When you’re just starting off, the best way to improve on the bike, is to ride the bike. As you get better and better though, what you do off the bike really starts to matter. In other words, preparing for and recovering from rides makes a world of difference. For this post, I’ll talk about some of the key things you can do.
Strength Training. A few years ago, a friend would always harp about doing strength exercises to prevent injury. I didn’t listen. It was a huge mistake… Now’s my chance to do the harping.
We all know that winter gym training is great for building leg strength and fixing muscle imbalances. But that 2-3 months in the gym doesn’t hold you over for the entire year. So, it’s important to keep doing strength exercises throughout the season.
During the season, you’ll want to avoid high weight strength training as it can take away some cycling specific strength. Instead, focus on body weight exercises (like squats) and core exercises to keep you comfortable on the bike (preferably compound core). Year-round body weight exercises can help maintain some of the strength gains from winter gym training but more importantly will help keep you healthy during the race season.
Yoga. Yoga is great for a variety of reasons. It can build strength, it can help you stretch, it can help you relax, it can make you sweat, and it can even give you another reason to wear tight fitting clothing. A variety of yoga styles exist and my recommendation is to give them all a try to see what works best for you. Personally, with all the other things going on in my life, I prefer a more relaxing yoga style that emphasizes stretching.
There are a number of ways to get into yoga. It can be done at a studio or it can be done at home. YouTube is filled with great yoga videos you can do anywhere. Here are a couple videos I like that are focused on stretching for cyclists: a shorter practice and a longer practice.
Stretching. Stretching is great for keeping the muscles limber and allowing you to ride comfortably for long hours. With a busy schedule, it’s easy to convince yourself to skip a stretching routine. However, it only takes 5 minutes and your body will thank you. Be sure to stretch those quads, hamstrings, hip flexors, and your back.
One of my favorite things about stretching doesn’t actually involve physiology at all. Stretching after a ride gives you time to reflect on your training that day so you can have better insight when communicating with your coach. The better input a coach receives, the better they can work at getting you faster.
Massage. Massage has been shown to decrease inflammation (1) and can be another great way to get the body functioning right again. Following a crash, a skilled massage therapist can also massage surrounding muscles to get you realigned. This is important for bike fit and overall comfort (both on and off the bike).
Massage can be tricky if you’ve never gotten one before. It’s best to stay on the lighter side so that you don’t leave too sore. There can also be some delayed soreness so if you’re not used to massage, don’t get one the day before a big race.
Now I know massage isn’t the cheapest thing. Although they aren’t as great, there are a number of other options out there. There are “space boots”, foam rollers, massage “sticks”, massage “balls”, and so on and so on. These are great tools to keep at home or when traveling. They can help flush the legs and give you something to do while watching TV.
Keeping the body healthy is vital for optimal performance. These workouts and recovery techniques are great for maintaining performance and aren’t going to take much out of you. Although they may not feel physically demanding, they are just as important as the intervals you do on the bike. And as the season progresses, your body will thank you. Your coach will thank you. Your team director will thank you. Heck, maybe even your mom will thank you. Thanks for reading!