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The Cyclist’s Functional Fitness Tune-Up

As a cyclist – and moreover a coach and instructor to cyclists – I wanted to enhance my performance and efficiency through increasing my repertoire of exercises and knowledge about functional fitness specific to my sport. So I sought out the experts in this area, who happened to be just down the road.

Nathan Williams is Trainer Manager at UFIT (short for ‘Urban Fitness’), the premier functional fitness studio and boot camp in the Tanjong Pagar CBD area, just a few doors from Athlete Lab Singapore on Amoy Street. He put me through the paces of an introductory movement and mobility class.

 

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Coach being coached. Wilson along with UFIT’s Trainer Manager Nathan Williams.
Photo credit: Foo Tung Sheng

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Enduro mountain bike racing, which Wilson has recently delved into, requires a significant proportion of explosive power and agility – aspects that can be developed properly with the correct functional strength training regime complementing a structured cycling training program.
Photo credit: Wilson Low

Prior knowledge of my background and what I wanted to achieve was key. Nathan identified my requirements concisely – improving my hips and lower back in terms of range of motion and stability. We hit it off with some movement tests – air squats, deadlifts, and hip hinges – to see if I had any postural weak spots, and I did. A cyclist should strive for good joint mobility, but have muscles that are ‘tuned’ to fire and contract optimally and not be ‘too loose’ or hyper-mobile, according to Nathan.

Nathan’s first caveat was to always “work the core first”. Most people work the major muscle groups first in a workout session, Nathan points out, but once they are fatigued from that, bumble tiredly through their core and hip exercises late in their session, or neglect it entirely. A great insight to something I did not previously realize, but is habitually true for many athletes – regardless of their sport. A strong core affords a stable upper body and hip ‘platform’ from which the legs can drive the pedals or contact the ground, with no unwanted movement or wasted energy.

With that in mind, we hit some hip opening exercises. The question: “Should I add resistance or weights?” was raised. Nathan replied: ”We’re going to be taking you through the basics, then ramping it up in terms of complexity and range”. Translation: no weights required; I soon found out what he meant. I did a progression that worked my hip adductors and realized how quickly they got fatigued. Nathan, ever observant, then put me back on a series of squats again to see if any improvements to posture and movement quality had been gained. Indeed, much better!

 

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Nathan helping Wilson to loosen those hip joints..
Photo credit: Foo Tung Sheng

“What kind of squats do you do?” Nathan asked, aware that I had some kind of strength regime going on. I admitted I was pretty handy with my goblet squats, but that I only had a maximum weight of a 20kg kettlebell at my disposal. “And how about box jumps?” he pressed further.

Hence, we devised a pair of exercises where I did a) 5 reps of 20kg goblet squats (Nathan stipulating that I had to lower myself slowly over 3 counts, then stand up fast on a single count), and b) hit 5 reps of a 2-foot-high box jump. After the first round was done, Nathan then pointed out that I was driving my box jumps a lot from my quads and calves. A common occurrence, he assured me, as many cyclists and runners rely on – and are proud of – their ‘good-looking’ quadriceps and calf muscles for explosive movements such as these, a direct result of repetitive use of said muscles during cycling and running.

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Back to basics with balance and coordination in UFIT with Nathan looking on.
Photo credit: Foo Tung Sheng

We tried the pair of exercises again, but this time with a progressively heavier ‘goblet’ (24kg, then 30kg!), and with more awareness to explode into the box jump from an improved, lower, glute-engaging position. Nathan was certain I could go even heavier (as long as I stuck to low reps, as we were doing) as my form seemed up to scratch even with the increases. I never would have known 20kg was ‘too light’, or that my jumps could start lower and thereby improve my muscle recruitment, if Nathan had not been there to advise and adjust my execution.

On to the next set of exercises, having done a fair bit of floor work and leg-work already. Pull-ups – again with variable speed – on UFIT’s awesome big red monkey bars, and a plank-single-arm-row combo with a resistance band. It is this complexity of combo workouts that promotes all-round conditioning and stability.

 

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Plank + row… a great core and arm workout combined!
Photo credit: Foo Tung Sheng

Very quickly, we moved on to the ‘sting in the tail’ of our hour-long session: A single evolution of a 25-second, all-out blast on the stationary bike, then 20 reps of heaving the battle-ropes. Nathan seemed satisfied with the results at the end of my workout – whilst I knelt on the floor, barely catching my breaths, tired but feeling accomplished at what I had learned today!

 

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Working the stationary bike like mad.
Photo credit: Foo Tung Sheng

Training with Nathan at UFIT is a must-do if you are an endurance athlete that wants to add zest and quality of movement to their training regimes. I highly recommend you pay him or any of his fellow trainers a visit and have a chat about setting up a session.

To find out more about UFIT, do visit the UFIT website, and click ‘like’ on their Facebook page.