Whether you’re grinding it out on a hilly road or conquering rocks on the trails, you need a powerful body to keep pedaling with speed and force. You also need all your muscles firing efficiently. One of the best ways to build that power and muscle recruitment: a plyometric workout.
Plyometric exercises involve quick, explosive movements that train your muscles in the lengthening and shortening phase. For example: jumping rope. With each repetitive hop, your calves stretch under tension as your feet touch the ground—that’s known as eccentric (lengthening) contraction, explains Frank Baptiste, C.S.C.S., strength coach and founder of Frankly Fitness. Then, the calves instantly contract and shorten as you spring off the ground again—that’s known as the concentric contraction. “This is referred to as the stretch-shortening cycle and the effect of training [this cycle] is greater power production,” Baptiste tells Bicycling.
The Benefits of a Plyometric Workout for Cyclists
For cyclists looking to gain an edge in their training, plyometrics could offer that advantage. Not only will developing this explosiveness improve your power output, helping you tackle any terrain, but these moves also “enhance nervous system function and maximize motor unit recruitment—or how many muscle fibers are working to perform the task,” Baptiste says. Translation: Your body works more efficiently, helping to improve your performance.
Plyometrics can also add some variety to your workouts, offering new challenges, working your body in different planes of motions, and helping you progress your strength sessions and turn up the intensity on your bodyweight routines, Baptiste adds. Also, because of their high-impact nature, plyometrics can help support strong bones—a benefit you don’t get as much from cycling.
What to Know Before You Do This Plyometric Workout
Plyometric workouts have serious pay-offs—but they’re tough. If you’re just starting out with exercise or coming back from an injury, it’s best to begin building your strength base first before doing these explosive moves, Baptiste says. Focus on six to eight weeks of basic strength exercises.
When you begin doing plyometrics, “start with learning landing technique before moving onto jumping,” Baptiste says. That means landing softly, quietly, and with control. “Focus on using your muscles to decelerate. Then work on minimizing ground contact time,” he adds.
Also, form is paramount to maximizing the benefits and minimizing injury risk. So focus on hitting each exercise with precision. “Plyometric workouts should also be done when you’re fresh, so not the day after a long ride or when you’re otherwise fatigued,” Baptiste says. If you have a history of knee problems or other joint issues, it’s best to chat with your doctor first and assess any risks associated with plyometrics.
The Best Plyometric Workout for Cyclists
How to use this list: Do each exercise below for 5 to 8 reps per side and 2 to 3 sets. Rest as needed between exercises and sets. You can also go for time, performing each move for 30 to 45 seconds, resting for 15 to 30 seconds between exercises and 30 to 90 seconds between sets. (If you’re new to plyos, go for minimal move time and maximal rest time.)
Baptiste demonstrates each exercise in the video above so you can mimic proper form. You don’t need any equipment for this workout, but an exercise mat is optional.
1. Squat Jack
Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, toes turned slightly out. Lower into a squat by sending hips down and back, chest tall. Then press the feet into the floor to explosively jump up, feet leaving the ground, and coming together at the top. Jump feet out wide again, lowering back into a squat. Repeat.
2. Alternating Split Squat Hop
Stand with feet hip-width apart. Step back with right foot and lower into a lunge, both knees bending 90 degrees. Lower until back knee hovers just off the floor. Drive through both feet to hop up, feet coming together. Then hop back into a lunge, this time left foot going back. Then hop feet together. Continue alternating sides, hopping feet together and into the lunges.
3. Plyometric Push-Up
Start in a plank position, shoulders over wrists and body forming a straight line from head to heels. Lower body to floor, elbows bending back at about a 45-degree angle from torso. Get as close to the floor as you can, then explosively press back up, hands leaving the ground. Land softly, elbows bent, and go right back into a push-up. (To modify this, lower knees to floor.)
4. Jump Lunge
Stand with feet hip-width apart. Step back with right foot and lower into a lunge, both knees bending 90 degrees. Lower until back knee hovers just off the floor. Drive through both feet to explode up, feet leaving the ground and switching midair, so right foot comes forward and you land softly with left foot behind, lowering immediately into a lunge. Continue alternating.
Stand with feet hip-width apart. Shift weight to left foot and push off it to jump to the right, landing softly on right foot, knee bent, sending hips back, and left foot reaching behind right leg. Then, push off right foot to jump to the left, landing softly on left foot, knee bent, sending hips back, right foot reaching behind left leg. Continue alternating.
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