Training: Be a winter warrior, part 2 - Keeping fit

How to stay in shape through winter

Core strength and the ability to support your own body is key in building endurance fitness – if you work solely on your legs, your lower back and upper body will suffer. Finding the time to go to the gym can be hard if you have a busy lifestyle, so here are a few top exercises that will help keep you in shape.

Start running

If you only cycle, you’ll only be building muscles groups in certain areas, so you need to include some cross-training elements in your training.

Running burns lots of calories and will keep you toned – although it’s a high impact exercise so isn’t too friendly on joints and muscle. Off-road running is fun though, and the softer ground is more forgiving. A good run once a week will do your overall fitness the world of good.

Exercises for building strength

1. Gym ball chest press

This is like a basic bench press, but you have your back on a gym ball, and your feet at shoulder width, supporting your weight. This also works your core muscle groups because you have to use them to stabilise yourself.

Use dumbbells rather than a bar bell, and for general strength go for 12 to 15 times repetitions over two sets. As you get stronger, increase the number of repetitions and sets.

2. Gym ball back extension

As well as strengthening your core abdominal muscles, it’s important to keep your lower back strong too.

  • With your toes on the ground, lay on your gym ball with the ball at your midriff
  • Then use your lower back muscles to pull yourself upright and lower again
  • Try to do sets of 10-15 reps, and go from there

3. Gym ball crunches

To complement your lower back exercise, strengthen your abs by using the crunch.

  • With your feet at shoulder width, lie on the ball so that it is at the small of your back, and place your hands on your temples
  • Using your stomach muscles, draw yourself forwards until you can feel the muscles working and lower yourself back down again
  • Go for three sets of 10 repetitions and build up

Adding in cross-crunches adds further strength – they’re like a normal crunch but you aim your left elbow at your right knee and your right at the left.

4. Core stability

The final exercise for strength is the plank motion. This exercise is very good for your lower back, abs and the general strength needed for long rides and performance in tough conditions.

  • Lie on the ground as stretched out as you can, resting all your weight on your elbows and toes
  • Your body should be completely rigid
  • You’ll soon get the shakes, which will tell you when you’re done for

Get stretching

It's important to stretch your muscles both before and after a ride to avoid injury, and it's important to take your time and do them right. Here are a few basic stretches that you should do every time you go out on your bike.

1. Calf stretch

  • Place both hands flat on a wall and with one leg forward, lean forwards until you feel the pull in the calf
  • Keep your rear leg straight and hold for 30-40 seconds

2. Quad stretch

  • With one hand on a wall, use your other to grab the top of your foot and pull your ankle against your backside, and feel the pull in your quads
  • If it doesn’t pull, lean your upper body back slightly
  • Hold for 30-40 seconds

3. Hamstring stretch

  • Lying on the ground on your back, use a cycling jacket or similar to loop round your foot
  • Pull your leg up, while keeping it straight, until you feel your hamstrings tighten
  • Hold for 30-40 seconds and repeat with your other leg

What to eat

Fuelling your body is essential for muscles to grow and stay strong.

A balanced diet is essential, and there are some key elements to that – mainly carbohydrates, proteins and fatty acids (such as Omega 3, which found in fish). Great foods that replenish carbs and proteins include red meat (such as lean steak or mince), chicken, eggs, fish (oily fish like mackerel), pasta and rice.

Get cooking

For a quick and easy pasta dish to sort you out after a hard ride, find the following ingredients and get busy in the kitchen…

  • Wholewheat pasta 
  • Pesto
  • Chicken breast
  • One courgette
  • Black pepper
  • Olive oil

Preparation 2 minutes, cooking 12 minutes

  1. Heat a griddle pan and boil some water in a saucepan.
  2. Dice your courgette and slice open the chicken breast, rubbing pepper and olive oil into it.
  3. Add the pasta to the pan of boiling water, and place the chicken breast on the griddle.
  4. Cook the chicken on one side for 4mins, then turn it over. At the same time, place the courgettes on the griddle as well. Drizzle them with olive oil and turn them so they cook all the way through.
  5. After another 4mins, remove the chicken breast from the griddle (check it’s cooked through and not pink) and leave it to stand for 2mins while you drain the pasta.
  6. Cut the chicken in to slices and stir through the pasta with some pesto and the courgettes.

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What to drink

Getting salt and sugar levels back up after riding is essential. If you don’t have an isotonic drink handy, you can make your own by mixing the following ingredients:

  • 1 pint of water 
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • Juice to dilute to taste

Keeping yourself fit means putting the effort in both on and off the bike. It can make a huge difference to your whole lifestyle, as well as building you into a better rider.

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