I'm sure you're thinking "WHOA THERE PARDNER! What are you, nuts. Whoever heard of such a thing????? Taking squats out of a strength training program."
Seems completely counter intuitive doesn't it? Goes against traditional endurance athlete strength training methods doesn't it? Yep, and that's exactly why you should do it.
Ask a rider what they feel more as they ride, their quads or their glutes, and I'd bet dollars to donuts (mmmmmmmm, donuts) "quads" would be the primary response given. I've trained enough two wheel humans since 2006 that most of you feel your quads a ton more than you do your glutes riding. Especially uphill.
Consequently, your squat patterns are off in the gym, your glutes are offline and the wrong muscles are working while you squat. But, fear not because I've got a very effective alternative for you.
I've seen cyclists "squat," and very often it ain't pretty. Here's what it should look like.
This is a bodyweight squat using a Stick Mobility primer to optimally align the spine through activating your core. Notice it doesn't look like I'm trying to touch my shins with my ribs and folding in the middle. All I'm doing is bending my knees and letting the ball and socket joint in my hips do their thing.
Keep in mind, riding a bike can cause you to lose of range of motion in your hips, reduce your glute activity and trash your ankle mobility. Or, all the things that are critical to you doing this movement correctly.
Not too mention the way it can absolutely annihilate your thoracic (mid-back) mobility. It can also disconnect your feet from your hips from the ground up from jamming your feet into narrow cycling shoes hampering the way your toes move. Whose excited for their next ride now that you know this??? AMIRIGHT??
For the sake of argument, lets say you ride at 90 RPMs for two hours. During that time, if my math is write you will have flexed your hip and knee 10,800 times.
That's a ton of flexion with your joints seated while bent over when your hands are on the handlebars. Most riders also sit in a static position flexed at the hips at a desk all week further compounding this.
So with that said, why would you train either that position or movement pattern even more off the bike? Me? I'd want to undo that and activate the muscles that are underutilized while riding: essentially all the muscle head to heels in the back of the body.
Now, Don't Get Me Wrong...
I love squat movements (especially combining them with pushing and pulling with bands or cable pulleys). Goblet squats. Step Ups. Rear foot elevated split squats. Single leg squats and all squats in between.
All great exercises, unless you ride a bike all weekend long, have over reduced hip mobility, active hip flexors and quads, that contract when you blink let alone sit and stand. If you're in the off season when your volume of riding is down, go hog wild with squat patterns, especially the single leg variety.
If you're ramping up the amount of time you're spending in the saddle, stop doing them on Mondays (or least don't do as many, or do LIGHT load versions in your warm up). Yep, you read that right.
If you ride a bike, take squats out of your in season strength program on Mondays. Your quads (and most likely knees and low back) will thank you, trust me.
What You Should Do Instead
When a cyclist strength trains, they should focus on things that help them recover from riding. This means you shoudle unload your quads as much as possible and get your glutes to activate in multiple planes of motion to reopen the hips you've slammed shut from a weekend in the saddle.
This means, hinging instead of squatting since that is hip dominant requiring more glute activation to perform. Anti-rotation exercises to reengage the lateral core and glutes to help your out of the saddle efforts should also be a something you focus on.
Single leg bodyweight isometrics instead of loaded dynamic squatting movements are a great substitute. This will activate your glutes like you wouldn't believe without moving the knee up and down loading the quads that much more. You also get the benefit of putting a load into the muscles without much force going into your joints.
Essentially, give your hip flexors and quads a break and activate your posterior chain (all of the muscles in the back half of your body), back muscles and core. Do this with bridging patterns, RDL's, single leg hinge movements or band walking variations with it around your knees. Loaded carries are also good options to activate your core and lower body while not hammering the quads.
You can push and pull (ideally with a single arm) in a split stance position as well. This very effectively works the core and glutes while diagonally connecting the body head to toe from the ground up which is perfect. Suspension trainer row variations are also great.
This is all on top of working the diagonal loading patterns that make riding out of the saddle that much more effective with half kneeling (you can work your core and glutes as you lengthen your hip flexors) chops in as many planes of movement as possible.
I've recently upped my volume of riding quite a bit to four days a week, and I'm using this strategy. While my glutes are little more "aware" of their existence when I ride, at age 47, my quads are a lot fresher and don't feel as fatigued.
Do These Instead
Here are some of the exercises I've used instead of squat patterns to reset my legs to get ready for my next ride.
Single Leg Isometric RDL
Here you'll work on hip stability on a single leg, or what your need to drive a pedal down with force. This also hits the back muscles that hold you in place descending.
Single Arm Band RDL
I love this movement. Diagonal core, lats and glutes all for the price of one exercise. Plus, this is a great way to hit the glutes while unloading the quads.
Split Stance Bent Over Exercise Band CHop
This exercise works the rotational core, glutes, hip stability, and the muscle firing pattern used while cornering and riding out of the saddle. This is a big bang for your buck movement.
Split Stance Single Arm Press
This exercise can keep your glutes, core and pressing muscles connected. Especially when you focus on driving the back foot and hand away from each other as you push to fire up your muscles that much more. If you leave the back heel down, you'll get a nice calf stretch out this as well.
Split Stance Single Arm Row
This will help you connect your upper back and lats to the opposite hip. Since this is the exact diagonal muscle firing pattern that is critical to feeling good off the bike, working on it will help you ride that much better when you're on it.
Thinking outside the box when you're not in the saddle with your strength training can go a long way to keeping your legs feeling better so you can ride stronger to pedal longer. If you live in the Silicon Valley and want to know if you are maximizing your off the bike strength training, click here to send me a note and we can set up a time to meet to take a look!