Boost your bike control, comfort and stamina: Get fit to ride with Jane Omorogbe

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Boost your bike control, comfort and stamina with these simple fitness and flexibility tips from ex-Gladiator and fitness coach Jane Omorogbe…


Part 3: Legs

Whatever and wherever you’re riding, your legs will feel it. They are literally your body’s suspension system.

So, if you’re looking to improve your riding experience, here’s three tips for getting fitter legs.

Isometric Wall Squats

If you’re new to working out, or perhaps you’re nursing a knee or back injury, isometric (stationary) squats are a great way to start training those powerful thigh muscles, otherwise known as your quadriceps. Stand with your back flat against a wall, draw your navel in towards your spine, engage your glutes (squeeze your butt cheeks) and slide down to a squat in a seated position.

Your thighs should be parallel to the floor or as low as comfortable with your knees in line with your feet. Hold this position for 20 to 60 seconds and repeat 3 to 5 times. To progress, try holding a weight, or a heavy tank bag, or a small child. I’ve done all three.

Lift your heels to incorporate calf raises for an extra kick.

Prisoner Squats

There are so many elements to performing a safe squat, it’s difficult to address them all here. In short, keep your abdominal muscles switched on by drawing-in and bracing. Avoid your knees folding inwards, or splaying out to the sides as you squat, by engaging your glutes. If you feel restricted in your movement or find your torso leaning forwards (assuming you’ve warmed up sufficiently beforehand) try elevating your heels on two books.

Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, toes pointing forwards or slightly turned out if necessary. Your navel is pulled in towards your spine, glutes are engaged. Place two fingers behind your ears (not your neck) and keep your elbows in-line with your chest. Inhale as you squat slowly with a count of 4 as low as you comfortably can.

Drive your heels into the floor and hold for 2 seconds. Breathe out as you power back up to stand with a 1 count. Repeat 12 times per set, for 3 sets.

For variation, add weight, extend the static hold phase, or increase the tempo to 2 up, 2 down.

Lunges

There is literally a lunge exercise for every day of the week and then some, but we ride bikes, we’ll do
side lunges in the frontal plane, as that’s the direction our body leans to when cornering. In a stance slightly wider than shoulder width, draw your abdominal muscles in and engage your glutes. With your feet facing forwards and hands on your hips, push your bottom backwards and lean to the right by bending your knee to track over your right big toe.

You will feel a stretch in your left inner thigh (adductor complex) and pressure building in your right thigh and butt cheek. Hold the position for a 2 count, rise on a 1 count and begin the lean to your left on a slow 4 count.

Repeat these alternating static lunges, with 12 on each side completing the first of your 3 sets. To progress, carry a weighted backpack. Or the small child.

Know this:

  • There are so many benefits to strength training, especially as we age. It’s worth the effort.
  • It improves our muscle mass, bone density, metabolic health, joint strength, lifespan and our mood as well.
  • Ladies: getting strong is a really, really good thing. And no, you won’t ‘get big’.
  • Guys: research shows that doing regular squat exercises will raise your testosterone levels. Just saying.

Part 2: Chest

Guy Martin once rode my No Budget Cup race bike. For those 5 minutes, my old boat had an extra 50bhp. At least. Sometimes you don’t need all the fancy stuff, not if you’re super talented, or prepared to work hard with what you’ve got.

Press-ups are a cheap and cheerful way to train your upper body. There are a zillion adaptations, but here’s a check list that applies to most of them: Start in a plank position with your toes (not knees) on the floor.

Place your hands in a neutral position slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Set your feet slightly narrower than hip width apart. Keep your form tight and stable by engaging your stomach muscles and glutes.

Doing push-ups is a great way to get fit

Rotate your elbows slightly towards your body so your arms are at a 45-degree angle from your torso, and don’t flare out during the eccentric (lowering) phase. Keep your shoulders away from your ears. They are not friends.

Bring your shoulder blades towards each other. Aim to keep your forearms vertical and your elbows over your wrists as you lower (for horizontal, chest focused press-ups).

Beginners: Lower yourself down to a count of 4, hold for a count of 2, and then push up on a 1 count.

Have your elbow facing outwards

For advanced: Use a 1 count for both eccentric (lowering) and concentric (pushing) phases.

Aim for 3 to 4 sets of 12 repetitions to start off with.

Phase 1 – Elevated press ups

Rest your hands on your kitchen worktop. Step back as though you’re about to shove your counter clean across the floor. Remember the check list. Now bend your arms and lower yourself towards the worksurface so that your chest just grazes it at nipple height and press back up. To progress, find something lower, like a chair or bench. Just make sure it’s something that won’t buckle under your newfound power and if you choose the bottom rung of your staircase, watch your head.

Elevated push-ups are a great way to start

Phase 2 – Eccentric press-ups

These press-ups focus on the lowering phase. The plan is not to succumb to gravity but to enjoy the ‘time under tension’ and control the movement. Start in a horizontal plank on the floor. Lower slowly to the ground, being mindful of your checklist. Once flat on your tummy, keep your knees on the floor, your abdominals tight and push your torso upright so that your arms are straight. From here, lift your knees back up to the starting plank position and go again.

Phase 3 – Full body press-up

Follow the checklist and lower until you’re just about to touch down, push yourself back up to the straight arm plank  position and then repeat the process.

Don't try this until you've mastered conventional push-ups

Phase 4 – Plyometric press-ups

A great exercise to improve your bone density, explosive force production, cardiovascular fitness, and your ability to absorb heavy impacts. As a biker (and a Gladiator) I had quite a few of those. Plyometrics are not for the faint hearted. So buckle up. Complete the lowering phase of the standard press-up and just as you’re about to kiss the floor, push up so explosively that your hands break contact with the ground. Land with a soft elbow, lower immediately and power out for another repetition. Don’t try these until you’re an ace at Phase 3!

Jane’s top tips:

  • Too easy? Clap your hands together mid-air. Quickly.
  • Too hard? More than 30% of Brits are apparently unable to do a single press up. Don’t be one of them – get  pushing!

Part 1: Core

The stronger, fitter version of you can ride faster, for longer, and can pick up a fully fuelled bike when our enthusiasm and ability don’t match.

Building a strong internal core is the first essential step as it’s the foundation of your stability and balance, supporting your body weight and protecting you from injury.

Let’s begin by training the muscles that stabilise your spine.

‘Drawing-in and Bracing’

You can do these exercises standing upright, on all fours, or lying on your back. To ‘draw in’ pull your navel in towards your spine and hold it there. To ‘brace’, tense your abdominals as though you’re about to be punched in the stomach. Start off with a 10 second hold while maintaining the natural curvature of your spine.

‘It’s time to plank’

Having the core strength to support your upper body alleviates strain on your wrists and pressure on your handlebars while riding. Start on your knees with your elbows, forearms and hands on the floor, shoulder width apart, palms facing each other. Draw in and brace, squeeze your glutes (bum cheeks) and lift your knees from the floor, balancing on your toes to create a straight line through your body. Build up until you can hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds. Beyond 30 seconds, you’re no longer focusing primarily on your core but the secondary (synergist) muscles too. Repeat three to five times.

‘Side Bends’

Hold kettlebells or loaded bike panniers in each hand, with a straight arm and your palms facing your body. Stand tall, feet shoulder width apart, shoulders back and down, draw-in and brace. Lean slowly (in lateral flexion) towards your left knee with a slow count of four, as far as is comfortable. Use your abdominal muscles to bring you upright in a count of two, lean down to the right with a four count and repeat for 12 reps each side to complete one set. Aim for three sets in total.

‘Russian Twists’

Here’s an advanced core exercise to try. Sit with bent knees and your heels on the floor. Draw-in and brace, squeeze your glutes and lean backwards so your torso is at 45° from the ground, as if half-way
through a sit up. Lift a weight, or a bottle of water or your crash helmet, to eye level with extended arms and soft elbows. This is your starting position. Watch the weight and twist to the left as far as you comfortably can, return to centre, rotate to the right and repeat. Count slowly to four for each movement, maintain the correct 45° form, shoulders down and back, and keep your abdominal muscles engaged. Repeat for 12 repetitions each side, take a 60 second break and repeat for two more sets.

Top tips for core riding fitness

  • Do this three times a week, tops
  • If you feel any pain during exercise, stop immediately
  • If you muscles ache the next day, that’s a good thing