Cycling is a fun activity that helps you strengthen your leg muscles and stay fit. However, if you want to improve your performance or become a professional cyclist, you’ll have to do more than just cycling in high gear. Working out at home is a great way to improve speed, strength, and endurance.
Here are 11 of the best home exercises that you can try to improve your cycling performance:
- Side lunge
- Bulgarian split squat
- Single-leg bridge
- Lateral band walk
- Pistol squat
- Donkey kick
- Mountain climber push-up
- Single-leg calf raise
Let’s take a close look at each exercise to see how they can help you become the next Eddy Merckx. I’ll also explain how you can do these exercises using little or no equipment at home.
As a surprise to no one, the humble bodyweight squat is the best beginner-friendly exercise option.
Squats work all the same muscles that cycling does:
- Glutes (Maximus, medius, minimus)
- Hip flexors
- Erector spinae
You need large, powerful quads, glutes, and calves to push the pedal with a lot of force. This makes climbing up steep hills way easier on your mountain bike, and these muscles also make you go fast on the streets. Additionally, building up your hamstrings and hip flexors will allow you to squeeze in more RPMs when the pedal is on its way up.
Here’s how to do a basic bodyweight squat:
- Place your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width.
- Slowly lower your body, keeping your spine in a neutral position, chest up, and neck straight.
- Go as deep as you can to maximize quads and hip flexors muscle activation.
- Hold your breath, engage your abs, and push with your feet against the ground to get up.
If you’ve just started cycling, do 3 sets of 8 reps each. Slowly progress until you can do 4-5 sets of 10-12 reps.
The basic bodyweight squat can still be a great way to work your body if you’re an intermediate cyclist. It won’t build much muscle, but it’ll greatly improve ankle, hip, and knee mobility. Additionally, squats strengthen your tendons, ligaments, and bones.
You can also do squats as an endurance exercise. Try to do 6 sets, 50 reps each. However, you should only do this once your body is ready – starting with so many sets and reps as a beginner will only stress your legs out.
Lunges are another essential exercise that works the same muscles as squats. They are great at strengthening your leg muscles and improving overall function. They work your hip flexors, core, and smaller stabilizer muscles.
Your core and stabilizer muscles are vital because they improve your balance when riding. A strong core allows you to make sharper turns without flying off your bike.
It’s easy to see the benefits of lunges for cyclists. After all, when you’re on a bike saddle, your movements are similar to the ones you have to do to perform a lunge. Lunges are simply taking your cycling movements to another level.
Here’s how to do a basic lunge using your body weight:
- Stand in a neutral position.
- Put your arms on your hips. This allows you to keep your balance.
- Step forward with one leg and lower yourself until the knee is at a 90-degree angle or the other knee nearly touches the floor.
- Push through the floor with the lunging leg to stand back up.
Do 3 sets of 8 reps per leg and slowly build up to 5 sets of 12 reps.
You can alternate legs between reps to make it more similar to cycling. It’ll allow you to squeeze in more reps for improved endurance. If you want to build strength and muscle mass instead, focus on one leg at a time.
It’s worth mentioning that you can add weights to this exercise to make it more challenging. If you don’t have weight plates or dumbbells, you can always use a couple of plastic jugs or jerry cans filled with water.
3. Side Lunge
The side lunge is a variation of the standard lunge discussed above. It’s a tremendous leg exercise (especially your inner thighs).
It’s a fantastic exercise for your core and hip flexors as well.
Here’s how to do a side lunge:
- Stand with feet hip-width apart.
- Keep your back straight, take a deep breath, and lunge sideways while keeping both feet firmly planted on the ground. You’ll feel a lot of tension in your inner and outer thigh.
- Push through the floor to return to the starting position.
Side lunges are more challenging than regular lunges. Do as many as you can before switching to the other leg. Aim for 4 sets of 10 reps.
4. Bulgarian Split Squat
Since you’re pushing down the bike pedal one foot at a time, any exercise that emulates this movement is beneficial.
The Bulgarian split squat combines everything we love about the lunge and squat into a single fluid action. You elevate one leg on a bench and use the other leg to push against the floor with all your strength.
This exercise is fantastic for all leg muscles, especially the quads and glutes, just like the regular squat. Additionally, it also works your abs, lower back, and small stabilizer muscles.
This compound move teaches you how to effectively use all muscles in each leg to maximize your pushing strength.
Here’s how you do a Bulgarian split squat at home without a bench:
- Place your feet about hip-width apart in front of a bed or couch.
- Place one foot on the edge of the bed or couch so that your foot is at knee level. If the bed is too low, place a pillow or a bag filled with books until it’s the correct height.
- With your back and neck straight, lower yourself until your knee almost touches the floor.
- Push with the front leg to bring yourself to the starting position.
Hint: You can maintain better balance by holding a weight in front of you or in each hand. Additionally, keep your abs engaged throughout the whole exercise.
If this is your first time doing this exercise, try doing 2 sets of 5 reps per leg. Aim to work up to 5 sets of 12 reps.
5. Single-Leg Bridge
Your glutes are the main movers for the initiation of your pedal stroke. If you find pushing down in high gears is challenging, the single-leg bridge is for you.
This exercise engages your abs and hamstrings as well.
The single-leg bridge only works one leg at a time, which is exactly what we want. It’s the perfect exercise for neuromuscular development, and you can also transfer these benefits to better cycling performance.
Here is how to do a single-leg bridge:
- Lie down on your back with your knees bent.
- Raise one leg so that it’s at a 45-degree angle.
- Extend your hips completely by engaging your glutes.
- Hold this position for 2-3 seconds.
- Slowly lower your hips while keeping the leg up.
Do 3 sets of 8 reps for each leg. Increase the number of reps and sets and hold the position for longer as you get stronger.
6. Lateral Band Walk
The lateral band walk is a tremendous exercise for:
- Hip stability
- Knee joint stability
- Ankle and foot stability
The exercise is great for strengthening your gluteus medius and hip flexors.
You need good hip mobility and stability to be stronger and faster on your bike.
The only equipment you need for the lateral band walk is a resistance band. Get the Renoj Exercise Workout Bands from Amazon.com. They come in three levels, making them a great investment that will last as your muscles become stronger.
Here’s how to do the lateral band walk:
- Wrap the band above your ankles.
- Stand in an athletic semi-squat position.
- Keep your chest up and your neck and back neutral.
- Step to one side with one leg and follow with the other.
Take as many steps as your room allows before going in the other direction. Do this exercise for 5-10 minutes every day.
More often than not, it’s endurance that wins races in competitive bicycle racing.
Planks and more difficult variations like side planks and walking planks are the perfect full-body endurance exercise.
You don’t need a super-strong upper body for cycling, but you will need to work on fatigue resistance. Your forearm, biceps, triceps, and shoulder muscles control the bike and keep you stable during riding. A plank engages all muscles in your body, especially your deltoids, abs, glutes, and quads.
Here’s how to do a simple plank:
- Place your elbows directly below your shoulders and rest the lower body on your toes.
- Keep your back, neck, and knees straight, and abs and glutes squeezed.
- Hold the position for 30 seconds.
If it’s your first time doing a plank, 30 seconds may be too much. Instead, hold it for as long as you can.
If it’s too easy, you can make it more challenging by elevating your feet on your bed. Then, progressively increase the duration of your plank.
8. Pistol Squat
The pistol squat is arguably the ultimate leg and stability exercise.
If you’re looking for a challenging bodyweight exercise, you should definitely try the pistol squat. It does all the right things for a cyclist: it improves hip, knee, and ankle mobility, makes your legs stronger, and builds endurance.
Before you try to do the pistol squat, I must warn you: you probably won’t be able to do it the first time you try it. In addition to strong and flexible legs, you’ll also need incredible balance to get close to the floor.
You can build enough strength and balance by doing the following exercises instead:
- Traditional squat
- Single-leg balance
- Pistol squat from a chair
- Counterweight pistol squat
However, if you’re confident, here’s how to do the pistol squat:
- Plant your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Keeping your back straight, lower your body while raising one leg and arms simultaneously.
- Get as low as you can.
- Push yourself away from the floor with the standing leg.
Repeat for the other leg when you’re done. If you can do even one rep, you’re incredibly strong and flexible. Set a goal of building up to 3 sets of 6 reps per leg.
9. Donkey Kick
The appropriately-named donkey kick is a great warmup exercise for your glutes, hip flexors, and hamstrings.
But don’t underestimate the great donkey kick – it’s one of the best explosive single-leg exercises for your glutes and hamstrings. This translates beautifully into more power for your downward strokes on the pedal.
Here’s a video by Coach PJ Nestler showing you how to do the donkey kick correctly:
Here’s what you should do:
- Lay on your hands and knees.
- Keep your back, hips, and neck in a flat, neutral position.
- Lift one leg while keeping your knee bent and hips locked in the neutral position.
- Hold the position for a few seconds, squeezing your glutes tightly.
Do 3 sets of 10 reps for each leg and work your way up to 5 sets of 15.
10. Mountain Climber Push-Up
A mountain climber push-up is exactly what it sounds like: two compound exercises combined into a single fluid motion.
The push-up works your upper body, and the mountain climbers work the legs. Additionally, your abs stay engaged throughout the whole exercise. This full-body exercise has everything you need to build explosive strength, agility, and endurance for your next big ride.
Here’s how to do a push-up mountain climber:
- Place your arms slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and your feet on the floor.
- Keep your neck and spine in a neutral position and engage your abs.
- Lower your upper body as close to the floor as possible.
- Push up until your elbows lock out completely.
- Quickly move your left foot so that it’s behind the right hand.
- Move the left foot back to the starting position and repeat for the right foot.
Repeat this vigorous exercise until you get exhausted.
11. Single-Leg Calf Raise
The single-leg calf raise is the perfect exercise for your gastrocnemius. Having strong calves is critical for fast and powerful pedaling.
The calves see most muscle activation when your leg is fully extended on the pedal. You can tell that your calves need additional exercise if you notice a lack of strength when pushing the pedal upwards.
Calf strength and size are largely determined by genetics. However, the single-leg calf raise will lead you to achieve perfect, chiseled calves and can help you build strength even if genetics aren’t on your side. It’s much better than the beginner-focused double-leg calf raise.
Here’s how to do a single-leg calf raise at home:
- Place a thick mat in front of a chair or wall.
- Raise one leg behind you by bending the knee.
- Put the ball of the other foot on the edge of the mat.
- Lift yourself up slowly by extending your ankle and pushing against the mat.
- Lower yourself down slowly so that your heels are below your toes and the calf is fully extended.
Repeat this exercise for the other leg. Do 3 sets of 10-15 reps. You should be able to do 5 sets of 20 reps per leg once you’ve advanced enough.
Also, I can’t stress this enough, but you must do this exercise slowly. If you do it with a lot of momentum, you’re only bouncing your weight off your Achilles tendon.