Health & Fitness

Maggie Williamson fitness column: If you want to be a better cyclist, start by strengthening your body

Looking for some tips to maximize your cycling performance? Or perhaps you’re seeking more balance in your routine to complement your all-around fitness. Outside of putting in more pedal time, there are several key exercise components to pay attention to. Below are specific things you can do to up your game. (Some movements will be elaborated on for clarification, while others are fairly self-explanatory.)

First and foremost, let’s talk about the fitness of your core. A strong, stable core helps you harness the power of the rest of your body, allowing you to channel optimal strength into the pedals. It’s difficult to effectively strengthen your core while riding, so it’s important to pay some attention to it when off the bike.

A good place to start, whether riding or not, is to replicate the motion of sucking your belly button to your spine; sometimes referred to as the “drawing-in” motion. The drawing-in motion is one that we should always be mindful of while active: whether biking, lifting weights, or simply walking through the grocery store. Not only does it help build a tighter core, but it also protects against back strain and enhances stability and proper postural alignment.

The following are some basic exercises that are excellent for building the strength of the major core muscles.

Next, let’s consider the muscles of the lower body. For the cyclist, key muscles to focus on include the calves, hamstrings, quadriceps and gluteals (i.e., glutes, or butt muscles). When possible, focus on one leg at a time rather than always working both legs in conjunction in order to ensure balanced strength. (Think equalized power on the pedals.)

If you spend a lot of time on a bike, keeping the back and shoulders strong is important to maintain optimal posture and avoid strain in the upper body. A few exercises you might focus on:

If you’re looking to increase your power, consider adding some plyometric exercises (plyo for short). Plyo moves are explosive movements such as box jumps, burpees or other “hopping” motions in which your feet leave the ground. For maximum results, intersperse these power-builders between sets of your resistance training.

Want more endurance? You don’t necessarily need to spend more time on your bike. You can strategically boost your endurance by doing interval training. Add a few 30-second bursts of all-out effort to your normal cycling routine. A vast amount of research has demonstrated that intervals are an effective way to maximize benefits such as greater endurance and heightened metabolic (i.e., calorie) burn.

Lastly, to maximize recovery, minimize muscle imbalance and perhaps avoid some muscle soreness, spend a bit of time stretching. You don’t need to do an hourlong yoga class to reap the benefits; just holding each stretch for 20-30 seconds will work. A few suggestions of stretches:

Incorporating these different movements into your fitness routine will take you a long way in boosting your cycling performance. Einstein said, “Life is like riding a bicycle; you have to keep moving to keep your balance,” so keep challenging your fitness in new ways. Happy pedaling!

Maggie Williamson is a health coach and NASM-certified personal trainer, fitness nutrition specialist and weight-loss specialist. She has a master’s degree in social work and a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Her business,, specializes in working with women seeking to improve their overall health and well-being.