6 Upper-Body Exercises You Haven’t Seen in Other Strength Workouts for Cyclists
If you’ve been curling the same weights for months, it’s time to step up (and switch up!) your lifting game. First of all, there’s so much more you can do with a set of dumbbells. And if you want to maximize your cycling performance, you need to build strength beyond your biceps.
Yusuf Jeffers, NASM-certified personal trainer and USATF-certified running coach, recommends that athletes incorporate movements that target the back, chest, shoulders, core, and arms into their strength-training routines—which is why he designed this upper body dumbbell workout that hits your upper half from all angles.
The Benefits of an Upper Body Dumbbell Workout
“A dedicated upper-body workout helps with stabilizing the upper body while facilitating efficient energy transfer from body to legs,” Jeffers says. Strong shoulders and a strong core all contribute to this, he says.
Jeffers notes that specifically targeting the back and shoulder can also help correct postural problems, like rounded shoulders and a forward-leaning head position, a.k.a. “tech neck,” which affects the general population, not just cyclists.
Programmed by Jeffers, the following upper-body dumbbell workout hits all the major muscle groups from the waist up. And some movements, like the clean and press, squat to high pull, and push-up to renegade row, also engage the legs and glutes, offering full-body activation.
When choosing your weights, Jeffers recommends going a little heavy. “The weights should be at least 70 to 80 percent of the athlete’s one-rep max,” he says. “But, if sufficiently heavy weights aren’t available, or if the athlete is more of a beginner, the exercises can be performed with lighter weights at slower tempos.”
How to use this list: Perform the exercises below as a circuit, meaning do one exercise, then the next in the order they’re listed. Then repeat from the top for 2 to 4 total rounds. Rest as needed—up to 2 to 3 minutes—between sets. Limit rest between exercises.
Each move is demonstrated by Jeffers in the video above so you can learn the proper form. You will need a set of dumbbells and an exercise mat.
1. Chest Press to Sit-Up to Shoulder Press
Why it works: This three-in-one movement hits the chest, core, and shoulder muscles, all of which play a role in maintaining trunk stability and good posture.
How to do it: Lie faceup on the floor, knees bent, and feet planted. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, elbows bent, palms facing each other, weights just above rib cage. This is the starting position. Extend elbows to straighten arms and lift weights directly above chest. Lower weights to starting position and use core muscles to sit up, keeping weights close to shoulders. From seated position, straighten arms and drive weights directly overhead. Lower weights to shoulders and lower torso to floor to return to starting position. That’s one rep. Repeat. Do 10 reps.
2. Half-Kneeling Arnold Press
Why it works: Performing the Arnold press from a half-kneeling position makes it harder to compensate with your lower limbs; you’re forced to stabilize your upper body with your core while the shoulders and upper back lift the load overhead.
How to do it: Start in a half-kneeling position with left foot forward, both knees bent 90 degrees. (Switch leg position with each new set.) Hold a set of dumbbells at shoulder height, elbows bent, palms facing you. Press arms straight up with biceps by ears, rotating arms so palms face out. Then, bring weights back down to shoulder height, rotating arms so palms face torso. Repeat. Do 10 reps.
3. Supinated Bent-Over Row
Why it works: “I included the supinated bent-over row because it lengthens the muscles being worked, [including the shoulders, upper back, and middle back], so they go into full contraction,” Jeffers says. That means major benefits for your upper body.
How to do it: Start standing, soft bend in knees, with a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing away from you. Hinge at hips, sending butt straight back, and allow arms to hang perpendicular to floor. Keep back flat and core engaged. Pull weights up to ribs, drawing shoulder blades back and down, keeping elbows close to sides. Lower weights back down, extending arms. Repeat. Do 10 reps.
4. Squat to High Pull
Why it works: Movements like the high pull help correct a hunched, rounded upper body by strengthening the back, along with the shoulders. This exercise also gets the lower body involved, making it one efficient total-body move.
How to do it: Stand with feet a little wider than hip-width apart, toes pointed slightly outward. With a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing body, allow arms to hang in front of hips. Push hips back and down and bend knees to lower into a quarter squat. As you push through feet and extend knees to stand back up, bend elbows and use shoulders to draw weights up to shoulder height, pulling elbows slightly backward to engage back muscles. Lower weights and immediately begin next rep. Repeat. Do 12 reps.
5. Push-Up to Renegade Row
Why it works: This push-pull combo hits muscles of the front and back of the upper body. Maintaining a plank position also builds core stability, and gets your lower body in on the action.
How to do it: Start in a high plank position with feet a little wider than hip-width apart, shoulders over wrists, and each hand gripping a dumbbell on the ground. Engage glutes, core, and legs, and pull shoulders down and back away from ears. Body should form a straight line from head to heels. Bend elbows to lower chest to floor, then quickly extend arms to return to plank. Keeping elbow close to torso, draw left dumbbell up toward left hip, then lower weight to floor. Again, perform a push-up, then draw the right dumbbell up toward the right hip and lower weight to floor. Continue alternating rows, with a push-up between each. Do 10 reps.
6. Clean and Press
Why it works: The clean’s dynamic hip hinge engages the entire posterior chain, from the calves to the upper back, increasing strength and generating the power you need for sprints and hill climbs. Finishing with the overhead press engages the arms, shoulders, and upper back for stability and posture.
How to do it: Holding a dumbbell in each hand, arms straight and palms facing you, stand with feet about hip-width apart. Hinge at hips by pushing butt straight back, bending knees slightly, and lowering torso. Keep spine and neck neutral. Drive through feet and extend hips to stand up, using momentum to pull weights directly up and into a shoulder-racked position, palms facing each other. Press weights directly overhead, then lower to shoulders. Return arms to sides and immediately begin next rep. Repeat. Do 12 reps.
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