Important areas for cyclists to strengthen include the glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves and core. That’s quite a long list, but the humble squat can work all of those in one fell swoop.
Squats are dynamic and functional – they see you exercising the chain of muscles used for cycling in a natural way, rather than in an artificial manner as would be the case when using an exercise machine. You have to use supporting muscles to stabilise yourself throughout the exercise, just as you do in ‘real life’ which is one of the reasons they’re one of the key exercises coaches and fitness experts like to get evangelical about.
Squatting does require good posture – primary concerns are that you should push your bottom out as you sink down and that your knees should not sink on or peep over your toes. It’s a good idea to have an expert (for example at the gym) watch you first until you’ve got the technique nailed.
You can see Anna Glowinski demonstrating a squat in the video we collaborated to make, from around 1 minute...
Once you’re comfortable with a basic bodyweight squat, you can keep practicing daily – perhaps doing a couple of sets of twenty a day. However, over time – well… this can become boring.
Here are a few ways you can jazz up your squat life without needing to visit the gym…
Squat with exercise ball
Still working on your technique? One way to practice this is to use an exercise ball. Simply place the ball on the wall, and rest your back against. As you lower yourself, the ball will roll with you.
Doing this prevents you from letting your body weight shift forwards (the ball will fall!) - a mistake that is very common and takes the pressure away from the glutes and into the knees.
Aim for three sets of twenty at a time - if you're going low enough you'll certainly feel the burn!
If you don't have an exercise ball, but do have an exercise band, you can also practice your technique using that.
Step into the band (or tie it around your quads), and squat as you normally would. Keeping the band from falling to the floor will force you to keep your knees in the correct position.
A squat is already a dynamic exercise - but you can make it even more dynamic if you add a jump. This turns the exercise into a plyometric movement, that helps you to build explosive strength.
The exercise is simple - squat as you would, but when you reach the bottom of the movement, rather than standing to return to a neutral position, jump into the air. This will really help you to build strength in your calves, which do a lot of work as you pedal.
Single Leg Squat
Got your technique sorted? Now it's time to take it up a notch, putting all of your weight through one leg. This will will work your core harder and improve your balance.
Single leg squats, though not easy, are fairly simple. Carry out the movement as you would, but start with one leg extended in front of you, and hold it here as you sink down.
Though opinions do vary, most experts will suggest that in order to build strength, you should focus on fewer reps, with a heavy weight rather than many reps with a light weight. At the gym, the best way to do this would be to go straight to the bar (no, not that bar!) and go for front or back barbell squats.
However, you could save yourself the £50 a month membership and buy a set of dumbells. They don't take up a lot of room, aren't too expensive, and you can usually buy extra plates to up or reduce the weight.
Here's how to do a dumbell squat...
Goblet Squat with Dumbell or Kettlebell
A variation on the dumbell squat is to hold the weight - or a kettlebell - in your hands in front of you as you dip down.
With the weight in front of you, its important not to let your body lean forwards. Concentrate on keeping your back straight...
Adding in a couple of squat sets into your weekly routine will really help you to develop strength and stability.
Just remember not to be cautious of squats if you have any lower back or knee niggles, and to concentrate on form and technique before you pile on any weights.
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