Training: Get stronger working from home

How resistance work can improve your cycling strength

Working with weights will give you useable cycling strength without piling on extra bulk.  Just follow these simple exercises at the gym or better still get hold of a Swiss ball and a couple of dumbbells and you can do them at home.

There are a lot of benefits to be had from working with weights – improvements to your metabolism, bone density, muscle mass, stamina, overall fitness… Just make sure you consistently follow safe practices to avoid injury.

How to avoid injury when working with weights

  •  Train with a partner – it's much safer than working out alone.
  •  Warm up by riding for five minutes before starting resistance training, increasing your heart rate gradually.
  •  Do a warm-up set with light weights each time you start a new exercise.
  •  Cool down for five minutes at the end of your session and stretch all the muscles you've worked.

Look after your back

It's vital that you keep your back in the 'neutral spine' position – its natural S shape – in all of these exercises (except the back extension). This is an important measure to avoid injury. Here's how to find it…

  • Lie on your back on the floor with your legs parallel, knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Relax your back, shoulders and neck
  • Use your abdominals to press your lower spine into the floor
  • Then pull your lower spine up and as far away from the floor as you can

The neutral spine position is between these two extremes; your lower abdominals flat and a natural curve in the lower spine. Getting into this same back position while standing will take some practice, but it's crucial.

Five weight training myths debunked

1 Resistance training will make me heavy and slow. Well, it might if you followed a programme designed to add bulk, but we're not going to give you biceps like Arnie. This plan is designed to increase your muscular endurance.

2 Weight training will reduce my flexibility. It won't if you remember to stretch properly after each session.

3 I might injure myself.  Not if you warm up properly, build up gradually and make sure you follow the correct form.

4  It's boring.  We're not talking about endless hours pumping iron in the gym. A 45-minute session at home once or twice a week will get you the desired results. If you get fed up with the same routine, it's time to find some new exercises and vary the intensity.

 5 Only professional riders need to bother with resistance training. Nope, we can all benefit, whatever our level of fitness. In fact, beginners will benefit most from resistance training.

10 Resistance exercises you can do in your garage

Of course it may be a good idea to move the car out of the garage first,  just to give you some safe swinging space.

1. Bench press

  • Rest your upper back on the ball, your core section braced and your feet positioned so your body and thighs form a line parallel to the floor.
  • Take the dumbbells out to the side so that your upper arms are parallel to the ground and ensure your elbows are at right angles.
  • Exhale as you push the dumbbells upwards towards the ceiling until your arms are almost straight.
  • Lower the dumbbells slowly until your elbows are at right angles again.

2. Swiss ball back extension

  • Lie with your torso on the ball, your feet against a wall for stability and your fingertips on your temples.
  • Draw your body upwards to form a straight line with your legs before returning slowly to the start position.

3. Lunge

  • Stand with your feet slightly apart, your back in the neutral spine position (see Look after your back above), with a dumbbell in each hand.
  • Keeping your core braced and your chest high, step forward with your left leg. Bend your knees until the left one is at right angles and your right one is just off the floor. You may need to adjust the length of your step until you feel comfortable to get this absolutely right.
  • Push back hard with your left leg and bring yourself back up to the start position. Repeat this movement, but this time leading with your right leg.

4. Bicep curls

  • Stand with your feet shoulder- width apart, a dumbbell in each hand, palm-side facing forward.
  • Keeping your elbows still and back behind the midpoint of your body, curl the weights upwards towards your shoulders before slowly returning to the start position. Alternate with each arm.

5. Bent over rows

  • Stand with your knees slightly bent, a dumbbell in each hand, palm-side facing forwards. Keeping your back in the neutral spine position, tip your upper body forward about 45 degrees from your hips
  • Draw your arms in, bringing the dumbbells together. Your elbows should graze the side of your body, until your hands are level with your navel.

6. Squat

  • Assume the position of standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, and your back in the neutral spine position. Take hold of a dumbbell in each hand.
  • Bend your knees and flex slightly forward at your hips at the same time, lowering yourself slowly until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  • Exhale as you push yourself back up to the start position. Think about maintaining your spine position while keeping your feet flat on the floor and your chest high. Get a training partner to check that your back and lower legs stay parallel throughout this exercise.

7. Shoulder press

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, dumbbells held just above shoulder level with your wrists directly over your elbows.
  • Exhale as you push the dumbbells up until your arms are almost straight, before returning slowly to the start position.

8. Dumbbell wood chop

  • Stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell with both hands, your arms reaching up over your right shoulder. Most of your weight should now be felt on your right leg.
  • Keeping your chest high and your arms straight, rotate your torso. Shift your weight onto your left leg as you move the dumbbell slowly down to the outside of your left leg, while looking straight ahead.

9. Single arm tricep extension

  • Begin by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart. Then take a dumbbell in one hand and reach up towards the ceiling.
  • Keeping your upper arm still, pointing upright, bend your elbow and lower the dumbbell slowly until it nearly touches the back of your neck. Then reverse the movement, straightening your arm steadily and in a controlled manner back to the start position. It's important to make sure that your tricep – the muscle on the back of your upper arm – is doing all the work.

10. Prone fly

  • Stand with your knees slightly bent and feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Keeping your back in the neutral spine position, tip your upper body forward at an angle about 45 degrees from your hips.
  • With just a slight bend in your elbow throughout this exercise, draw the dumbbells to shoulder level, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Then return the dumbbells to the start position. And remember to breathe with each movement.

How much resistance and how often?

  • Choose weights that allow you to get 15-20 repetitions without sacrificing form. The last few should be hard work – at an effort level of seven out of 10.
  • If you can do 20 repetitions easily, increase the weight slightly.
  • Start off at just one set per exercise, but work up to with 30-60 seconds rest in between each one.
  • Lots of racers prefer to cut down on resistance sessions in the summer, often just continuing with a small amount of upper body work to maintain strength. But for general fitness it makes sense to keep it going year round, one to two times a week, stopping for a couple of weeks before any big event.
  • If you find yourself adding upper body bulk that you don't want, do sessions less frequently, but don't cut them out altogether.

There's no substitute for the real thing - hill repeats

Learn to pace yourself on long, arduous hill climbs

Unless you're lucky enough to live in one of the few truly mountainous areas of the UK, long extended climbs lasting 30 minutes plus are very hard to find.

Even if you're super strong on short, steep stuff, where you can use brute strength and power, it's a completely different ball game finding a sub-threshold rhythm and spinning consistently for over an hour without blowing up.

One option is to try and simulate long climbs on the turbo but not having to deal with gravity and pedalling against artificial resistance is just not the same as battling against a real gradient. The best option is to use hill repeats.

  • Find a hill with a seven to 12 per cent grade as this best simulates what you'd find in the Alps or Pyrenees. The longer the hill the better, but anything that takes longer than five minutes to climb will do the job.
  • After a five to 10 minute warm-up riding on the flat, select a gear that allows you to spin at 80-90rpm on the hill and begin climbing.
  • Keep seated and maintain an effort level that's just below your anaerobic threshold. If you don't know your heart-rate zones or don't use a monitor, you should feel where things just start to get unpleasant. If you're with a mate you should be able to talk in short sentences.
  • Once at the top, turn around and roll down – although this is your recovery time, keep your legs moving even if it's just back-pedalling.
  • Repeat until you accumulate 30-60 minutes of climbing. Concentrate on form, rhythm and not letting your effort rise over your threshold.
  • Play around with occasionally shifting up a gear and standing out of the saddle and see the effect that has.

For a more race-orientated, intense session include a 60-second acceleration at some point during the climb and see if you can recover from it while still climbing.

Will resistance training make you ride faster?

As usual when it comes to exercise, this is a contentious question. Lifting weights won’t increase your maximum output but studies suggest that they’ll allow you to do more work at a higher intensity before you get tired on long, moderately hard rides – the kind that most of us do a lot. And better upper body strength will give you extra control when it’s time to put the hammer down for out-of-the-saddle sprints and climbs.

Resistance training will help prevent injuries too by strengthening your muscles, ligaments and tendons, and it can correct muscle imbalances that, if ignored, could give you problems in the future. Primarily focused on your leg muscles, riding doesn’t work your arms, shoulders, chest or back much, so we cyclists are often weak in those areas. Train with weights and you’ll even things out and improve your general fitness.

Why am I doing this to myself again?

Resistance work becomes even more important as you get older. You’ll naturally start to lose muscle from your thirties onwards, and with it strength and power… unless you do something about it. Weight training allows you to hang on to your body’s muscle and also your bone density in ways that cycling alone can’t. And a bit of extra muscle will also speed up your metabolism, helping you to lose body fat more easily.

Resistance training equipment essentials 

Swiss ball: You can get a Swiss ball – also called an exercise ball, stability ball and gym ball – from most sports shops. Follow the manufacturer's instructions to get the right size for your height. They cost between £5 and £15.

Dumbbells: You could buy several fixed-weight dumbbells, but adjustable ones with separate weight discs/plates work out cheaper and take up less space. Sports shops and Argos (www. argos.co.uk) stock them with prices starting at around £25 for a 20kg set.

Your best bet, though, is eBay (www.ebay.co.uk); there are always plenty of barely-touched sets going cheap from people who've ditched their New Year's resolutions.

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