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8 Single-Leg Exercises to Increase Cycling Power
Alternating Box Push-Offs
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Stand with one foot on a step or box as shown. Push off with your top foot as you jump and cycle your legs, much like a pedal stroke. Try to land softly and immediately repeat with the other side.
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Stand in a split-squat position with one foot forward and one foot back. Drop down into a split-squat, swing your elbows back and jump as high as you can, using your arms and hips. Land softly, reposition and repeat.
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Place three cones or water bottles in front of you as shown. Standing on one leg, perform a squat by bending the knee slightly and reach down toward the left cone. Return to a standing position, squat and reach towards the forward cone, then back to a standing position. Finally, squat and reach towards the right cone. Repeat the entire sequence while standing on your other leg.
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Stand with a split stance as shown. The distance of your stance will vary depending on your hip flexibility. Drop down into a split squat position. Focus on your lead leg doing the work as you stand back up. You'll probably feel a stretch in the trailing leg—that's okay. When you add weight with this exercise, hold the weights as shown. When you hold dumbbells at shoulder level, your center of gravity is raised, requiring more control and stability.
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The lunge is one of my favorite exercises for cyclists since it works on eccentric strength. When you lunge forward, the muscles of your hips, trunk and thigh have to decelerate and stop the motion of your body before pushing back to the starting position. This motion is referred to as an eccentric action, in which your muscles are lengthening while developing tension. Cycling has virtually no eccentric action, so the inclusion of this type of exercise can drastically improve your overall lower body strength. Hold a pair of fairly light dumbbells as shown and take a long step forward into a lunge, keeping your knee behind your toes and avoid having your knee collapse to the inside. Push back to the starting position and repeat with your other leg.
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Even though cycling doesn't involve lateral movements, it's important to incorporate lateral activities to keep your hips strong and mobile. Hold a pair of dumbbells at shoulder level as shown and lunge to the side, dropping your hips down and back as you descend into the lunge.
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Stand on one foot and descend down into a squat with your trailing leg behind you. Try not to allow your knee to collapse inward—it may help to do this exercise in front of a mirror. Don't worry if you can't get down too far—you don't have to go deep into the squat to receive a benefit.
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You've probably done step-ups before, but here we're going to make a couple of modifications to make the exercise a little more challenging. First, find a step that's not too high—an aerobic step works really well since you can usually adjust the height. A good starting point is about 6 inches.
Hold a pair of dumbbells at shoulder height and place one foot on top of the step. Now, it's important to visualize this leg doing the work as you make your way through the set. Step up and raise your trailing leg as shown. This exercise will challenge your balance quite a bit.
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Return to the starting position, but don't let your trailing foot touch the floor. Let it hover an inch or so above the floor for a second or two while keeping an upright posture before starting the next repetition.
This is going to increase the difficulty of the exercise, as the muscles of your lead leg will be under constant tension. Since your trailing leg doesn't touch the floor, it'll be impossible to push off with that foot. Many people find this version of the step-up quite challenging. If you're having difficulty, reduce the height of the step to around 4 inches and/or start with bodyweight.
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There's no one correct way to incorporate these exercises into your program. However, here are a couple of points to keep in mind:
Power exercises (Slides 1 and 2):
- Be sure to place power exercises towards the beginning of your workout to promote movement quality—you shouldn't be fatigued while doing power exercises.
- Aim for 2 to 3 sets of 5 to 8 repetitions each side.
- Allow sufficient rest in between sets.
Strength/balance exercises(Slides 3 to 9):
- Choose one or two single-leg exercises per workout.
- Aim for three sets of 8 to 12 repetitions per side.
- Don't sacrifice movement quality to lift more weight.
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