By James Herrera for Bicycling
If you're any sort of exercise enthusiast, you've undoubtedly heard of CrossFit. The intense, gym-based program focuses on general fitness -- endurance, stamina, strength, power, flexibility, speed, coordination and accuracy. In other words, all things that benefit cyclists.
A program like CrossFit also can help you identify and correct muscle imbalances caused by long hours in the saddle. An athlete's body must be fine-tuned to perform its best, says Brian Mackenzie, founder of CrossFit Endurance, a spinoff for distance athletes.
I started working with Mackenzie a few years ago. Each week, in addition to three hard rides, I did four to six CrossFit sessions, during which I sprinted, jumped, and lifted heavy weights. After the first week or two of soreness, amazing things started to happen. Yes, I gained more strength in the gym. But the program also transformed how I rode. I produced more power with less effort, accelerated more easily, recovered quicker, and was injured less often. Now every one of my athletes, from beginner to elite, is on a CrossFit-style program.
While CrossFit ultimately can make you a more durable rider, diving in without proper preparation is a recipe for injury. Some CrossFit gyms offer entry-level classes that focus on form. Look for a coach with a CrossFit Level 1 certificate, or who is accredited by an organization such as the National Strength and Conditioning Association or USA Weightlifting.
Before adding weight or speed, master the basic movements, like the ones shown here. These moves strengthen your pedaling muscles (glutes, quads, hamstrings) as well as those that help you resist fatigue and ride more efficiently (abs and back). Use the heaviest weight you can handle while still finishing all the reps with good form.
Cycling-Specific CrossFit Moves
Stand under a squat bar in a weight rack. Position your feet under the bar, just wider than shoulder width, toes turned slightly outward. Grab the bar and disengage it from the rack by stepping backward. Bend your knees and lower into a squat. Keep your eyes facing forward, your back straight, and your feet flat. Return to start position. Do three sets of 10 reps.
Stand on one leg; extend your arms and other leg in front of you. If necessary, place one hand on a wall for balance. Squat as far as possible, keeping your elevated leg off the floor. Keep your spine straight and supporting knee and foot pointed forward. Rise back to the starting position. Do three sets of six reps with each leg.
Stand with your feet flat beneath a barbell. Squat down and grab the bar with your hands shoulder-width apart or slightly wider. Use an overhand or alternated (one hand over, one hand under) grip and lift the bar by extending your legs. Pull your shoulders back once your legs are fully extended. Reverse these steps to lower the weight. Do three sets of eight reps.
Ready for more? Once you master these exercises, learn more complex moves (like thrusters and box jumps) by taking an entry-level session at a CrossFit gym or watching video demos on crossfit.com.