As a cyclist, you’d never saddle up and spin 15 mph around the same 20-mile loop three times a week expecting to make measurable fitness gains. Yet many riders do just that in the gym: We go in and lift things up then put them down 10 times, rest, repeat, and wonder why we don’t seem to be getting any stronger.
Just as you need to vary your intensity on the bike with intervals, endurance, and threshold rides to improve your fitness, you also need to challenge your muscles on a variety of levels to build more strength, power, and stamina.
You can start shaking it up—and boosting your results—right now by using a training method called daily undulating periodization (DUP for short). DUP training mixes high- and low-intensity exercise as well as volume into the same week, surprising your cycling muscles every workout with different sets, reps, and weights.
In a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, exercisers who followed this type of undulating plan for 12 weeks increased leg-press strength twice as much as exercisers who followed a more traditional strength training plan without weekly variation (56 percent vs. 26 percent), though both groups performed identical training volume over the course of the study.
“By constantly challenging your muscles in different ways, they continue to adapt, so you’re less likely to hit a plateau,” says study author Wayne Phillips, Ph.D.. You’re also less likely to get bored. Here’s how it’s done.
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How to Do Daily Undulating Periodization
The best training plan incorporates three degrees of strength workouts. Simply rotate through each below, leaving at least 24 hours between each strength-training session.
On light-weight days, perform 2 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions.
On medium-weight days, perform 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps.
On heavy-weight days, complete 4 sets of 4 to 6 reps.
You can apply DUP programming to your current strength-training regimen. Or try the quick-hit, cycling-specific workout below to put more power in your pedals, pronto.
Daily Undulating Periodization HIIT Workout
Grab a set of light, medium, or heavy dumbbells depending on what phase of DUP you are in. Perform each exercise below for the appropriate amount of reps, sets, and rest in between. Each exercise is demonstrated by a certified personal trainer so you can learn the proper form.
How to do it: Stand with your feet hip- to shoulder-width apart and toes pointed slightly out. Rack weights at your shoulders or hold them down at your sides. With core engaged and chest proud, send your hips back as if you were sitting in a chair and lower down as far as possible while keeping your body weight on your heels. Keep chest lifted. Return to the starting position and repeat.
Why you should do it: If you want to ride longer, harder, the squat exericse. the king of cycling moves, will help get you there. One study found that cyclists who added squats to their regular training routine improved their cycling time-to-exhaustion at maximum aerobic power by 17.2 percent after just eight weeks.
How to do it: From standing, hold a set of dumbbells in front of your thighs, arms extended, palms facing in. With a slight bend in the knees and keeping your back flat, hinge at the hips and lower the weights toward the floor. Keep the weights close to your body and lower them until your torso is almost parallel to the floor or the weights are along your shins. Keep neck relaxed. Contract your glutes and push your hips forward to return to the starting position. Repeat.
Why you should do it: This often-overlooked move targets the glutes—notoriously weak muscles in cyclists—making you more stable and powerful in the saddle.
How to do it: Start in a high plank position with your hands holding the handles of two dumbbells so the weights run parallel to your body. Make sure hands are directly under shoulders and core/glutes are engaged so body forms a long straight line. Position your feet hip- to shoulder-distance apart; the further apart they are, the easier the move. Keeping your back straight, pull the right dumbbell up to your right ribcage, while pressing the left dumbbell into the floor for balance. Return to the starting position and repeat to the other side. Continue to alternate for a full set. Repeat.
Why you should do it: The renegade row is a must-do move for endurance cyclists. It develops core strength, upper-back strength, and the stamina needed to support your torso during long days in the saddle.
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