While cardiovascular fitness is a must to get the most out of your riding, you won’t be winning any races if your leg strength trails behind. Try these four exercises to build thighs, quads and calves of steel…
Doing squats is beneficial for cyclists because it helps to keep the hamstrings balanced by working them in a different way to pedalling action. As a cyclist you should aim to squat down fairly low, so that your thighs are parallel with the ground – an angle your legs will be used to through pedalling. From the squat position, jump as high as you can, as hard as you can, but keeping your hands at your hips so you don’t create artificial momentum. Repeat 15 times in sets of four, doing them quickly and powerfully to build up strength.
Lunging engages your quads, hamstrings, glutes and calf muscles so they are an excellent all-round exercise for leg strength. It also helps iron out any imbalances in thigh strength, which will improve your efficiency on the bike. Start by standing with one leg slightly in front of the other, then step forward with your right leg so the bend at the knee is 90 degrees. Keep the weight towards your heels and then bring your body back to a standing position, pushing off the front leg, before repeating on the opposite leg. Repeat this 16 times.
Even if you have a high anaerobic threshold, if you don’t have the strength in your legs to match, you won’t win races. One-legged pedalling will help. Start pedalling and then unclip your left foot, holding it clear of the rotation. Pedal for two minutes before switching legs and repeat for three sets. To start with you’ll probably find your movements jerky on the upstroke due to weak hip flexors, but the more you do this exercise, the stronger your hip flexors will become and you’ll find yourself pulling on the upstroke as well as pushing on the down stroke.
Your calves are constantly being flexed and abducted while cycling, so carrying out toe raises on rest days mimics the action this muscle makes on a bike, building its strength further. Stand on a flat surface with your feet shoulder width apart and raise yourself up onto your toes in a slow, easy motion, then lower yourself back down equally as slowly. Repeat 20 times and do this for three sets. If you’re feeling keen, you can increase the intensity of this exercise by combining it with a squat to work your thighs and quads simultaneously.