It’s a simple fact: as we get older, we get weaker. We are less active than we were 20 years ago, and even though we’re active – we’re cyclists after all – it’s a good idea to train the whole body. This gets you the best bang for your buck on the bike and makes your whole muscular system more resistant, resilient and (literally) younger.
Age-related sarcopenia starts at 30?!
Here’s the science bit: if you’re over 30, you suffer from age-related sarcopenia. People who are not active at all suffer the most from this, but even active people will lose muscle mass in the places where they do not use those muscles. The bottom line is: physically inactive people lose as much as 3–5% of their muscle mass every 10 years after age 30 and this gets a lot worse after 60. It’s not only a result of inactivity but also hormone balance and lower numbers of muscle stem cells. The answer to correct this? Hit the gym, yoga mat or home weights: or all of the above.
That was the bad news, here’s the good
Doctors agree that exercise can slow and even reverse the ageing process! “Exercise can even spur muscle cells to maintain more-youthful levels of gene transcripts and proteins,” according to this article in the New Scientist. As cyclists, we exercising our cycling-related muscles regularly. But quads, hamstrings, glutes and calves are only part of your whole system. If you want to stay strong and resilient into your latter years, both on and off the bike, it’s a good idea to bulk up a little bit. This strengthens the system in general – including micro-muscles, which benefit from all-round dynamic strength exercises and which move your body in different ways than they do on the bike. And not only that, better all-round muscle structure really makes you a stronger and faster cyclist.
Weights and workouts
There are a number of possibilities when it comes to strength workouts for cyclists. Most of the literature agrees you should steer clear of workout machines as they tend to be too specific. This means they’ll ensure the growth of one or two muscle groups but treat them in an isolated manner, leaving behind the system near and around those muscles. Dynamic exercises are the key.
This classic dynamic exercise is great for quads, glutes and hamstrings. As part of a general workout, these are great for kicking life into dormant cycling muscles if you’re a rider who leaves the bike in the garage during the winter time. It helps to have some core stability before getting into a big session of lunges.
Squats and cycling squats
Squats with or without weights are great too. They train a similar group of muscles to lunges, but are a little easier to use with weights, as static lunges with weights can put too much strain on your knee joints. Squats will burn your glutes, quads and hamstrings. If you hold weights while squatting (either on a bar or kettlebell, for example), you can add a bit of upper body stimulus too. Cycling squats are extra cool for us: they’re basically squats performed with your feet together and on a small downward slope. This puts more emphasis on the vastus medialis muscle, which all cyclists crave.
This is another Prologue favourite. These days just about every discount store sells kettle bells, and that’s a good thing. Kettle bell swings are dynamic, and combine aerobic training with working on your lower back, abs, glutes and hamstrings. It’s very different to the squat, and the movement should be split up and learned carefully. Here’s a good instruction video for beginners. Kettle bell swings train your entire posterior chain: those are all the muscles which get really lazy in our sedentary, office-based lifestyles. Indeed, it’s been called the Anti-Western Lifestyle Exercise. There’s an added bonus: if you have light kettlebells, you can do lots of swings to get more aerobic exercise. Heavier kettlebells will work your muscles harder, resulting in less aerobic stress.
Yoga for all
To get the most bang for your buck from your newly-acquired muscles, it’s a good idea to make them as flexible as possible. A lot of us cyclists are inflexible, particularly in the hips and hamstrings, and yoga not only makes us more elastic but is often an excellent core workout as well. Certainly, if you’re an older cyclist (older guys in particular are inflexible) then even a tiny bit of yoga could pay dividends for your racing.
Just do your thing
Whatever non-cycling exercises you choose, they will have multiple benefits for your health in general, and your cycling – this much is guaranteed. So, whether you decide to sign up for a gym or head to the discount store and buy a couple of ‘el cheapo’ kettlebells and a yoga mat, don’t hesitate: do it today! The benefits could last you a lifetime.