How this age-old maneuver could take your cycling to new heights..
Hey cycling friends!
I have a serious question here, so be 100% truthful to yourself.
“Can you actually do a single, quality, push-up?”
I know sounds silly, but you’d be surprised that the majority of higher level cyclists can eek out. . . maybe. . 5–10 quality reps… but many would fail even before then.
Admit it. Most riders neglect their upper body in their off-the-bike training (if they have any at all!) — and for good cause: Upper body training is rarely spoken of, and the ‘glory’ of cycling will always be. . . on the legs.
Pro Cycling = Big legs. Skinny arms. The ideal body-type, in most high levels of the sport is to have muscular, chiseled legs. . . and an upper body resembling that of a skeleton.
So, what about our poor, neglected upper body? . . . Why bother?
The role of our the upper body while cycling is crucial. The ‘upper body’ , in this example, i.e. shoulders, chest, triceps and associated core-muscature is to act as a ‘shock absoption system’ on the roads and trails you ride.
As you go over bumps, rocks, and/or changes in terrain, incline or surface, etc, a well-trained upper-body adapts and stays ‘loose’ through the arms and shoulders on the bars, so as to absorb the impact into the flexing/bending of the shoulders and elbows. This ‘absorption’ system is thus very important — it’s primary job is to dissipate the bouncing, jarring stresses through the bars from reaching your neck and back while being hunched over our bikes for hours and hours, and on challenging terrain- and is especially key for gravel cycling and MTB!
So, what specifically can we do to build this ‘absorption system’?
Cue the age-old, nose-to-the-ground, military style push up exercise — yes the exact same one in your grade-school PE class. And, most cyclists absolutely hate this one because it reveals a cyclist’s true weakness - loss of chest, shoulder and triceps strength.
But if you ride gravel, MTB, or want to climb better, and handle heavier loads on your wide-bar bikepacking rig, the push up might just be the single best upper-body exercise cyclist should be performing. Read on!
Let’s unpack the basic Push -Up: [Fig A below}
- Begin face-down with hands wider than shoulders — shoulders angled at about 45deg (abduction) from your body.
- Try to ‘stiffen’ the core- this means pretty much everything from your shoulders down: trunk, legs, and your toes are tucked under, getting ready for the push up.
- Press upwards through your arms until your elbows are straight and your trunk is in-line- the key is to keep the entire lower body and trunk completely still throughout the movement, placing the work on to the chest, shoulders and triceps
- Return to starting position, and repeat until fatigue. General goal is 20reps (or more) without stopping!
Cycling-Specific Benefits of the ‘Push Up’ Exercise:
- Core Stability: Your core is your ‘chassis’ on which the motor runs- the more stable the better, and ultimately more efficient in producing power — a tight core during push-up works both your abs and lower back muscles to hold your trunk ‘stiff as a log’ throughout the entire movement, from start to finish.
- Strength: Shoulders, chest, triceps: The challenge alone on the chest, shoulders and triceps — the main ‘shock-absorber’ muscles that support us on a variety terrain and surfaces (gravel, anyone?). The stronger these muscles are, the better equipped at absorbing road chatter (or over rocks, holes in the ground, debris. etc) thus saving your neck and back on those epic, challenging rides and long days in the saddle!
- Upper Body Mobility/Flexibility — The push-up allow you extend the shoulders and hips to be ‘balanced’ and reverses the prolonged flexed spine riding position. When we move and stretching in opposing ways from prolonged postures, it helps to nourish tissues and lubricate the joints, providing an active ‘refresh’, and prevents prolonged tissue stretch from leading to eventual injury on and off the bike.
I get it. We all know that cycling is about the legs.. But, just like many things, the unsung hero is often in the supporting role..
So, get to work on those push-ups, and not only will they improve your cycling strength and comfort, but heck, you’ll probably also look a lot better at the pool than those skinny, concave-chested cycling Pros anyways! :-)
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Kevin Schmidt, PT, Pedal PT, is an everyday cyclist, Physiotherapist and Bike Fitter in Portland, Oregon, and founded Pedal PT: Bike Friendly Physical Therapy, in 2012.
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Are you a Physical Therapist interested in working with cyclists, and learning clinical Bike Fit skills?
Be sure to check out Kevin’s online course: “The Pedal PT Online Academy“ — Earn CEUs, learn Bike Fit skills, and how to truly succeed as a Bike Friendly Physio!