Cycling is a sport that relies on strong leg, core and upper body muscles. The more force your hips and legs can generate relative to your weight, the faster your bike will fly down the road or trail. A kettlebell is a free weight consisting of an iron ball with a handle. Kettlebell training forces muscles all over your body to work together in a functional way to swing the kettlebell through a variety of movements.
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According to cycling expert Joe Friel, it isn’t the shape and size of a cyclist’s muscles that is important, but how efficiently his muscles contract. Because the load on a kettlebell is off-center, it requires more agility to lift it than a dumbbell. Kettlebells teach the fibers within your muscles and the muscles within your body to synchronize their effort and eliminate unnecessary movement. Also, just like stiffness in a bicycle frame translates to responsiveness and speed, a strong core translates to a fast, efficient cyclist. Since your hips generate the power and the core maintains balance during most kettlebell lifts, kettlebells develop the strong core and powerful hip drive that cyclists need.
Because kettlebell training is a fast-paced workout, it raises your heart rate and conditions your cardiovascular system much like an interval session. Recovering from an intense kettlebell set can help teach your body to recover quickly after a tough climb or acceleration so that you will be fresh for the next attack. Kettlebell training also teaches your body to tolerate higher levels of lactic acid. As Friel explains, raising your lactate tolerance means that you can sprint, climb and time trial faster for longer without having to slow down.
Squats develop strength and power in your quadriceps and glutes; the muscles engaged in the most powerful section of your pedal stroke. Deadlifts and lunges strengthen the hamstrings, muscles often neglected and prone to injury in cyclists. Kettlebell swings and snatches develop the powerful hip drive that aids pedaling. Turkish get-ups strengthen your core to effectively transfer energy between your upper and lower body. Kettlebell rows strengthen your back, which helps pull up on the handlebars while sprinting and climbing.
While many celebrity cycling coaches advocate strength training in the offseason to build leg and core strength, other sports physiologists disagree. The principle of specificity states that certain movements train your muslces only for that particular movement pattern. In other words, a kettlebell squat trains you to do better squats and has little carryover to cycling. Boulder, Colorado-based cycling coach Eric Kenney discourages his athletes from wasting their time in the gym. Kenney has his athletes build leg strength in the offseason by doing high-resistance workouts on the bike.
Your muscles need extra recovery after any kind of weight training. While your body is recovering, it is hard to do quality high-intensity rides. Therefore, the offseason when ride intensity is low is the best time to develop your strength through kettlebell training.