Cycling may be a stalwart of cardiovascular exercise, but if you know how to use it your bike can bring you more than just a strong set of lungs.
Driven by the coronavirus lockdown, bike sales surged in 2020, meaning there’s a good chance that if you weren’t already a paid-up member of the lycra brigade, you’re now the proud owner of a shiny new set of wheels.
As the warm summer days turn to cold, dark winter nights, the thought of going out for a spin might not have quite the same appeal, but don’t hang up your helmet just yet.
Because that two-wheeled impulse buy gathering dust in the corner of your shed could in fact be a way of maintaining and supplementing gains next time you hit the weights room.
So rather than keeping your bike under wraps until next spring, follow these drills to turn it into a full-body workout machine.
Unless you’re on an e-bike, your pins do all the work in powering you from A to B. When the going gets tough and you meet some resistance, instead of changing gears to make it easier, grit your teeth and grind through it to build overall leg strength.
“High gear and low RPM [the number of rotations your pedal performs in 60 seconds] – around 60 RPM – works strength endurance,” explains Adam Daniel, lead trainer for Wattbike.
You don’t have to spend hours in the saddle to see the benefits, either. “My suggestion would be to find a gradual gradient so you’re really working to push against something,” adds cycling performance coach Alan Milway.
“Keep the duration of effort relatively low – 30 seconds to one minute – and do three blocks of four really consistent reps with double the recovery time.
The problem comes when you try to do too many or for too long – you’ll end up making the gear lighter and lighter, which means that the actual force output goes down.”
Professional road cyclists are renowned for being a spidery bunch, and body fat is kept to a minimum when they’re in peak racing form.
While your goal might not be to look like you could get blown over by a strong gust of wind, there is an on-bike drill that will help you make some aesthetic gains – stripping fat, and toning your chest and upper body in the process.
“It could be something as simple as 20 seconds of work at a high intensity, followed by 40 seconds rest, and you might do ten of those back-to-back,” says Daniel.
“If you added that to the end of your gym session, it would definitely aid your fat loss and get you looking leaner.”
If you’re sick of side planks, there’s a (no) handy way of building rock-solid core stability simply from balancing on the bike.
“A nice little drill if you’re fairly new to cycling is pedalling and literally taking one hand off of the handlebars to begin with for short periods,” says Daniel.
“You can eventually build up to having two hands off the bar, but leaning forwards very slightly at an angle, which will force you to engage your core.”
If you’re yet to master the act of riding no-handed, it’s worth reserving this session for a stationary bike to avoid any mishaps – though it will have tangible benefits next time you head out for real.
“When you’re on the road and you want to reach down to your bottle or get some food out of your pocket, you’ll feel much more confident in doing so,” adds Daniel.
“If you’re looking to get any upper-body stimulus, I’d head off-road on a steep incline or decline, because you actually need to use your upper body, unlike on the road where it’s really hard to get that stimulus from the waist up,” says Milway.
But if technically tough riding over rocks and ruts sounds too out of your comfort zone, there is a short, sharp drill you can do on any surface to maintain upper-body strength between gym sessions.
Find a flat track and place two markers (water bottles will do) roughly six seconds’ worth of sprinting apart. From a standing start, perform an all-out sprint between the two markers, spinning up to 130-140 RPM. Rest for 30 seconds while rolling back to the start and repeat four times.
“The most efficient sprint actually keeps the bike in a dead straight line – you have to really brace at the trunk to not weave it left to right,” Milway explains.
“A lot of people think they need to do their power training in the gym and then go onto the bike, but this is a good way to show you can maintain a lot of power output that will transfer back to the gym.”
Words: Charlie Allenby