Strong Core; Kettlebell for Cyclists

Earlier in the year I headed to the UCI World Cycling Centre in Aigle Switzerland, for the first ever SufferFest training camp. While the trip was a once in a lifetime experience, I learnt a few key things about my fitness arsenal. Mainly that my core was weak. Riding in Singapore means very little climbing, leaving my mid section weak and vulnerable.

With the help of my coach, we immediately commenced a plan of action, which would see regularly core sessions in my program. We’ve all had a go at core training before, and there is an abundance of material on the internet about core training for cyclists. But just in case, here is a simple routine that I now do two to three times a week:

  1. Pikes: Begin in a push up position with the back arched. Brace yourself and hold as long as possible.
  2. Planks: Begin by laying face down on the ground with the elbows flexed. Brace yourself and hold as long as possible.
  3. Medicine Ball Bicycle Kicks: Begin face up with the body fully extended on the floor. Grasp the med ball in the center of the upper body with both hands. Slowly flex one leg at the knee while rotating the med ball to the leg being flexed. Repeat the same movement on the opposite side.
  4. Right/Left Side Plank: Begin by laying on your right side with your right elbow flexed and the outside of the right foot in contact with the ground. Hold your left arm tight to the side of the body. Hold as long as possible. Repeat on the left.
  5. Swiss Ball Planks: Begin by laying face down on the Swiss ball with the elbows flexed on the ball. Brace yourself and hold as long as possible. Repeat as desired.
  6. Swiss Ball Situps With Rotation: Begin by lying on your back. Slowly sit up and rotate your shoulder to the opposite knee. Return to the beginning position and sit up while rotating the other shoulder to the opposite knee. Repeat as desired
  7. Swiss Ball Push-ups: Begin face down in a push up position with both hands on the Swiss ball. Slowly lower the arms until the hands are in line with the chest. And explode back up to the start position.
  8. Swiss Ball Pikes: Begin in a push up position with the back arched. Brace yourself and hold as long as possible.
  9. Ab Crunch

Try to do each exercise for 15-20 seconds building up to 30 seconds. Do the full routine twice. To turbo charge the effectiveness, I use an interval timer on my iPad called Tabata Stopwatch Pro. Throw this session into your weekly routine, and you’ll be on  your way to a stronger core, and pedal stroke.

Tabata Stopwatch Pro

Always in pursuit of of excellence, my new found core motivation saw me return to a training method that I find addictive, Kettle Bell. The main reason I love kettle bell training is the exercises tend to involve movements that recruit multiple major joints and the exercises can be adapted to sports training, like cycling, relatively easily.

I do my kettle bell work with one of Singapore’s most motivating coaches, Hayati Nuffus at Alphafit in Bukit Timah. Their ‘small’ but effective gym means every group workout is with a maximum of six people, making for of the most intimate training available.

I can’t speak highly enough of functional strength training, even for endurance athletes like cyclists. The added strength means more powerful pedal stroke, stronger climbing and a core that brings blistering sprints. Dozens of people told me ‘just ride your bike’, but not a week goes by that I don’t count my blessings I didn’t listen to them. Just a year ago I did an ok 190 watt FTP at the Athlete Lab in Singapore. Just two weeks ago I impressed myself by doing a 20 minute average peak power of 302 watts, which equates to roughly a 286w FTP. But my absolute favourite reason for training with kettle bells is you can do it outside with minimal equipment. Perfect for us outdoor creatures.

Kettle bell is something I’d encourage you to start with an experienced coach, as the technique can be a delicate balance. A few minor imperfections, and you could land yourself in bed with a bad back. I’d suggest at least six session under the supervision of a coach before considering branching out on your own. These days I own a 16kg and a 20kg bell, but still train with Hayati at least once a week.

So now you’re convinced to give Kettle bells a go, here are my three top tips for cyclists starting out.

  1. Technique, Technique, Technique: Kettle bells can have an adverse affect on your body if one incorrectly. Early on focus on getting your technique correct before advancing up the weights. Find a coach that can help guide you. You’ll also need to start with the more simple movements like the basic swing before progressing to the advanced movements like the Turkish Get-up or Wood chop.
  2. Choose the Right Weight: Working with a weight that can cover your individual needs is key to ensuring you don’t over-purchase bells, and have the correct weigh for your strength and goals. For men, I’d recommend starting at 16kg and as things progress you may also wish to invest in a 24kg kettle bell. Going above 24kg for a cyclist is a bit of a pointless exercise, as most of your goals will focus on core strength or strength endurance. For women, I’d suggest starting at 12kg, going up to 16kg. There is an abundance of suppliers that sell Kettle bell’s. If in doubt, do a few classes with an instructor to learn before you buy. A good place to find them is your local online classifieds like Craigslist, Gumtree or eBay. Your coach may even sell you one second hand as they update their own equipment. With my 20 kg bell, I’ve managed 200 continuous swings. A workout that challenges even the toughest of climbs for getting the heart pumping. Especially your grip, as cyclists aren’t used to grabbing onto a weight for that period of time.
  3. All From the Hips: Kettle bell and cycling are very similar in that all the power comes from the hips and core. So when training with Kettle bells make sure you drive from the hips, not the arms. Focusing on your arms will only result in you getting tired earlier and not training the key muscles that benefit your cycling.

Next time your in the gym, or chatting to your coach, give it a try. It could be that performance break through you’ve been looking. Or if you’ve tried Kettle bell before, share your thoughts an experience in the comments below.

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