You’ve probably seen the growing trend of cyclists posting their tallest box jump on Instagram, but wondered if the possibility of scrapped shins is really worth whatever benefit may come from plyometric exercise. While you’ll have to decide about the scrapped shins yourself, there are many reasons to complete plyometric exercises (plyos) for cyclists (specifically mountain bikers).
What are Plyometric Exercises?
Plyometric exercises are exercises in which muscles produce maximum force in a short period of time. Plyometric training is proposed to bridge the gap between speed and strength training since plyos can be used for both of those purposes. Sometimes plyometric training will also be referred to as jump training since many classic plyo moves involve jumping.
Plyometric exercises are a great way to build bone density. Cycling is not considered a weight bearing sport, which means that limited strain is placed on the bones. While this can be a very positive factor for many people who turn to cycling to mitigate injuries, it can lead to other problems due to low bone density.
Bones respond to the forces placed upon them. This means that when you strain a bone, it will build back stronger. This can occur two different ways. When you utilize a muscle, it will pull on the tendon which attaches to the bone. That pull will help to strengthen the bone. Bones can also be strengthened through impact- such as walking, running, and jumping.
Since plyos usually involve strong and fast muscle contractions as well as jumping maneuvers, one could argue that plyos are one of the most optimal ways to gain bone density especially when we spend most of our time dancing on the pedals.
Fast-Twitch Muscle Fibers
Even though mountain biking is an endurance sport, it still utilizes fast-twitch muscle fibers. You may pace yourself perfectly throughout all of your rides and races, limiting the amount of sprinting you do, but on the mountain bike the utilization of fast-twitch muscle fibers can be tough to avoid completely. Anytime you exert maximum force on the pedals to power through a rock garden, or up and over a steep pitch you are utilizing those Type-2 Muscle Fibers. Strengthening and optimizing the recruitment of these fiber types will not only help you outsprint the competition, but also, improve many of the physically demanding technical skills required on the mtb. Explosive or maximum force efforts such as plyometrics can help improve these fibers.
Types of Plyometrics
There are so many different types of plyometrics to mix and match with. If you are new to plyometrics then start with 40 contacts or less in your first session. Every time you land from a jump or hop that counts as a contact. Build up your contacts over time as you gain experience. Here are a few simple plyometric exercises that you can do at home to get started.
Squat Jumps: Slowly lower down into a 90 degree squat then drive your arms down as you explode upward. Try to get as much air as possible.
Split Squat Jumps: Follow the form of a classic lunge, but try to explode off of the ground and into the air in between each lunge. Focus on switching your legs at the top of your jump. Your legs should fully extend when coming off of the ground.
Burpees: Crouch down to the ground, set your hands on the ground, hop your feet back into push up position, complete a push up, hop your feet back in between your hands, and then jump upwards with your body fully extended.
Power Skip: These can be done with or without a step. If using a step, have one foot on the step and then drive the opposite knee upward and jump straight into the air. Make sure to be using opposite arm and opposite leg in order to drive the jump.
Lateral Line Hops: You can utilize a line or a cone to really make sure you get your knees up. Jump side to side. This is a great exercise for mountain bikers because we spend so much of your time moving forward that it’s good to make our bodies move side to side every now and then.
Other Exercises: broad jumps, box jumps, depth jumps, ski jumps, tuck jumps, clap push ups and so many more.
Just like any physical activity, there are risks involved with doing these types of exercises. Make sure you start small and build your way up. Understand your limitations and embrace the process of learning.