Cyclists come in all shapes and sizes; nothing about your body shape should prevent you from jumping on a bike. Of course, several factors affect cycling performance, but one thing is for sure: to perform at your best, you need to be as fit as possible.
All you need is a bike and the determination to improve your fitness. But what is the ideal cyclist body?
In this article, we will cover:
- What the ideal body for cycling is
- Fast and slow twitch muscles in cyclist legs
- How VO2 max affects a cyclist body
- And how to develop the ideal cyclist body
Are you ready to make the changes to be the best cyclist you can be?
Who Can Cycle?
If you are not particularly fit, cycling is the perfect way to start an active lifestyle. You don’t need to have the ideal body to get started; your body will change shape as you become fitter, so don’t worry about your body composition.
However, you may want to start thinking about what kind of cyclist you want to be. Different types of cycling require certain body shapes to perform at your best.
Your goal may be to ride long distances, while others may prefer to be able to make short and powerful sprints. Both of these skills are useful in all aspects of cycling, but a few things affect how well you can do them.
Let’s Talk About Muscles
You may have heard that there are two types of muscles. One type of muscle gives a cyclist legs explosive power for short periods, while the other allows you to go for a long time slowly.
Slow-twitch muscles have greater blood flow than fast twitch muscles. This means that they get nutrients from the blood much faster, while waste products get taken away quickly.
These muscles have more mitochondria, too, which are the cell’s powerhouse. Therefore, slow twitch muscles use stored fat to create energy, making them resistant to fatigue. This means that you use slow-twitch muscles for cycling for long periods of time.
Fast-twitch muscles don’t get as much blood flow, have fewer mitochondria, and are not as efficient at using body fat. The result of this is that they get tired much more quickly. However, they are more powerful and can contract quickly when you need them to, such as sprinting on the pedals. This is why a track cyclist legs are chunky and muscular.
How Cyclists Use These Muscles
When cycling, you use your slow-twitch muscles first, but your fast-twitch ones kick in when you need them, say sprinting or climbing a hill. But your slow-twitch muscles are still working, so think of your fast-twitch muscles as turbo boosters for short periods of work.
However, there is another element to fast twitch muscles. According to NASM.org, fast twitch muscles can be classified into two groups, A and B.
Fast-twitch A muscle fibers are similar to slow-twitch fibers, as they have more blood flow and mitochondria. Therefore, they are used quite a lot for endurance cycling.
In addition to this, if you do lots of endurance riding, your fast twitch muscles will develop to resemble slow twitch fiber. This will increase your resistance to fatigue and improve your endurance.
Fast-twitch B muscle fibers produce lots of force but are incredibly inefficient and tire quickly.
So next time you are on a group ride, look at the people you ride with. The rider sprinting to the end of ride cafe will be using fast twitch muscles, while the one who has been grinding away at the front all day is using primarily slow-twitch muscles combined with some fast twitch.
The proportion of fast and slow-twitch muscles you have is mainly genetic. But how you train will influence how strong, powerful and efficient they are.
Many cyclists will have heard of VO2 Max. If this is new to you, VO2 max is the measurement of how much oxygen your body can use at your maximum sustained output. Therefore, it is essential to determine your cycling ability.
Your body can generate power either ‘aerobically’ (using oxygen)or ‘anaerobically’ (without oxygen). So your VO2 max indicates your aerobic ability. The higher your VO2 max, the more power you can produce.
VO2 max is measured as the volume of oxygen (ml) consumed for every kg of body weight per minute (ml/kg/min). To get an accurate VO2 max measurement, you need to go to a lab. However, you can get an indication of how your VO2 max is changing by testing your max Power over five to six-minute efforts.
As a cyclist, your VO2 max matters, as it is the most sustainable way your body produces power. On the other hand, generating power anaerobically is only really good for fast bursts of energy, and it creates byproducts that promote fatigue.
Having a high VO2 max allows you to endure medium to hard power outputs for long periods of time. It also maximizes your functional threshold power while promoting faster recovery from strenuous efforts. This is because you can clear those fatiguing byproducts faster.
Therefore, VO2 max is an essential factor to look at when striving to develop the ideal cyclist body.
Lung capacity is the total volume of air that your lungs can take as you breathe in. Elite athletes such as swimmer Michael Phelps apparently has a lung capacity of 12 liters. This is far above the average of around 6 liters for men and 4.7 liters for women.
Your lung capacity plays a vital role in providing more oxygen to your body and increasing VO2max. But people with smaller lung capacities can make improvements by training.
When you ride more, your lungs can inflate and deflate faster and take in more oxygen each time. You can increase your lung capacity by 15% with exercise.
As you work hard while riding, you breathe deeper and faster so you can meet the demands your body requires. Your heart also has to keep up with the extra oxygen as=nd send it around your boy to your muscles.
How To Develop The Ideal Cyclist Body
When we put everything together we have learned so far, the ideal cyclist body depends on what you want to do. Do you want to be an endurance rider, be fast at sprinting, or be an allrounder?
An endurance cyclist needs to be able to ride hard for long periods of time. There are no shortcuts on the road to becoming an endurance cyclist.
As we have determined, you need to improve those slow-twitch muscles for endurance. You can do this with some strength training in the gym, but you need to work out in a way that will improve your endurance.
To engage slow-twitch muscle fibers, you need to complete 12 or more reps in any exercise. This is because your slow-twitch muscle fibers are engaged for over 50% of the exercise duration.
You should also do the reps at a slower tempo and cut your rest periods to under 30 seconds.
To improve endurance, you need to incorporate cardio into your workout regime. You will get this from jumping on the bike, but you need to vary your session to get the most out of it.
High levels of cardio will improve your VO2 max and lung capacity. The more you do, your ability to go longer will develop.
Don’t overdo it in the early days; start slowly before setting more ambitious goals. You should also add long interval training into your workout plan, as these intense sessions will go a long way to improve your endurance.
Improving Your Sprinting
Track cyclists need to sprint, so they need outstanding cardio and good upper and lower body strength. Just look at Chris Hoy to see the ideal track cyclist body.
To achieve this body shape, you need to practice sprinting on your bike. By doing a range of sprint drills, you will gain muscle mass and the ability to put in short bursts of speed.
Sprint drills include pedaling up short hills as fast as possible in a higher gear. This adds a lot of resistance, which builds muscle.
Some track cyclists try to lose weight by going on crash diets leading up a race. However, this isn’t the best thing to do, as you could lose much-needed muscle mass and damage your recovery time.
But you can benefit from being lighter, as your power to weight ratio is more favorable. Rather than taking a crash diet, it is best to stick to a planned nutritional plan and structured training.
But cycling alone won’t build your muscle mass to your required level. Therefore, you need to hit the gym, but in a different way to someone who wants to improve endurance.
You need to go heavy and do fewer reps to develop your fast twitch muscles. Work on your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves to improve muscle efficiency and power.
Don’t neglect your upper body and core, as extra strength in these muscles will provide more stability and control while providing a solid base to push from.
Interval training is an excellent way of becoming a faster sprinter. It increases power, and you can enjoy the benefits from doing short sessions.
It also improves your aerobic and anaerobic fitness levels. As we discovered earlier anaerobic fitness is best for building strength and short bursts of power. On top of this, interval training is an excellent fat burner.
You can get a good interval training workout by joining a spin class. It is also a motivational and entertaining way of exercising.
Now You Know What The Ideal Cyclist Body Needs
No matter your goals, you need to be consistent to get the cyclist body you want. Therefore, you need a training plan and stick to it to see your performance evolve.
If you are interested in more fitness information to help you get the cyclist body you want, check out the blogs below: