Sunday night found us in Český Krumlov at the Eggenberg Brewery, happy, cozy and full after a meal of Bohemian-style roasted duck and potato dumplings in the pub's majestic hall. More than 700 years ago, the very same towering arches and thick walls stored great blocks of ice, hauled from the nearby Vltava River for cooling barrels of lagered beer during the brewing process. Now, they insulate the brewery’s pub, one of the only places on earth one can taste their famous yeast beer, true to the original centuries-old recipe, a natural, living brew (This beer it is always working, working, says our guide) whose actual alcohol content is known only by the brewmaster … by taste.
It’s adventures like these that get swept to the end of the calendar each year. More often than not, racing trumps social events and just-for-fun trips; hence, my annual attempt to cram a year’s worth of personal vices and socializing into the few months I’m not racing. Since my last race of 2011, I’ve traveled to Croatia, to Italy, twice to Czech Republic and, natürlich, to a few destinations within Austria. What my social life lacks in consistency, I (try to) make up for in vigor and excess.
Of course, it’s not all wining and dining. I still need to build a decent foundation of strength and fitness for the coming season, and (my social life not withstanding) consistency is crucial to effective training, which is why it's good to create portable training habits. Thankfully one can ride a bike just about anywhere; however, a portable core and strength routine can come in handy when the gym isn’t an option, or if (like me) you don’t want to pay for a membership or make a daily pilgrimage to use the Smith machine. My previous column recounted improvising a training program while on a boat at sea, to illustrate that with a little creativity and motivation, you really can get good training anywhere you go. As promised, here are a few of the exercises I do at home and on the road this time of year.
These exercises don’t require equipment of any kind, and can therefore be done in the comfort of your own home (or hotel room). I recommend this approach for many reasons: it’s cheap, convenient, and you can play whatever music you want and sing along or pause for spontaneous dance intervals, which I also recommend. As I write this, a pile of holiday baked goods in the kitchen reminds me of another reason it’s good to be able to burn calories at home. With that, let's get to the exercises.
Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, nor do I have any idea what your current level of fitness, strength or flexibility may be. Therefore, if you do the following exercises, you do so at your own risk. Please use common sense and good judgment when attempting the following exercises, and if necessary, consult a physician before you do. Batteries not included. Action figures sold separately. No artificial colors or flavors. Etc.
Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent in a balanced athletic stance. (I like to turn my feet and knees out slightly, to better engage my gluts and adductors.) Then stretch your arms out straight ahead (for balance), and keeping your back straight, bend at the knees and lower yourself into a squat position (with your thigh parallel with the ground). If you can, sink a bit lower into the squat, hold for a moment, and slowly return to standing position. Keep your back straight and core engaged throughout each repetition, which means you will naturally be reaching back with your sit bones as you sink into the squat. From standing to squat position and standing again is one repetition. Do these slowly to start, focusing on smoothness and form (I recommend using a mirror). Work up to 20 reps then start adding multiple sets. Once you have the form down, you can also go for speed (e.g. see how many reps you can do in 2 minutes, then try to beat your own record).
One-legged chair sits.
I’m not so hardcore that I can do proper one-legged squats. However, working one leg at a time is a great way to train your balance and core stability, as well as to address right/left muscle imbalances. To do these, find a chair low enough that when you are seated, your thigh is parallel with the ground (and please, no roller chairs for this one). Engaging your core, lift your right foot off the ground, then slowly stand up and sit back down using only your left leg to support your weight. Switch legs and do the same thing using only your right leg to support your weight. Stretching your arms out in front of you can help with balance at first. As you get better at these, try placing your hands on your hips, which shifts your center of gravity back, making your gluts, quads and core work harder to maintain balance.
A variation on the classic lunge. Stand with feet comfortably apart. With your right leg, step forward and to the right at approximately a 45 degree angle, bend your knee and sink into the lunge. If you have knee trouble, don’t sink lower than a 90 degree knee angle. Otherwise, try to get low enough that your thigh is parallel to the ground. Repeat with the left leg, stepping forward and out to the left at a 45 degree angle.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Raise your arms out to the side so they are parallel to the ground, and engage your right glut to lift your right foot straight behind you a few centimeters off the ground with toes pointed (keep your pelvis square and right knee straight; you may need to turn your right foot out to really engage your glut). Keeping your right leg straight and in line with your torso, bend at the waist and simultaneously raise your leg behind you, keeping your core and gluts engaged. Return to standing position. Repeat for the left leg. You may want to start by holding the back of a chair as you lean forward, to help with balance. Once you can do these with good form with arms out to the sides (keeping back and leg straight and getting low enough that both are parallel with the ground), try doing them with your arms over your head for added resistance. Once you’ve mastered the form of this one, work up to 10 or 20 reps for each side, then multiple sets. I don’t recommend going for speed with this one: the head rushes can be a bit much.
Find a reasonably long obstacle-free section of floor in your home (e.g. a furniture-free diagonal in the living room or a hallway on the order of 4 meters or so). Starting at one end, hop on your right foot forward to the end of the “run.” Turn 90 degrees to your right, and hop sideways on your right foot to your right to get back to the start of the run. Facing the same way, follow the same path back by hopping on your right foot sideways to your left. Finally, still using your right foot, hop backwards to the start of the run. Repeat all four directions, hopping with only your left foot.
You can do a search to find a video of proper form for Good Mornings using a barbell, but you don’t need the weight to get some benefit, especially if you are just starting a core routine. As long as you keep good form, you can do this with a broomstick, or just by lacing your fingers behind your head with your elbows out to the sides. Taking a slightly-wider-than-shoulder-width stance, lace your fingers behind your head (elbows out to the sides). Keeping your back straight and core engaged, bend forward from the waist, aiming to get your torso parallel to the floor. In order to keep your balance and your back straight, you’ll need to press back with your sit bones. Keeping your core engaged, return to standing position.
Lying on your stomach, push up from a push-up position until your arms are fully extended, and engage your core to keep your back and pelvis straight and aligned. Hold as long as possible. You can also work up to this by starting out with plank from your elbows – with your forearms supporting you as you lift your knees and pelvis. Once you master that one, you can move on to the classic plank with fully extended arms. With Plank, the goal isn’t more reps, but rather more time. See how long you can hold to start, then start increasing by 10 seconds at a time. Try to work your way up to a minute or longer.
Exactly how it sounds. From the Classic Plank position, lift your right arm to the sky, bringing it in line with your left arm and at the same time, rotate your pelvis in the same direction and bring your right leg over your left, so your whole body faces the right side. Engage your core, especially your left obliques, to keep your torso, pelvis and legs in a straight line (don’t let your hip drop). Hold as long as possible, then switch sides. Again, the goal for this one is increased time.
You can put these exercises together however you’d like. I like to create a circuit with 1-2 minutes of each exercise, rotating through the circuit a few times. You can do the same thing based on reps or sets (e.g. do a circuit of 30 reps for each exercise and cycle through the circuit 5 times). To keep things interesting, you could write down sets (or time) for each exercise on small pieces of paper, put them in a hat, and draw random sets for a twist on the usual routine.
I recommend doing these exercises barefoot, which will enhance your sense of balance and proprioception, as well as strengthen the arches and small stabilizer muscles of your feet. These muscles can make a surprising difference to your alignment, pedal stroke efficiency and power transfer on the bike.
A great way to finish a workout like this would be to use a foam roller, then stretch. I use a foam roller regularly, primarily for my IT bands (see photo), though you can also use it for quads, hamstrings, calves, back and gluts as needed. I use the roller pictured here, which is small, light and - like the workout - portable.
Lastly, I apologize for the poor quality of the demonstration photos: my hokey attempts to shoot indoors with a self-timer resulted in predictably bad images. Nonetheless, I hope they helped clarify the written descriptions.
What strategies do you use to maintain consistency in your training program? Please share them in the comments section below!
Thanks for reading,
Amber Pierce - An American expat living in Austria, Amber has made the leap across the Atlantic in pursuit of her dreams on the road. After making a name for herself as one of the top road cyclists in the US, she now faces new challenges in her life on the road in Europe.
Amber's path to full-time racing in Europe has been anything but linear. From high school valedictorian holding national swimming records, to scholarship athlete at Stanford University and researcher on the open ocean, she has found herself in countless adventures all over the globe. With 53 career victories under her belt, however, Amber appears to have found her calling on the bicycle.
Photos: Amber Pierce