Complementary Fitness – Darren Lee

A lot of people ask me what are the exercises could they should be doing to improve their cycling. My answer to them is always the same- there are some fundamental exercises whether you are a cyclist, or not, that you SHOULD be doing on a weekly basis to keep the human body in check and to maximise their performance, particularly in other activities such as cycling. 

Although the benefits of cycling are wide and varied, there are some elements of cycling that can cause people discomfort or even pain and these can be overcome by a simple regime of supplementary exercises and activities.

  1. The first exercise I have to include is probably the best exercise overall for the human body, irrelevant of what sport or activity you enjoy and that is the weighted deadlift.
    The simple fact that we oppose a gravitational force everyday of our lives means that we become very quad dominant and our reliance very much more on our anterior muscle chain, as opposed to our posterior muscle chain. This leads to imbalance and stress problems within skeletal joint areas such as the hips, knees and ankles.
    An exercise that can rebalance these two opposing muscle chains is always good, as it improves our posture and the balance within the joints, and therefore it give you the weighted deadlift.
    As well as helping our posterior chain to gain power and strength, it also so is a great exercise for the lower back and core and anyone that has spent any decent time riding a bike will know that is one area, that if not looked after, can cause discomfort, especially on long rides.
    The deadlift is fundamental for human physiology but also for riding a bike, so it has to be number one on the list of supplementary exercises.
  2. My second exercise on the list is not really an individual exercise, but more a selection of exercises, as it involves any work that we can do to improve our core strength. Transitioning in and out of the saddle and also connecting the strength from our upper body to our lower body means that power has to transition through a strong and stable core.
    I’m a big fan of rotational core exercises such as weighted rotations when seated on the floor and standing rotational low-to-high movements with a weighted object such as a kettlebell or medicine ball.
    I’m also a big fan of one exercise that most people love to hate, and that is the plank. Simple tension building exercises which increase the capacity of your abdominals to hold a single position for an extended period of time is ideal for riding a bike.
  3. My third exercise is one that I regularly undertake- the weighted step back lunge. With either dumbbells or barbells from a standing position, taking the leg back to tap the knee almost to the floor before returning to the standing position and then this action is repeated multiple times. This exercise increases the range of motion of the hip flexor and the core stability through the hips and also engages the glutes as an extensor on the rise back to that standing position.
    Fantastic exercise for those who have limited mobility, as you can start with a half lunge and just increase your mobility as and when you can.
  4. Another range of exercises I often undertake are plyometric ballistic exercises, such as burpees, kettlebell snatches, swings and power weighted explosive squat jumps.
    These exercises raise the heart rate very quickly due to the amount of muscle mass they engage and the aerobic element is very high.
    The feeling you get when your heart rate rises very quickly will be very familiar to most cyclists who have tried to maintain their speed and cadence up those short hills and climbs.
  5. My final exercise that I find absolutely vital to maintaining my physical state is stretching. I make sure that all of my primary leg muscles are stretched thoroughly after all exercises by holding all stretches for at least 15 seconds before release.
    Quad, hamstring, calf and glute stretches are fundamental to maintaining a cyclists performance and health simply down to the improved mobility you will get from performing these stretches whilst your muscles are warm after exercise. 

To be honest though, the best way to become a better cyclist is to CYCLE MORE. Time in the saddle is critical to improving those figures but let’s not forget that by adding a few simple complementary exercises when out of the saddle can really improve, not only our cycling function, but the rest of our mobility and functionality that makes everyday life a lot more enjoyable.