
Strengthening your supporting muscles will also enable you to remain more stable on the bike and, in turn, reduce movement in the upper body. The energy saved from keeping your upper body still can then be transferred to the primary muscles needed for powerful cycling performance, resulting in a more forceful contraction and quicker repetitions.
2. Improved Posture
Posture and stability are vital for powerful cycling performance: they keep you centred and stock-still on the bike, allowing you to drive more power. Those who struggle with poor posture on the bike are usually suffering from muscular deficiencies in certain parts of the body. By making off-bike conditioning a central part of your training, you will help to activate and strengthen those muscles, ultimately improving your posture and balance on the bike, and driving more power. Essentially, off-bike conditioning = improved posture = a faster, more efficient cyclist.
3. Injury Prevention
Due to the nature of cycling and the recruitment of certain muscle groups (primarily your leg muscles) over others, you’re often left with undeveloped muscles, primarily the back, core, and upper body. These imbalances can lead to injuries and it’s here that off-bike conditioning comes in: cycle-specific conditioning sessions will help to strengthen the tendons and ligaments in your neglected muscle groups, and work to eliminate the imbalances that put you at risk of injuring yourself. (It’s well-known that muscle imbalances are a major cause of injury.)
THE BENEFIT OF OFF-BIKE CONDITIONING FOR DIFFERENT MUSCLE GROUPS
Off-bike conditioning is so important because there are so many muscles and parts of your body that assist different aspects of your cycling performance, namely speed, and power.
In order to understand why we’re going to go into each muscle group in more detail to understand the role it plays in our on-bike performance and how off-bike conditioning can help improve it further.
After we introduce you to each muscle (or muscle group), we’ll go on to explain what they look like in action and how best to strengthen them. We are going to focus on six key muscles (or muscle groups) below:
You can use the diagram above to understand which muscles work throughout an entire pedal revolution.
Your quadriceps (or quads) are one of your key cycling muscles and produce about 39% of your power through each pedal stroke.
During each pedal revolution, your quads are activated during the power phase (the downward pressure on the pedals between the 2 o’clock and 5 o’clock position) and are responsible for pushing forward and down on the pedals. Your quads are the key muscle group in generating power in every pedal stroke and are therefore vital to every cyclist, no matter their fitness level or cycling stage.
Cyclists with stronger quads, and therefore increased leg strength, will benefit from increased power and speed out on the road. Strong quads can also help improve your climbing ability, explosive sprinting efforts, and build resistance against fatigue.
Our top recommended off-bike conditioning exercise to improve quad strength: Alternating Lunges. (See video below for the correct technique).
Hamstrings are one of the most neglected muscles for cyclists which, when you consider that they produce about 10% of the power you put through the pedals, is a big mistake and can hurt your cycling performance.
The hamstrings play a key role in the power phase of the pedal stroke. The downward pedal stroke starts with a combination of the glutes and quad muscles and is then joined by the hamstrings and calf muscles a quarter way through the revolution. The hamstrings also have a role to play in the up-stroke and are activated every time your feet lift up from the bottom of a revolution.
Because your hamstrings play a key role in the pedal stroke, every level of cyclist can and will benefit from stronger hamstrings. The benefits will include increased power and speed on the road and reduce your lower body’s resistance to fatigue. Strong hamstrings are especially important for cyclists when riding out of the saddle, climbing hills, and sprinting.
Our top recommended off-bike conditioning exercise to improve hamstring strength: Bulgarian Single-Leg Squat. (See video below for the correct technique).
The calf muscles play a lesser role in the pushing motion of pedalling but they still work together with the hamstrings and quads to produce power and stabilise the ankles and legs during the pushing motion in the downward stroke. The calves become most active as you sweep down towards and slightly past the 6 o’clock position on the pedal stroke and also as you pull up during the pedal stroke between the 6 o’clock and 9 o’clock position.
Your calves are constantly being flexed and abducted while cycling, so building their strength will increase your stability and mobility on the bike and decrease your risk of injury.
Our top recommended off-bike conditioning exercise to improve calf strength: Standing Calf Raises. (See video below for the correct technique).
The gluteus maximus is the biggest muscle in your body and helps to produce about 27% of the power through each pedal stroke.
The glutes are responsible for the initiation of the downward phase of the pedal stroke and play a vital role in this push power phase. The gluteal muscles activate as you rotate over the top at 12 o’clock in your pedal revolution and start pushing down. Your gluteus maximus fires up to move your hip into extension and drives the foot forward and down. The greater activation you can get here, the more power you are going to be able to apply to each pedal stroke.
By incorporating off-bike conditioning in your training schedule, you can increase the strength of your glutes. Stronger glutes can help improve your entire cycling performance and, in particular, your climbing, riding into the wind, and sprinting. You can also increase the power you apply through the pedals to increase your average speed. Stronger glutes will also provide more stability and help control muscle contractions.
Those with less strength in their glutes tend to compensate by getting out of the saddle more to accelerate. This action activates smaller muscle groups and, therefore, the cyclist who does this will fatigue quicker. Weak glutes not only lead to a loss of power but can also increase your risk of injuries, specifically your lower back and knees.
Our top recommended off-bike conditioning exercise to improve glute strength: Glute Bridge Raises. (See video below for the correct technique).
5. Hip Flexors
Your hip flexors are the muscles that run down the front of your hips. They’re important in maintaining a balanced and pain-free position on the bike and account for about 4% of the power through each pedal stroke.
The hip flexors are responsible for bringing the leg up to the abdominals in every pedal stroke. However, it’s this repeated action, where the hip is never fully flexed or extended, that causes cyclist’s hip flexors to become tight. Tight hip flexors will not only cause you to be uncomfortable on the bike, but they’ll also hinder your cycling performance. Tight hip flexors will inhibit the glutes which are essential for producing power in your pedal stroke. They can also cause pain, discomfort, and an increased risk of injuries, such as lower back pain.
Off-bike conditioning of your hip flexors is vital to ensure you’re using this muscle to its full potential. Regular stretching of your hip flexors will lead to greater levels of flexibility, consequently decreasing muscle tightness. Improving your flexibility will, in time, prevent you from getting sore when holding your cycling position over a long period of time, enable you to adopt a more aggressive riding position, and also ensure other muscle groups are not prohibited, so you produce more power through each pedal stroke.
Our top recommended off-bike conditioning exercise to improve hip-flexor range of motion: Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch*
*The above video is our recommended post-ride stretch that includes the kneeling hip flexor stretch. Skip forward to minute 07:00 to watch the kneeling hip flexor stretch only.
Core strengthening should be a part of every cyclist’s training but many neglect it. You can have huge leg strength – all the leg strength you can possibly achieve, in fact – but without a stable core, you won’t be able to ride efficiently.
A strong core helps to keep the body stable on the saddle and improves efficiency by preventing excessive side-to-side movement so that all the energy produced is delivered in a smooth pedal stroke. Without a strong core, you’re effectively wasting power and energy, and increasing the risk of injury.
Cyclists with a weak core tend to compensate by engaging supporting muscles and will often put more weight on their arms to hold their body up on the bike. This can lead to numb hands and sore neck and shoulders.
Strengthening your core with off-bike conditioning is important in creating a stable base on which you’ll build your cycling performances. A strong core will help improve your bike handling, posture, efficiency, and overall endurance. It’ll also improve your climbing and power output, reduce injuries, and help your breathing whilst on the bike.
Our top recommended off-bike conditioning exercise to improve core strength: Plank. (See video below for the correct technique).
How much do you prioritise off-bike conditioning? Is it currently a part of your training regime?
If it’s not, we encourage you to try the above exercises for yourself. Be mindful and observant of your cycling performance and the ways in which your off-bike training improves it.
If you’re looking for some more information and detailed guidance on off-bike conditioning, we invite you to book a free 15-minute consultation with our head performance coach or book a spot in one of our online programmes. For off-bike conditioning, we highly recommend the following: our Yoga for Cyclists Eight-Week programme, our 30-Day Foundation Builder, and our 30-Day Core Challenge.