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The Gym

February 23, 2012

I mentioned not too long ago that I have been getting into the gym a lot more this winter than I did last year. The plan, ostensibly, is to maintain fitness, but I found I’ve been building strength, too, which is not insignificant for riding performance, especially if it can be done without adding too much weight. So far, so good on that count. I’ve managed to hover around a steady winter weight, a couple of kilograms above where I was at my peak riding last fall. In addition, I suspect that some of the extra weight is added muscle in the upper body, although I expect it will likely come off as I do more and longer riding. (Note: I’m not fanatical about weight or optimal weight or wanting to shave every gram possible off my frame—more on diet soon).

Caveat: This workout is not a recommendation; it’s merely a description of what I’ve been doing. I seem to be enjoying good results, but I do not accept responsibility for any injuries you might incur. Before embarking on any new fitness regime, check with a doctor and hire a personal trainer to introduce you to the weights and weight room (it’s also handy to have someone to correct your form so that you don’t develop long term injuries).

On Mondays and Thursdays, I’ve been following the same fairly standard (and reasonably quick) regimen. I start with kettlebell swings, which I have been doing on and off for a year or two. It’s a deceptively easy exercise, which has the benefit of targeting a series of different muscle groups important to both core strength and cycling performance.

Standard kettlebell swing (although the first and third positions look a bit exaggerated for my liking). The swing becomes precisely that as momentum carries the weight back from the third position to the first.

Using a 50lb weight, I try to get in 100 swings. Fifty in the first set, thirty in the second, and twenty in the third. This is a lot harder than it looks. Not because of the weight, but because of the cardiovascular endurance required. You’ll be surprised how much you’re puffing while trying this. The real appeal stems from the fact that the exercise hits multiple muscle groups at once. The entire posterior chain—hamstrings, glutes, back, and shoulder muscles—are all recruited. In between sets, I do abdominal exercises over a bonsu ball: ten reps with a 15lb weight in my extended arms.

The next step involves traditional squats, although I try to keep my feet closer together than might be regarded as standard. Because I want to cultivate strength in my hips and quads for cycling, I set my feet roughly the same distance apart as they would be on the pedals. The narrower base has the added advantage of recruiting more core muscles to ensure I maintain good balance.

Forgive the over-developed muscles, but this picture was one of the lone images of squats I could find that showed a narrower foot base.

I start with 90lbs (10 reps) and add 20lbs over each of the next two sets, so that the final two sets involve 130lbs. This isn’t an obscene weight, but I’m more interested in triggering these muscle groups than I am in building extensive musculature. I’m also loath to tire myself out, which could interfere with riding (the real training).

In between each set of squats, I do 20 step-ups (10 for each leg) while holding 30lb dumbbells in each hand. The step is measured to twice the length of my bike’s cranks. More than that can put unnecessary pressure on the knees, but, again, the exercise is designed to develop core strength and target bike-specific muscles.

The workout concludes with some planks and extensive stretching, especially in the hips, where I have some longstanding tightness. I’m sure I would profit from yoga and greater flexibility, but that will have to be a project for another year.

And that’s it. If I’m efficient, I can be in and out of the gym (showered and ready for work) in under an hour, but feeling as though I’ve had a good and strenuous workout. The main goal is to ensure that each exercise hits multiple muscle groups rather than isolating specific ones (I’m not a body-builder). At the same time, concentrating only on legs or bike-specific muscles threatens to create imbalances and/or weaknesses. And, of course, it’s not nearly as much fun as a ride. But it does have the advantage of being more comfortable in bad weather and is quick and tidy on days when work beckons.


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