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  • Writer's pictureAl Painter Jr

Cyclists: 9 Ways To Workout Without Cooking Your Legs For Your Next Ride

Updated: Apr 4, 2023

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One of the biggest concerns I hear from bike riders is that if they strength train during the week it will cook their legs on their rides. That my friends is a recipe for disaster. See how I brought that all together with the cook and the recipe analogy? That's caffeinated clever in affect right there!

If you're still here, I appreciate it. If you left the blog, while I wouldn't blame you, you're going to miss out on some incredibly effective strategies to get stronger while preserving your legs for your weekly rides.

Before we get to the solution, let's start with your potential leg fatigue problem as I see it. Keeping in mind that cycling is a seated repetitive stress activity that takes place in one plane of motion: straight ahead. And if its suddenly taking place in a plane of motion other than that, you've got a yard sale problem (you just crashed) I can't help you with.

"The Benefits of Cycling"

I've mentioned this in former posts, but it bares repeating. When you ride your bike, you're sitting down repeatedly bending your knees. That does several wonderful things for your body:

  • Shuts down the glutes: this is NEVER a good thing because they are the main powerhouse to drive strength, balance and power into your pedals.

  • You're only allowed to move in the above mentioned repetitive stress motions of knee flexion in a hip flexed position. That's a fancy way of saying you're sitting down bending your knees a ton.

  • If you're clipped in, you're banking on the measurements of your seat and cleat positions being correct. If they aren't, well, you've probably already reaped the benefits of your body "informing you" something is out of alignment with some aches and pains.

  • Repetitive stress motions cause muscle imbalances that rob of you of both strength and efficiency.

  • Muscle imbalances will make harder to corner or ride switchbacks equally as well to the right and left.

  • If you've compensation patterns kicking in as you ride, it isn't uncommon to need more recovery between rides.

So, now that I've shown you how cycling destroys your body and possibly freaked you out over ever doing it again, its time to connect the rest of the post into the title of the prose.

If you read my previous post , which you did, right? I mean, who wants to be that person who sees the sequel without having gotten the background of how the whole plot is going to unfold?

The previous post details a brilliant Juan Carlos Santana strategy of adding progressive exercise variety into your workouts by making simple changes to your lower body base of support while changing the way your arms move to challenge you that much more. Seriously, his method is incredibly effective, so check the post out. Probably be a good idea to follow him and The Institute of Human Performance on social media and get his "Essence of Bands And Pulley Training Companion Guide" book as well.

The Power of 3

If you read the previous post, or just got back from reading it (YAY YOU!!), you know Santana breaks down his movement progression strategy like this:

Lower Body Base of Support

  • 2-Legs

  • Split Stance (and for our purposes, I'll include 1/2 kneeling as well)

  • 1-Leg

Upper Body Movement Pattern

  • 2-Arms

  • Alternate Arm

  • 1-Arm

This is how you can strengthen your pedaling power platform off the bike to ride better when you're on it without cooking your legs for your next ride. You're going to do this isometrically in the lower body by giving your pedaling movement pattern a much needed break while firing up the muscles that make it happen while dynamically moving your upper body and it looks like this.

Chop Your Worries in Half

The way your arms and legs work together through your core when you ride (especially through corners) is the same idea as your wheel's spokes and the hub:

  • The tighter your "spokes" (arms and legs) connect to your "hub" (your core), the more true the wheel spins.

  • This is key for power and efficiency when we keep in mind our nervous system will only let the arms and legs the amount of power your joints can stabilize.

  • The better your right hand and left foot (tip of your spokes) work together through your hub, the better you'll corner to the right and vice versa.

  • The better both opposite hands and feet connect through your "hub," the harder the charge you can put in out of the saddle.

  • X marks the spot for optimal pedaling performance.

One of the best exercises a cyclist can use to get stronger, prevent injuries and keep your spokes connected to your hub is by using chopping patterns. The biggest reason being that for your hands (the end of your "spokes") to bring a load across your body horizontally or diagonally, the muscles opposite where the movement begins and ends needs to be your base of support (your "hub"). Not too mention that while you're doing this, the lower body is locked in isometrically so you don't use the legs the same way you do in the saddle allowing them to rest.

The better your "hub" is at resisting rotational forces coming from the left and the right, the better it can send power to your "spokes" to produce power to the left and the right. Its also the plane of motion where most "low back occurrences" take place, so you strengthen two birds with one stone here.

9 Ways To Turn Three Movements Into a Power Pedaling Platform

So, if you take horizontal and diagonal chopping patterns and you apply Santana's movement progression formula, you can take the three bases of support (2-Leg, Split Stance, and Single Leg), add them to the three movement patterns (horizontal, diagonal toward the ground, diagonal from the ground up) and you get nine ways to train your entire body without cooking your legs for your next ride.

Here's how it shakes out:

2-Legs or Tall Kneeling Base of Support

  • Horizontal Chops

  • Diagonal Chops Toward The Ground

  • Diagonal Chops From the Ground

  • BENEFITS: Strong base of support to move from. The tall kneeling position is very glute intensive without having to move the hips or knees.

Splits Stance or 1/2 Kneeling Base of Support

  • Horizontal Chops

  • Diagonal Chops Toward The Ground

  • Diagonal Chops From the Ground

  • BENEFITS: The load needs to go down just a bit with a split stance because now you're introducing a more challenging connection to the earth. If you use the 1/2 kneeling base of support, you get a great stretch into the hip flexors and quads while isometrically contracting the glutes without moving the knees or hips. Diagonals + Strength Work + Improved Mobility = WIN/WIN/WIN

Standing on 1-Leg

  • Horizontal Chops

  • Diagonal Chops Toward The Ground

  • Diagonal Chops From the Ground

  • BENEFITS: This is a very advanced progression so you're loads CAN'T be heavy here because the foundation is too unstable. This will further unload your legs while reconnecting/strengthening the most important movement patterns to riding your best and preventing injuries: Diagonal loading through the core and hips.

Overall Benefits Of The Chop Pattern

  • You give your legs a much needed break from the repetitive stress flexion movement patterns of riding. Essentially, you commit the glutes and core (the "hub"), but you merely involve the legs (your spokes).

  • You massively fire up the glutes (part of your "hub") while your arms (your "spokes") move to teach your body how to support movement by your arms and legs.

  • You can build strength and stability while improving your mobility (which is what you want, not flexibility).

  • Increasing the strength of the connection of your "spokes" to your "hub" increases your efficiency riding, improves muscle imbalances that cause you to leak power and helps you recovery faster as a result.

  • You'll move a hell of a lot better off the bike which is where you spend more time during the week.

  • You go a long way toward preventing injuries.

  • You'll get a lot more rest at the top of each climb while waiting for your friends.

  • You can use chop patterns as active recovery or the main body of your workout during the peak of your ride season. Just know that in the off season, you'll need to strengthen your squat, hinge, carry, push and pull patterns.

  • You do the patterns dynamically or isometrically.

  • You can use suspension straps, bands, bells, stability ball, med balls, body weight and even a stick to do the exercises. Conceivably, you could continue progressing your chop patterns, get pretty damn strong and never really run out of ways to do it. Especially if you start squatting and lunging as you moved your upper body.

Here's what it looks like when you use the different bases of support combined with the three chopping planes of motion (horizontal, diagonal up, diagonal down):

2-Legs + Horizontal Across the Body

The biggest advantage of the Stability Ball Dynamic Anti-Rotation Press is that you have to provide the force and then you've got to resist it.

The Tall Kneeling Exercise Band Plank uses a 2-leg base of support in the tall kneeling position which puts a lot more load into the glutes while you have to resist the lateral force generated by the band or cable pulley at the gym.

Split Stance + Diagonal Downward Force Production

So now we get into the second base of support progression: the split stance. We are also now combining with downward diagonal force to spice things up that much more.

Here with Split Stance Suspension Strap Pallof Press + Plank, you are generating force with the upper body while resisting it with the bottom half, think cornering at speed. You get a ton of core activation in addition to the inside glute without moving your leg giving the knee flexion patter of cycling a break.

You then turn this into a horizontal plane chop by moving the hands in and out. This exercise checks three of the six movement progression boxes.

The next exercise hits the split stance, downward force production with the added component of rotational movement with hip mobility on the pivot foot side of the movement. Again, there is very little knee flexion (knee moves toward the hips) with quite a bit of hip extension (feet go away from the hips).

I love this one because it looks like baseball, and I LOVE baseball. Did I mention because baseball?

Diagonally Up + Away From the Ground

Now we get into the third chop pattern, up diagonally and away from the ground. This connects the hips and the upper back opposite of your base of support. Tons of glutes, zero knee movement and a great way to improve your posture off the bike.

The first exercise of the 1/2 Kneeling Cable Lift and it forces your hub on the inside of the movement to fire up to give your "spokes" the foundation needed to move the load used away from the ground.

Plus, you're in a quad/hip flexor stretch position on the inside knee supported (and intensified) by the contraction of the glutes.

Here we move to the 2-Leg base of support with two arm isometric diagonal force production. The top hand (the end of your "spoke") on the stick is connected to the outside foot through the core (your "hub) giving you one hell of a diagonal contraction.

The more force you drive into the hands on the stick, the more force being sent back to the outside foot to keep you still. Great exercise that drives the heart rate through the roof because you are the one both producing AND resisting force.

So, are you still worried about working out at home or in the gym and cooking your legs for your next ride? I didn't think so. With the right programming, you can work all of the muscles that support riding without further frying the movement patterns used as you ride.

This method is different, probably a little scary for, and that's a good thing. Usually, when we get outside our comfort zone, what we see on the other side is pretty damn cool.

If you want help dialing in your strategy for your workouts in between rides, drop me a line and let's put one together. If you learned a few things here, and you've got friends who ride, forward it along to them or post it so they can benefit too!

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