As most riders know, cycling can be one heck of a workout.
From brutal climbs to exhausting sprints, you cannot help but challenge yourself on the bike.
One of the great benefits of cycling is the cardio benefit and the fact that your legs get buff over time.
In fact, avid cyclists almost always have powerful legs and lower body’s to go along with that fitness.
And while cyclists can never truly skip “leg day”, there is one portion of the body that gets less attention – the Upper Body.
Unfortunately, cyclists do not get the same upper body workout that their lower half does when riding.
And to make sure you’re getting a well-rounded workout, balancing between upper body and lower body, it is important that you have some type of workout in addition to cycling.
To help you pick out the best exercises for your upper body workout, we put together this list of these 6 essential upper body exercises for cyclists.
- Chin Ups
- Triceps Dips
- Diamond Pushups
- Barbell Curls
- Dumbbell Shoulder Presses and Lateral raises
- Concentration Curls
- Dumbbell rows
- Pushup to Renegade Rows
- TRX Triceps Extensions
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When it comes to mixing in upper body workouts with your cycling schedule, its important to take it slow at first.
Most coaches only recommend 2-3 upper body workouts per week for cyclists, however, feel free to adjust according to your own preferences.
If you have or have been thinking about getting a pull-up bar, now is a great time to invest in one. Having one of these allows you to do a range of upper body exercises, one being especially great for cyclists – Chin Ups.
The Chin Up is a relatively advanced move, so this may not be for everyone – but if you can manage it, you should.
How to do it – Grip your pull up bar with your hands facing towards you and positioned about shoulder width apart. Hang with your arms fully extended, but make sure your shoulders are engaged and pulled down away from your ears. Pull up with a steady motion, leading with an open chest. Once your chin is above the bar, pause for a moment before steadily lowering yourself back to the hanging position.
What it works – In addition to improving your grip, Chin Ups help you build stronger and more stable Biceps, Forearms and Back Muscles.
Why it works – Chin Ups are such a great workout for cyclists, as we are always using our arms and back to maneuver and steady ourselves with the handlebars. This is especially beneficial for Mountain Bikers, as there is a significant amount of time being spent standing up on the bike, something that require even more engagement from these muscle groups.
2. Triceps Dips
Although there is a lot of emphasis on the biceps and back muscles, cyclists also use quite a bit of their Triceps while riding.
If you have a solid bench or chair to use, Triceps Dips are one of the best bodyweight exercises for cyclists to improve their upper body strength.
How to do it – While sitting at the edge of a chair, grip the edge of the chair near your hips with both hands. Your fingers should be facing forward. With your legs slightly extended and heels touching the ground, support your body and slowly slide forward so that your butt is hovering just in front of the chair. Lower yourself until your elbows are bent between 45 and 90 degrees, and then return to the starting position.
What it works – True to the name, Triceps Dips are a great way to increase your upper body strength and improve the strength in your Triceps. On top of that, they are also a great workout for your core and improving balance.
Why it works – Your Triceps really help you with pushing and pulling, something cyclist do a lot of as we turn, roll and maneuver our bikes. Building your Triceps will help you improve your handling of the bike along with your balance.
3. Diamond Pushups
If you’re looking for another upper body workout for cyclists that only uses bodyweight, this next one if for you.
By slightly modifying one of the most popular exercises, the pushup, cyclists are really able to able to target those upper body muscles.
How to do it – Start in the pushup position with your hands under your shoulders. Now position your hands in the shape of a diamond, with your pointer fingers and thumbs touching. Slowly lower your chest to your hands, making sure to tuck your elbows to your instead of flaring them out. Stop just before your chest touches the ground and then return to starting position. Just like a pushup, focus on good form before number and always keep your back straight.
What it works – The Diamond Pushup, like any other variation of the pushup, works the biceps, chest and shoulders. But this variation also focuses a lot of the workout on the triceps.
Why it works – Again, the Triceps actually play a crucial role in how well you are able to handle your bike, especially if you’re a Mountain Biker. Biking involves a lot of pushing and pulling on the bike, something your triceps come in really handy for.
4. Barbell Curls
This next exercise is the first upper body exercise that includes weights. You can do this exercise with dumbbells, but it works best with a barbell.
How to do it – Grab your barbell with both hands about shoulder width apart. Remember to stand up straight and keep your hands facing out, away from your body. Keeping your chest open and elbows tight to your sides, slowly start to curl the bar up towards your chest. Pause for a moment once you reach shoulder-height with the bar and slowly lower the bar until your arms are fully extended.
What it works – Just like the name states, Bicep curls works your biceps, along with some of your lower arm muscles.
Why it works – As you can guess, the muscles in your upper and lower arm help you stabilize and maneuver the bike. Increasing the strength in your biceps also helps you improve stamina, as you can support yourself on the bike for longer periods of time.
5. Dumbbell Shoulder Presses and Lateral Raises
It’s easy to miss some of the upper body muscles groups that keep you strong on the bike. Improving the endurance in something even as small as your neck muscles can help you get stronger on the bike. This next exercise helps you target some of those lesser known areas that are just as important as the others – your shoulders.
How to do it – Dumbbell Shoulder Presses: With your feet shoulder width apart, bend your elbows and raise your arms to shoulder height. The dumbbells should be about ear level, with your palms facing forwards and your elbows out to the sides and bent at a 90° angle. Keep a straight back and extend your elbows to raise the wights above your head, almost to where the sides of the weights touch. Pause for a moment before slowly lowering the weights to the starting position. Dumbbell Lateral Raises: Stand up straight with your core tight and dumbbells at your sides. Keeping your elbows slightly bent, raise the dumbbells out to your sides, until they are parallel with the ground. Pause for a moment before slowly lowering back to the start position.
What it works – While the shoulder presses help your work the front of your shoulders, the lateral raises help work your upper shoulders, back, neck and arms.
Why it works – Since you’re using your shoulders to support yourself while riding, this upper body exercise for cyclists will help improve overall endurance on the bike. This is especially true for Mountain Bikers, as they spend more time standing up on the bike to support themselves.
6. Concentration Curls
Another curl exercise on this list of upper body exercises for cyclists, Concentration curls are relatively simple and easy to complete. Though not as dynamic as some of the other exercises on the list, you will still benefit from regular circuits with this exercise integrated.
How to do it – Sit at the edge of a bench or chair, with your feet shoulder-width apart and your dumbbell in your right hand. Place your right elbow on the inside of your right thigh, close to your knee, so that your hand is facing towards the other leg. Slowly lower the dumbbell until your arm is fully extended downward. With controlled movement, raise the dumbbell about chest height before lowering back towards the floor.
What it works – Continuing the trend of a lot of exercises on this list, the Concentration Curl targets your Biceps.
Why it works – Again, the Biceps play a major role in supporting your upper body on the bike, something that can really wear down your endurance over time.
7. Dumbbell Rows
Integrating an upper body workout plan on top of your cycling can be a great way to keep your body balanced. Since no upper body workout is complete without at least one pulling exercise, we made sure to add one to our list – Dumbbell Rows
How to do it – This exercise can be completed one arm at a time or bent over, with dumbbells in each hand. If you have a bench, use it to bend over and support your body by placing your left hand and left knee on the bench, and your right foot on the ground. With the dumbbell in your right hand and a straight back, pull the dumbbell up and towards your hip, so that your forearm is perpendicular with the ground. Slowly lower the dumbbell before repeating the process.
What it works – This pulling exercise helps you work your arms and back.
Why it works – As with some of the other exercises on this list, working your back and arms helps improve your endurance and reduce fatigue.
8. Pushup to Renegade Rows
This next exercise comes from our friends at Bicycling.com and is another variation of one of the most popular exercises. By adding Dumbbells and Renegade Rows to the standard pushup, you are really able to target some of the most important muscle groups cyclists use.
How to do it – With a dumbbell in each hand, put yourself in pushup position with your feet positioned shoulder width apart and your hands under your shoulders. Complete a pushup and make sure you maintain a straight back. Keeping your arms tucked in, first pull the right dumbbell up to your ribs and then the left. Return to starting position and repeat.
What it works – In addition to building core strength, this is a great upper body workout for your back and shoulders.
Why it works – This move not only aids correct posture, it also helps you pedal more efficiently on the bike.
9. TRX Triceps Extensions
This final workout includes the use of a TRX Suspension System, however it, it is one of the best Triceps exercises for cyclists. Similar to the Chin Up, this is another workout that you can do at home.
How to do it – Position your body where you’re facing away from the anchor point, grab the TRX handles with your palms facing downward. With your feet shoulder width apart, start to lean your body forward, before extending your elbows. Return to starting position before repeating.
What it works – As the name suggests, TRX Triceps Extensions targets your triceps, but also your shoulders and core.
Why it works – This exercise will help you improve your endurance when it comes to supporting yourself on the bike, as well as your balance. Surprisingly, this upper body workout is also a great way for cyclists to improve their reflexes.
Does Cycling Work Your Upper Body?
As most riders know, cycling is one heck of a lower body workout. Most avid riders will end up with very powerful legs, from the quads down to the calves.
But what about the top half? Does cycling work your upper body?
Believe it or not, you actually do get an upper body workout from cycling, especially if you do any type of Mountain Biking.
For starters, you are constantly engaging your core to keep yourself balanced on the bike. To do this, you must first use your arms, shoulders and back to brace and manage the bike. From supporting yourself with the handlebars all day, you actually do slowly build upper body strength and endurance.
The only issue is that the upper body workout from cycling is significantly less than that which you get for your lower half. In order for cyclist to get a more balanced workout, they must first incorporate upper body workouts off of the bike.
Is it Safe to Workout on Top of Cycling?
Depending on how hard and often you ride, you may be worried about adding any more exercise to your routine, especially that of strength training.
While I always recommend the advice from a medical or sports professional, you should try to start small when introducing a new workout to your already busy cycling schedule.
As long as your managing your heart rate, allowing time for your muscles to rest and maintaining a caloric diet balanced for your lifestyle, you should be perfectly fine integrating an upper body workout plan for your needs.
If you ever feel overwhelmed adding exercise to your riding schedule, review your current plans to see if you can make time to have them more balanced.
Why Cyclist Should Work Their Upper Body?
As we mentioned before, cycling can really be a lower body centric workout if you fail to engage your upper body when off the bike.
Your body prefers to have a more balanced routine for both the upper and lower body, as that is the best way to maintain proper posture, health and alignment.
Since it is hard to get the type of upper body workout needed to stay balanced on a bike, you should always consider adding a targeted upper body workout routine to your plans.
Luckily there are only a few upper body exercises for cyclists that can really help them stay fit and balanced.
How Often Should You Workout Your Upper Body While Cycling?
This one ultimately comes down to your personal preference and that which is recommended to you by a medical professional, however, a good upper body routine usually consists of 2-3 days per week of targeted exercises.
In conclusion, you should always try to maintain a balanced workout for both your upper and lower body.
Luckily, it doesn’t take that many exercises or that much time to get the upper body you need to remain a strong cyclist.
If you have any questions or concerns, please consult with a medical or sports professional.
As always stay loose and safe riding!