Weight-room workouts for cyclists: Part two

As we learned in part one, cyclists can gain an advantage by training off the bike. The corrective exercises presented here work toward increasing performance strength, allowing you to deter injuries and stay in the saddle longer.

Face pulls

Integrating face pulls into your workout routine help to ensure upper body health and efficiency. As part of the rounded upper-back posture cyclists endure, the scapulae (shoulder blades) have a tendency to slide up and out -- a position referred to as abduction, or winging.

Face pulls simultaneously train scapular depression and retraction, strengthening the muscles that pull the shoulder blades down and back.

How to do it

Set up a pulley with the rope attachment just above forehead-level. Standing with a split stance, hold the pulley with an overhand grip. Your arms should be out in front of you and just above shoulder height. [photo left]

Next, pull the center of the rope attachment toward your face by retracting the shoulder blades and forcing the elbows out (not down). As the rope approaches your face, your shoulder blades should be pulled back and down, with the chest high. You should feel the resistance in your mid-back. [photo right]

For variety and an increased emphasis on external rotation, start the exercise with your thumbs facing you. You'll find that you can get your hands further back with this set-up, and you'll feel it a bit more in the back of your shoulders. [photo left]

Though it appears to be a simple exercise, the face pull has yielded tremendous results in the cyclists I've trained. Very few exercises outperform the face pull in terms of directly addressing the postural deficits common in cycling. Stick with higher reps; sets of eight to 12 are best.

Single-leg exercises

In my experience, the two most uncoordinated types of athletes when out of their element are swimmers and cyclists. What do these two sports have in common? Both are non-weight-bearing.

More specifically, neither of these sports requires weight-bearing in a single-leg stance -- something that characterizes almost every other athletic endeavor, not to mention regular activity associated with daily living.

Frontal plane stability is required to generate the optimal force necessary for single leg exercises. Cycling takes place in the sagittal (front-to-back) plane. Standing on one foot, you're stabilizing, not moving, in the frontal (side-to-side) plane. The lunge relies predominantly on the ability of the adductors (inner thigh muscles) and abductors (outer thigh/butt muscles) to contract together, stabilizing your thigh so you don't tip over.

Single-leg strength is applicable to both performance and health. I've noticed a significant relationship between knee pain and an inability to execute single-leg exercises.

A correct lunge trains the thigh muscles to properly balance each other out. This helps to improve cycling efficiency and prevent pain in areas such as the lateral knee, anterior hip and lower back. The recruitment of the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes is an added bonus.

Single-leg exercises also help strengthen the muscles of the lower leg and feet -- especially if you do them barefoot. Using sneakers all the time tends to allow the smaller foot muscles to shut down. Cyclists I've worked with have used movements from our Magnificent Mobility DVD to successfully correct longstanding imbalances and injuries -- largely because they're taken outside their comfort zone.

Here are a few of my favorite entry-level choices:

Single-leg squats to a bench (tap-and-go)
Dumbbell reverse lunges
Dumbbell step-ups

After mastering the initial exercises, challenge yourself with dumbbell step-ups on a higher platform. Reverse lunges can be done with a barbell. With an overhand grip crossing one hand on top of the other, hold the barbell in front of your neck and supported on your shoulders.

Incorporate some of these movements in your training and watch your performance improve as your injury risk drops off.

Eric Cressey is a strength and conditioning specialist at Excel Sport and Fitness Training in Boston, Mass. The author of The Ultimate Off-Season Training Manual and over 150 published articles, Cressey also co-produced the Magnificent Mobility DVD and Building the Efficient Athlete DVD set. Cressey has worked with athletes from youth sports to the collegiate, professional and Olympic levels. Sign up for his free newsletter at www.EricCressey.com.

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