A great way to explore the outdoors and to get around is to cycle. Rather than walking or taking the car, hop on your bike and ride to the shops, ride to work and check out the scenery from two wheels. Road cycling in the UAE can be quite dangerous due to the volume of traffic, but off-road mountain biking across different terrain and gradients is not only a good workout for your cardiovascular fitness and your legs… but it is also great fun!
All you need for this is a bike and a helmet. To move the bike requires force, therefore cyclists have incredible leg strength. This is important to give you the power and ability to push down on the pedals. They also have good balance, which will help you stay stable and in control of the bike whereas fitness will give you the endurance to keep riding for longer.
So how can you get stronger legs? There are a number of exercises which you can do. The exercises below are conditioned for cycling to help you develop strength in the quadriceps in the front of the leg, the hamstrings and glutes at the back of the leg and the calves.
1) Squats – Isometric Barbell Squats
This exercise is simple but very effective. Isometric contraction is when the muscle is working, contracting but neither shortening or lengthening. There is no concentric or eccentric contraction so the muscle is static. This means you have to fire your muscles fibres from a stop start position. Place the barbell on the meaty part of your back with your feet stance just wider than hips and toes turned out slightly. Brace your core and tilt your hips back (this will help to keep the back straight and elevate the chest) Drop your hips back and down to the floor into a squat position. At the bottom of the movement, when you are down low, pause and hold for three seconds. Then push through your heels and return to the starting standing position. Focus on holding the weight in the low position and firing your muscles to bring you back to the top. Aim to do this with a moderate to heavy barbell, five sets of 8-10 repetitions.
2) Deadlifts – Romanian Barbell Deadlift
Many people forget to work the back of the body but focus on the front, which is what they see when they look in the mirror. A deadlift will work the back of the body, muscles such as the hamstrings, glutes and lower back. You will be able to lift a heavy weight but technique here is important. Hold the barbell with an overhand grip. Hands should be shoulder width apart and feet hip distance apart. Brace the core and tilt the hips so that the bar slides down your thighs. As you do this, stick your bum back and keep the back straight as you lower the bar to the middle of your shins. Keep your feet firmly planted and control the movement throughout. Aim to have a heavy weight and complete five sets of 8-10 repetitions.
3) Lunges – Bodyweight Propulsion Lunge
The difficult part of the lunge is keeping your balance. The propulsion lunge really tests your balance and power. This move is quite complex so I will break it down in three stages. Stage One – Start by stepping one leg back into the lunge position. This is where the 90/90 rule applies where your front leg and back leg are both bent at 90 degrees. Stage Two – Using opposite arm to leg extend your back leg behind, balancing on your standing leg. Then lift the back leg by driving your arms so the knee is up. Stage Three – From following stages one and two, use your arms to power the knee up and spring your standing leg off the floor. It is an explosive move which requires leg strength, leg power and balance. Work your way through the stages of progression. Aim to do three sets of 10 repetitions each leg. The person who propels and jumps the highest wins!
4) Glute Bridge into Calf Raise – With Weighted Plate
This is a two-in-one exercise. The focus is on the posterior chain, working the back of the body such as the glutes, hamstrings, lower back and calves. Lie on the floor with your legs bent. Push your heels into the ground and lift your hips into the bridge position. There should be a diagonal line from your knee, to your hip, to your shoulder. Lift your heels so that your weight is resting through the balls of your feet – this will contract the calf muscle. Here you have two options. Option One is to hold this position isometrically. Aim for three sets of 30 seconds. Option Two is to add a small pulse by gently lifting your hips towards the ceiling in an up and down movement. Aim to do three sets for 15-20 repetitions. If you want more resistance for option one or two, place a weighted plate on your lap.
5) Core – Cross Crawl
Balance is linked with core strength. To have good core strength will mean that you will have better posture and have the ability to transfer power to the legs, which will help you as you pedal. This exercise will target your abdominals and obliques. Lie on your back. Draw your belly into the floor and lift both legs at 90 degrees above your hips. Place your hands by your head and bring one elbow across to opposite knee. For example, right elbow to left knee. As you do this, extend your left leg then repeat on the other side. The movement should be slow and controlled and emphasise the twist to really feel it in your abs. Aim to complete three sets of 20 repetitions.
The amount of repetitions or time you work for, will determine and improve your fitness. If you have some aches the following day after training, you know you have worked hard.
So you your have two options. Grab your gym kit and trainers and follow the exercises with a professional instructor (should have the spin instructor certification) or dust down your bike and go for a ride… you decide!
P.S. Many ask me about my nutrition and additional supplement, If you want to know my own diet and supplements – give me to know and I will write separate post on this topic.
Words By: Nicky Holland
Photos By: Keith Perena