I’ve read a lot of fitness articles about the perfect sit-up and how to target very specific muscles, but when it comes to strengthening for cycling, I think the idea of the “proper” sit-up goes out the window.
When I’m sucking wind really bad, and my body is worn out from climbing (you know, after about 10 minutes on Town Mountain Road), I find that the action I rely on most is a full body crunch. I am standing in the pedals, pulling down onto the handlebars and having to pull nearly as much as I push on the pedals in order to get a spin.
There are plenty of ways to torture all of these same muscles, but my recent favorite is hanging from a chin-up bar and raising my legs up in a pike. The goal is to touch one’s feet back up to the bar between the hands. Every other set is spent hanging with the legs in a pike position for as long as possible. All of this nonsense strengthens the hip flexors, the muscles in the front of the hip and thigh, which make for a very strong spin. Although most trainers recommend working in three sets, you can’t do too many sets of abs. I try to do them between every set that I do of every exercise. It helps keep the cardio rate up throughout the entire workout.
Of course this is just on the weeks that I actually make it to the gym. They know me well at the Y. I‘m the one who falls off of the elliptical machine because my eyes are closed while I‘m dreaming of running through an open field. I‘m the one who can‘t figure out the computers. I‘m also the one who accidentally pulls the emergency stop cord out of the treadmill and then cusses loudly enough to hear myself over my iPod.
I guess that’s why I stick to the free weights. People think I’m tough, but really I’m really afraid of the machines. However, there is one machine that I try to hit every time. I’ve pinched my calf between the weights on it, so be careful. Anyway, you put your foot on a pedal that pushes back and down while leaning forward into a chest protector. It’s the exact motion of the leg during a hard climb. Be sure to adjust the pad correctly, because if it is situated in front of your diaphragm it is not only difficult to breathe, but it also pushes against your stomach in an upward motion, very similar to the Heimlich Maneuver. It is quite the quad burner, and I can only imagine it is helpful for runners as well.
Just be sure to stretch the muscles you spent the last hour contracting as hard as possible. Take a good 15 minutes to just lie there on a mat rolling around moaning. It provides quite the entertainment for those folks behind you bored to tears on the cardio machines. The stretching forces the muscle to relax into recovery.
Additionally, it will bring fresh blood supply to the muscles that are now filled with lactic acid. That means you won’t be nearly as crippled in the days following. And don’t be fooled…day two is FAR worse than day one.