Adapted from Cycling On Form: A Pro Method of Riding Faster & Stronger by Tom Danielson.
Let’s start with core activation. Back when I was a pro rider, I built my core routine to prevent injury as I was rehabbing from a bad crash. With a broken shoulder and a herniated disc, I was in rough shape. I tried a bunch of physical therapists and trainers. Nothing clicked until I met Allison Westfahl, an exercise physiologist and personal trainer. She helped me develop a core routine that combined strength and activation (see Tom Danielson’s Core Advantage). By activation, I mean essentially switching on muscles, firing up the neuromuscular connection between your brain and your legs. These motions are purposeful but not too strenuous, just enough to wake up your system.
When I began incorporating activation into my pre-race routine, the difference was noticeable right away. I felt powerful through the top of my pedal stroke, using my hip flexors efficiently. At first, I thought my power meter was out of whack because I wasn’t used to seeing such high readings right out of the gate in a time trial.
Nearly everyone with a desk job faces the same problem I did on time trial days. You sit at work for hours on end and a lot of your muscle groups switch off. Then when it’s time for the after-work group ride, you feel like garbage. If you spend 10 minutes activating these muscles before a 90-minute ride, your body will continue to use those muscle groups the entire time, making the connection stronger, making your body stronger.
You can do these exercises in your living room, office, a hotel room, or even in a quiet corner of an airport. You don’t always have to use these activation exercises right before a ride. They are great to do when things get too busy to ride, or if you are traveling. It may not feel like you’re getting in a big day of training, but if you are activating the key muscle groups, you are maintaining the mind-body connection and even making it stronger.
1) OPPOSITE ARM/LEG REACH PLANK
20 reps (alternate side to side)
- Start in a basic plank position by coming onto your forearms and toes, making sure that your elbows are directly below your shoulders and your feet are approximately 10 to 12 inches apart.
- Keep your hips and shoulders parallel to the mat and lift your right foot and left hand at the same time. Extend the fingertips forward and toes backward as far as possible. Squeeze your right glute.
- Hold this extension for 5 seconds, then bring your hand and foot down to the mat at the same time. Repeat on the other side.
- Begin by lying facedown on the mat with arms extended above your head.
- Put space between your ears and your shoulders by dropping your shoulder blades down toward your waist. Gently squeeze your glutes and slowly raise your feet and hands off the mat.
- Do not lift more than 6 inches. Think about pulling the top of your head and your tailbone in opposite directions. Hold this position at the top for 5 seconds and gently release. Refresh your starting position each time by dropping the shoulder blades down the back before you lift. Repeat.
3) PRONE SNOW ANGEL
- Start by lying facedown with arms extended along your sides, hands at hips with palms pointed down. Keep the back of your neck long and your shoulder blades dropped down toward your waist. Gently squeeze your glutes and slowly raise your feet, chest, and hands off the mat.
- Do not lift more than 6 inches. Create a “snow angel” by sweeping your arms overhead and separating your feet.
- Without bending your arms, try to bring your hands together above your head.
- Return to starting position and allow your feet, chest, and hands to relax down to the mat.
- If your shoulders and chest muscles are tight, you will not be able to touch your hands together at first. It’s better to keep your arms straight and have your hands slightly separated above your head than to bend your arms and touch your hands.
10 reps each side
- This exercise got its name from the way Pac-Man eats up his competition. Start on your left side with your back against a wall.
- Your head should be completely relaxed; you can rest it on your extended left arm or support it with your left hand. Points of contact with the wall should be heels, glutes, shoulder blades, and back of the head. Place your right hand on your right hip and slowly begin to slide your right leg up the wall (this is abduction).
- The goal is to use the muscles of the outer hip to lift the leg instead of lifting the entire pelvis. If you feel the hip bone on your right side moving upward toward your chest, you are lifting your pelvis. Complete repetitions on one side, then switch.
5) SIDE PLANK
10 reps each side
- Start on your right side with your right forearm on the mat, perpendicular to your body, keeping your right elbow directly below your right shoulder.
- Keep your left leg straight and bend the right leg to a 90-degree angle.
- Create a straight line from your left shoulder all the way down to your left ankle. Check to make sure your hips are pushed forward, tailbone is tucked, and ears are directly above your shoulders. Keeping your left hand on the mat in front of your chest for stability, push down through the right forearm and lift your hips off the mat.
- The right knee remains on the mat throughout this exercise to provide support for the low back. Lift the left hip up and down, then switch sides.
6) BRIDGE WITH HEEL SLIDE
20 reps each side
- Start on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor approximately 6 to 8 inches from your glutes. Place a folded towel under each foot. Your arms should be relaxed at your sides.
- Squeeze your glutes, tuck your tailbone, and lift your hips off the floor.
- Keeping your hips high, slide your right foot away from your body until your leg is completely straight, then bring it back in. Repeat this sliding motion with the left foot, keeping your hips stable the entire time. Alternate feet each slide.
5 reps each leg
- The goal of this move is to keep the legs totally straight while they are “falling,” mimicking a tree.
- Start by lying on your back and extending both legs straight up to the ceiling.
- Gently pull your toes toward your face so that the bottoms of your feet are perfectly flat. If your hamstrings are tight, you might need to bend your knees slightly. Keep your right leg straight while you lower your left leg until the right heel taps the floor.
- Try not to bend your left leg while you are lowering it. Using your lower abdominals, pull your left leg back up to the starting position, being careful to keep your upper body, neck, and head relaxed the entire time. Repeat this movement with your right leg, and continue to alternate.
8) SHOULDER BLADE SQUEEZE
- Start on your hands and knees with your knees below your hips. Place your hands directly below your shoulders, as if you were going to do a push-up.
- Keeping your arms straight, drop your shoulder blades down toward your waist and then squeeze them together.
- Don’t let your low back sway or your chin push forward. Hold the shoulder blade squeeze for 5 seconds and release. Repeat until you have completed the desired number of repetitions.
20 reps (alternate side to side)
- Start in a seated position, your knees bent and heels lightly touching the mat (for a super-advanced option, lift your heels 6 inches off the mat).
- Lift your chest, pull your shoulder blades down and together, and keep your neck neutral. Make a fist with your left hand and push it into your right palm, keeping both hands in the center of your chest and 6 inches away from your body. With your legs held steady, twist your upper body (still pushing the left fist into the right palm) as far to the right as possible.
- When you reach your twisting limit, push your left fist into your right hand with as much force as possible for 15 seconds. Come to center and switch sides, this time making a fist with your right hand and pushing it into your left palm.
Cycling On Form: A Pro Method of Riding Faster & Stronger by Tom Danielson reveals how the pros train: by training the whole rider. Danielson shows how you can ride like the pros by training your weaknesses and racing your strengths.