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Plyometrics keep you strong off the bike and take just 20 minutes

Whether you’re in the off season or experiencing a short interruption to your training, keep your muscles firing and maintain the muscle-mind connection you’ll need once you’re back in the saddle.

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About halfway through my professional career, I was introduced to a training routine off the bike that addressed the challenges posed by a disruption in training: plyometrics. Plyometric exercises are controlled, explosive movements designed to activate fast-twitch muscles and develop your explosive strength. They don’t require much gym equipment. And you can do the routine in 15 to 20 minutes.

Plyometrics help maintain the connection between the mind and muscles, similar to core activation exercises. Stay consistent with your routine and that first big ride back won’t be so demoralizing.

One word of caution: It’s best not to do plyometrics when there are a lot of group rides, races, or events on your schedule. You’ll be doing plenty to maintain your fast-twitch muscles on the bike. But when those aren’t happening, always make time for plyometrics.

Posture Strengthener

Posture Strengthener
This exercise will strengthen your posterior muscle chain and stabilize the core. Illustration: Charlie Layton

Stand with your feet hip-width apart, arms at your sides, with your weight on your heels. Let your knees bend, sitting back slightly, and pull your hips back as you push your chest forward.

Without moving your feet, continue to lean slightly forward while activating your adductor muscles. You should feel tension in your lower back, adductors, glutes, and hamstrings; this lets you know your posterior chain is activated.

Once you’re in position, keep your chest high with arms back and your thumbs out to the side, shoulders pulling back and down. Hold for 20 seconds.

Bring your arms out in front as you pull your hips away from your ankles. Hold for 20 seconds. Next, bring your arms all the way up, almost overhead, but reaching slightly forward, as you lift your chest a little higher. Hold for 20 seconds.

Cycling Triangle

Cycling Triangle
Activate your core and stretch the hips, hamstrings, calves, shoulders, and chest. Illustration: Charlie Layton

Start in triangle pose: Stand tall with a straight back, feet wider than hips, and arms in line with the shoulders (like a T), palms down.

Turn your right foot out to the side and keep your left toes pointed forward. Lean to the right, reaching sideways with your right fingertips.

From this outstretched position, bend at the hip, while extending your right arm toward the floor. Use your oblique and abdominal muscles to bring yourself back up to starting position. Complete all reps to one side, then switch sides. Hold the position after the reps for a deeper stretch.

Hip Flexor and Side-Body Stretch

Hip Flexor Side Body Stretch
Stretch the hips, hip flexors, groin, and legs. Relieve tension in your lower body. Illustration: Charlie Layton

Stand in a lunge position with your hips squared and your front knee unlocked. Your front knee should always stay behind your ankle. Your feet should be parallel and facing forward. Hold the lunge position, breathing into the movement for
a deeper stretch.

Next, bring your arms above your head, reaching as high as you can. Inhale as you lift your rib cage higher, then as you exhale tighten your abs to maintain this new height. Hold for at least 10 seconds.

While in extension, keep your chest high and side bend away from your front leg. Hold for 15 seconds.

Repeat exercise on the other leg.

Hamstring Activator

Hamstring Activator
This activation will strengthen the posterior of your body, especially the hamstrings and glutes. Illustration: Charlie Layton

Start in a lunge. Tense your back leg muscles so the leg becomes a long straight line. Send the weight of your core forward by bending forward from the hips, keeping your back straight. Once bent forward, immediately exhale your breath and contract your glutes and hamstrings to pull yourself back to the starting position.

Repeat sequence on other side.

Explosive Power Squat Jump

Power Jump Squat
Build explosive power through the legs, core, and posterior. Illustration: Charlie Layton

Plant both feet on the floor slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Point feet slightly outward.

Looking straight ahead, bend at both the hips and knees, ensuring that your knees point toward your toes. Continue bending your knees until your upper legs are parallel with the floor, ensuring that your back remains between 45 and 90 degrees of your hips. This is the squat position.

Once in this position, explode into a jump, propelling your body upward into the air, then land in the squat position. While landing, ensure that you land through the balls of your feet first before rolling through the flat and heel, and maintain soft knees to prevent injury.

Acceleration Split Squat

Acceleration Split Squat
Build explosive power and mobility in your quads, hips, hamstrings, and glutes. Increase bone density. Illustration: Charlie Layton

Stand in a lunge position with your right leg forward and left leg back. Make sure your right knee is behind your toes. Contract your abs. Focusing on an upward movement, jump up and land with your legs together.

Once your legs are together, switch legs by jumping and sending your right leg backward as your left leg goes forward. In the air, both your legs should be extended. As you land, lower your back knee as close to the mat as possible.

Land softly on the midfoot, then the heels. Reset your posture in the starting position and repeat for a total of 10 jumps.

Lower Back/Hamstring Strength Dead Lift

Lower Back Hamstring Deadlift
Strengthen the lower back while activating the hamstrings and glutes. Illustration: Charlie Layton

Start with legs hip-width apart. Feet are parallel and facing forward. Cross your arms at your chest with hands just below the shoulders. Find a micro-bend in your knees or, if you prefer, keep them straight. Begin to lean forward with a flat back, engaging and hinging from the hips.

As you lower your torso, take a deep inhale and make sure your weight is on your heels.
Exhale to lift with an open chest, contracting the posterior muscles in the back of your legs.

Explosive Pedal Stroke Step-Up

Pedal Stroke Step Up
Increase explosive power and activate the glutes, quads, and hamstrings. Illustration: Charlie Layton

Firmly plant your entire right foot on a sturdy bench that is knee height, making sure your knee does not extend past your toes.

Step up fully onto the bench, right leg straight, and ensure that you focus on pushing through the heel, using your glutes, quads, and hamstrings, rather than pushing through your toes, which places additional pressure on your shins and knees.

As you straighten your right leg, bring your left knee up toward your chest. Release your left leg from your chest and lower yourself back to the floor, right foot still on the bench.

Repeat for 10 reps, then switch legs.

Kneeling Quad Stretch

Kneeling Quad Stretch
Increase the flexibility in your quadriceps to improve pedaling motion and prevent knee and IT band overuse injuries. Illustration: Charlie Layton

Put a towel or flat cushion under your knees and kneel on it with your legs together and your back straight.

Take some deep breaths, feeling your muscles slowly relax. Lean back slightly if that helps you to achieve a good stretch.

The Wheel Pose

Wheel Pose
Stretch and open the front of the body, particularly the chest, abdomen, quadriceps, and hip flexors. Illustration: Charlie Layton

Begin by kneeling upright with your knees hip-distance apart. Rotate your thighs inward and press your shins and the tops of your feet into the floor. Do not squeeze your buttocks. Rest your hands on the back of your pelvis, with your fingers pointing to the floor. Lengthen your tailbone down toward the floor and widen the back of your pelvis.

Lean back, tucking your chin slightly toward your chest. Beginners can stay here, keeping their hands on their back pelvis.

If you are able, take the pose even deeper. Reach back and hold onto each heel. Your fingers should point toward your toes and your thumbs should hold the outside of each foot. Keep your thighs perpendicular to the floor, with your hips directly over your knees. If it is difficult to grasp your heels without feeling compression in your low back, tuck your toes under your feet to raise your heels. Or rest your hands on yoga blocks placed to the outside of each foot.

Lift up through your pelvis, keeping your lower spine long. To release, bring your hands back to your front hips. Inhale and lift your torso by pushing your hips down toward the floor. Your head should come up last.

Pedal-Stroke Freedom Pigeon Stretch

Freeform Pigeon Stretch
Known as the pigeon pose in yoga, this move increases external range of motion of the femur in your hip socket, lengthens hip flexors, and stretches the glutes, groin, and psoas. Illustration: Charlie Layton

Start on all fours and raise yourself into a downward dog position. Slide your right knee onto the floor and forward toward your right hand. Point your right knee toward the two o’clock position (near right forearm).

Slide your left leg back as far as your hips will allow. Keep your hips square to the floor. If your hips are not square, there will be unnecessary force on your back, and you won’t be able to open the hips to their fullest.

Slide the right foot farther forward—little by little—until you feel a deep stretch. With practice, bring your shin parallel to an imaginary line between your hands. Your right thigh should have an external rotation, and your left thigh should have a slight internal rotation. This keeps pressure off the knee cap.

You will be upright on your hands while sinking the hips forward and down.
To deepen the pose, lower yourself to your forearms, or further, rest your chest on the floor with your arms fully extended in front of you. To get full release in the hips, breathe and release the belly.

Adapted from Cycling On Form:A Pro Method of Riding Faster & Stronger by Tom Danielson and Kourtney Danielson, with permission of VeloPress.