Strength Exercises for Legs in Cycling
Do you know about the cyclist's legs? Those thick legs with big thighs and powerful calves attached to a light upper body and a bulletproof heart. Cycling is a physical activity with numerous cardiovascular health benefits and is gaining enthusiasts worldwide. However, to enhance performance, it's essential to have optimal physical condition based on building leg muscle volume, something that can be achieved more efficiently through specific strength exercises.
The human body is an almost perfect machine designed to adapt to the individual's needs. It functions through muscle adaptations to the stimuli it receives, so the more physical strength we subject our body to, the greater the muscle gains will be. The formula for success is complemented by proper physical activity, a sufficient intake of protein - about 1.2 to 2 grams per kilogram of body weight - and complete rest - about 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night.
Here's a list of the best strength exercises for the legs:
The combination of strength and cardio is excellent for improving cycling performance, and squat jumps provide this. It involves performing a classic squat with feet pointing forward, parallel, and a straight back - it's important to avoid curving. After completing it, you should follow it with an explosive jump upwards, fully extending the legs and knees. The number of repetitions and sets will depend on each person's fitness level.
We're stepping it up a bit. Step up is an exercise to work on the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and hip flexor muscles, but it also engages the abs and glutes. You place a bench, box, or stable chair at knee height to step up with one leg, extending the knee and lowering it steadily. First with one leg, then with the other.
Lateral lunges are a very comprehensive exercise to tone the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves, as well as the adductors and abductors. The technique is as follows: stand with your feet hip-width apart and hands on your waist - putting your elbows back for stability. Then, make a single-leg movement to its natural side, while the other remains straight. Hold for three seconds and return to the starting position. Do as many repetitions as you can, and then switch to the other leg.
To further work on the glutes, the body's most powerful muscle with a greater ability to generate force, the glute bridge is very effective. Bend your knees with your calves down and heels aligned with your hips to explosively and steadily raise your hips, pausing for about three seconds at the top and controlling the descent. You can add weight to progress in the exercise.
For training the calves, calf raises are an ideal option. In this case, you only need a low, stable, and sturdy support, like a thick book or a wooden pallet, which should be placed under the balls of your feet. Once on the balls of your feet, rise to your tiptoes and lower while keeping your heels suspended. The number of repetitions and sets depends on each person's fitness level.
Finally, to transfer muscle and strength gains to the activity that concerns us, cycling, we can work with heavy weights on a stationary bike. Ideally, perform two or three sets of about 20 minutes each with a low pedaling frequency and high resistance, and take active breaks of 5 to 10 minutes with light pedaling.
After an intense and demanding bike training session, your legs will undergo significant strain, and muscle fibers will break, leading to pain or soreness. Therefore, implementing a plan to speed up muscle recovery is vital because it allows you to continue with physical activity in the following days. Otherwise, you could hinder your progress on two wheels. Hence, there are specific plans for muscle recovery for cyclists.
The recovery period begins with the last pedal stroke, when the metabolic window starts, the period after training - about 2 hours - in which the body focuses on nutrient assimilation. During this time, the intake of high-quality protein, carbohydrates, and minerals will help us rebuild fibers and recover more quickly.
Every cycling enthusiast knows that the athletes we idolize get on a stationary bike immediately after finishing a stage, no matter how demanding it may have been. Active recovery should not exceed an hour and a half, and heart rate should remain below 65% of our maximum capacity. The optimal cadence should range between 90 and 100 repetitions per minute.
Cold provides great benefits for leg circulation, as it promotes the dilation of blood vessels and functions as a natural analgesic. Filling the bathtub with ice or cold water will aid in leg muscle recovery.
Another option that never fails is massaging the muscles to be recovered, preferably by a professional masseur or physiotherapist. Through this massage, it helps to relieve leg stiffness and mobilize fluids that accumulate after physical activity.
No matter how much you look for sophisticated techniques and consult professionals, a sportsperson's best ally is stretching. However, its benefits can turn into disadvantages if done at the wrong time or with too much intensity. It should be done a few minutes or even hours after the exercise, gently. A recommendation is to stretch after taking a shower after finishing your workout.