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Training & Nutrition

Strength training for cyclists: Bent over row

Every month, Lucy Fry, a London-based Personal Trainer guides you through a different resistance training exercise off the bike, to help you improve your performance on the bike.

Introducing the single arm bent over row

What is the bent over row?

The bent over row is a back exercise that can be done with either both or a single arm, using either a weighted bar, dumbbells, kettlebells or even a heavy shopping bag.

Why cyclists need a little bent over row in their lives

If, like me, your lower back tends to start aching some way into a long ride, then you’ve probably got one of three problems:

  1. Insuffient abdominal strength: when this area tires, bad posture develops leading to a sore lower back
  2. Weak lower back
  3. Issue with bike set up

The latter is relatively easy to fix – a good, independent bike store should be able to sort you out – but, most likely, a mixture of one and two of the above will remain. Strengthening your back muscles with resistance exercises helps to remedy that.

How to: Bent over row

  • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart
  • Bend from the hip until your chest is almost parallel to the floor, knees slight bent and shoulders pulled back and down
  • In one hand, pull a dumbbell or kettlebell up until your fist brushes the side of your body, and then slowly re-extend your arm, returning it to the original position
  • Repeat
  • Once you’ve finished the repetitions on one side, switch over and start on the other
  • Always keep your chest proud, anteriorly rotate your pelvis so your bottom pushes slightly upwards behind you, this ensures you don’t round your back and risk injury

How many times and for how long?

To build strength, try repeating this exercise for 6-8 times each side, for 4-5 sets. Use a weight that you can manage 8 reps for the first 3 sets, and then perhaps have to stop at 6 or 7 in the remaining sets.

If you’re doing a single arm row, one set consists of 6-8 reps each side. Do not rest inbetween arms, only after both sides do you rest, do so for 90 seconds before starting the next set.

Variations (easier and harder)

Easier: Lift a lighter weight

Harder: Lift a heavier weight. If you’re struggling to maintain the correct position on this, use a chair or bench for support on the resting side, at a height where your resting hand falls on it easily when your arm is outstretched with a slight bend in the elbow.

What does the bent over row work?

This exercise targets the upper and middle back muscles i.e. the trapezius, rhomboids and lattisimus dorsi (or ‘lats’ for short) but you’ll also get some action in the biceps and shoulders.

Why the bent over row is good for life

If you’re quick to fall into a bad position on the bike, I’d be willing to bet my next column on the fact that you’ll do the same while at your desk, at dinner or just standing around waiting for something to happen (though, actually, those of you who read my last column should be knocking out a few reverse lunges during those inbetween moments of your day…).

So all the same rules apply: keep your back strong with resistance training and you’ll reap the benefits later in life, as anyone who’s ever had a back injury will tell you!

Can I do the bent over row at home?

Something heavy like a bag of shopping or a four-pint of milk can work – although be aware that it’ll probably brush more against the side of your body.

You can make a fairly light weight feel hard, and get great results, by encouraging a slow descent i.e. when you’re returning the weight back to the original position, counting to three as you go down, and pulling up for one.

Lucy’s top tips for bent over rows

Make sure that you continually “self-check”, asking yourself whether you’ve fallen out of good form. Because it’s quite an unnatural position at first, the correct position in this exercise can be hard to maintain.

Repeat after me… Shoulders back, chest proud and slightly soft knees.

Lucy Fry’s strength training for cyclists

  1. Deadlift
  2. Front plank
  3. Front squat
  4. Reverse lunge

Lucy Fry is a London-based Personal Trainer working on a freelance basis at the Central London training studio, Club 51.

For personal training queries, please email: lucy@lucyfry.co.uk

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