So often, when we think of cycling training, we think of legs and butt (training, people, I’m talking about training). The massive muscle groups which we use to power through our pedal strokes. The gluteus muscles. The quadriceps. The hamstrings. Less often, but sometimes, we might pay attention to our calf muscles, the gastrocnemius and soleus. Particularly if we’re riding long distances clipped in, we may have encountered niggles with (and therefore stretched out and activated) our plantar fascia (the soles of your feet) or the tibalis anterior (the ‘shin’ muscle, ostensibly). From the hips down, we take great care of our powerhouses. But what of the hips up? We covered the core last week, and why that’s so important. Well I’m here to tell you it doesn’t end there – for tip-top performance you need to be concerning yourself with your upper body as well.
Now, admittedly you don’t need massive amounts of strength in your upper body to be an effective and efficient cyclist. There’s no power lifting involved. Strength in the arms, back and chest is more obviously important if you ride off road – mountainbiking or cyclocross – as fluid and confident bike handling is one of the most important skills you can have. In both disciplines, you need to be able to float over the bike while anticipating and absorbing any obstacles which you need to roll over. The bike is more likely to be flung out from underneath you, and you need your upper body and core strength to avoid being thrown off!
Outright strength may seem less important in road riding, but you can’t neglect it entirely. And if you want to even think about sprinting – well, you only need to look at stills of a sprint finish to see how important upper body and core strength is…
In the above photo from francetvsport.fr, take a look at the angles of the bikes. These riders are pushing all their weight through their pedals to power over the line and using their upper bodies to counteract that force; their core strength is going all out to keep their midlines and centres of gravity at a reasonable angle. You may not ever contend a sprint with Cav et al, but I bet you know the feeling yourself from sprinting off the lights or honking up that short sharp hill.
Even if you’re not super sprinty, or a honker at heart – think about it this way… Not only is a well defined shoulder and upper back a beautiful thing on both boys and girls, but you’ll reduce upper body fatigue on long rides, and upper body strength has a huge crossover into functional strength. Daily things like carrying shopping, hauling around young children, and moving furniture all become way easier with a little strength in the arms and back. It improves your posture and helps with all those riding benefits we mentioned last week that you get from that. PLUS lean muscle mass burns more calories at rest than fat. Which, let’s face it, is the icing on the cake (the one you can now eat, cos you’ll be able to burn it off!). Continue reading