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  • Al Painter NASM-CPT, CES, PES


I've been riding a ton lately, and I am pretty psyched about it. Well, unless I think about rebuilding my ego as I work on getting fit again.

In fact, its a tough call. I don't know if my legs or my ego take more of a pounding when I ride.

I USED TO BE A CONTENDUH!! I used to be able to ride six days a week, and I got all kinds of super fast. Even ended up on the top step of the podium at a race a time or two.

Then, my two wee roomies joined the big club and they had plans to take me down one pedal stroke at a time. Between lost sleep, new gray hair (WHAT????? My dark main now how has some racing stripes!) and lost training days, I'm almost past the point where a track stand doesn't send me into an anaerobic "experience."

Luckily, all of the training off the bike I do has allowed me to survive he repetitive stress nature of being on it. It's something I do 3-4x/week and you should too if you ride. I'm a lot smarter about it now and actually have programmed gym time around helping my legs recover (amazing, this personal growth thing).

So after days on the bike the next day in the gym is all about hip extension work to try and give the quads and hip flexors a break in addition to a ton of posterior chain movements to reset the glutes, mid/upper back and shoulders. So far so good.

To that point, there's a lot more to this equation. And I thought who better to fill you in on how critical strength training is to cycling than someone whose opinion I very much respect on all things fitness.

I sent some questions to one of my favorite bike riding trainers, Karen Koutsavlis from New England 360 Fitness, to get her thoughts on what the most common movement breakdowns are she sees, the most important muscles to work on in the gym, what her favorite exercises are and how often a cyclist should strength train.

She has some really great information and makes a lot of good points. So do your two-wheeled self a solid and have a read, learn how to take better care of yourself off the bike and once you do, go for a ride!

What are the most common things you see with cyclists in terms of imbalances/aches/pains?

"I think the most common imbalances I have seen are that many riders focus a lot of time on strengthening their quads. They neglect to work the back side of the legs. I was hesitant to clip in when I got back into riding a few years ago. But I LOVE to climb. Once I realized how much clipping in allowed my hamstrings to pull me up Tower Hill in addition to pushing with the quads, I was climbing faster, and much more efficiently.

I also think some cyclists spend too much time on lower body and completely neglect upper body strength. If you want to control the bike and not let it control you, train your shoulders...I found this especially important with mountain biking. If you're going out for 30+ miles, you can't just let your upper body rest on the handle bars. Be in control, stay strong, and your lungs will thank you.

I do also see a lot of cyclists with low back pain. Obviously a cyclist loves to ride a bike. But if you sit at a desk all day and your favorite form of physical activity involves a seated position, you will want to offset that flexed hip position with frequent hip/low back extensions."

What are the most important muscle groups for cyclists to work on?

"To be completely honest, I think cycling is a total body sport. Whether you're cranking the Kanc, winding through singletrack, or out for a recreational gravel ride, all muscles are involved. If I had to narrow it down to six:

1: Core. It's necessary for all movement. If you want to be a strong rider, you have to have a strong core. Period.

2. Glutes. Your power generator. Strong glutes will stabilize your hips and help prevent injury in your knees...which bend and stretch how many times during a long ride?

3. Hamstrings. As I mentioned above, both the front and back of the legs are super important for efficient RPMs and climbing ability. Working your hamstrings also usually has a direct effect on your low back...bonus!

4. Shoulders. The stronger they are, the less they'll inch up toward your ears when you're fatigued. You know what I'm talking about.

5. Triceps. They assist with the stability mentioned in #4.

6. Quads. I feel like they're a given. They are an integral part of riding a bicycle (fast or slow), so I'm not knocking them with what I said earlier, just don't make them the only leg muscles you focus on."

What are some of your favorite exercises for cyclists?

"RDL's, RDL's, RDL's!!! Both single and double leg. I really like unilateral exercises to maintain balance in strength between the legs. I also love single leg glute bridges. And Step Ups.

I love Myosource training bands for strength and power! Lateral squats, hip bridges, kneeling squats - they keep the hips strong and build stability for stronger output in the saddle.

Push Ups! One of the best exercises ever. Can you say core, shoulders, and triceps?

I get bored easily with planks so I really like plank jacks, plank taps, and mountain climbers for core."

How often should a rider strength train?

"It really depends on the season and your goals. You should look at your training as a big picture over the course of the year and cycle through (see what I did there?) the different seasons.

Break things up so that you're building a powerful base in winter time with 3-5 strength sessions per week. When nicer weather hits, or you up the mileage on your trainer, your body will be ready for increased time in the saddle.

As race season approaches, you should be able to maintain your strength with 2-3 sessions per week. Time in the gym and time in the saddle should be an inverse relationship...when you're cycling more often, decrease strength frequency to 2-3 times per week. As you cycle less, spend more time hitting the weights, TRX, bands, or use bodyweight. Keeping that in mind will allow you to train to the proper level for peak performance without causing injury...and earn some of those KOM's you so rightfully deserve."

I can't thank Karen enough for her amazing feedback and for taking the time out of her schedule to answer my questions. If you live in the New England area, look her up, make an appointment with her and start working on getting faster on your bike by getting stronger off of it.

If you'd like more info on NE360 Fitness, hit one of the links below!

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