Take the 2-minute tour ×
Bicycles Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for people who build and repair bicycles, people who train cycling, or commute on bicycles. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I often hear people say “your bike is a whole-body gym”. I know my upper body workout will never be close to the workout my legs get, but so long as I’m a bike commuter, I figure I ought to get as much as I can out of it. I have a Trek 8.3DS, flat handlebars, no bullhorns, no upright grips.

How do I adjust my riding style/choice of bike/choice of equipment/types of rides to maximize whatever upper body exercise biking can give me?

share|improve this question
2  
Get a bike you pedal with your hands???? –  Trey Jackson Apr 5 '12 at 20:14
1  
Not sure that a bike is a "whole body" gym. Ever noticed pro racers? Very few of them have significant upper body development. Now, triathletes. That's a different story... –  user313 May 22 '12 at 17:15
3  
Cycling gets the cardiovascular system and legs into great shape, but not even the legs get total development. Late one summer after extensive cycling; I did a 16 mile loop hike up and down a steep, rugged mountain, and my legs were thoroughly sore for 3 days afterwards. ;~) Thus the benefits of cross-training became obvious. –  user313 May 22 '12 at 17:29
1  
Use your bike as weight-lifting object! –  Jahaziel May 22 '12 at 20:59
1  
Get a bmx bike and do bunnyhops or nose manuals. –  dotjoe May 23 '12 at 19:23

6 Answers 6

up vote 10 down vote accepted

The "pure" answer to the question as asked is probably as others have said, climb as much as possible. But perhaps a better answer is to admit that cycling is awesome for aerobic fitness and leg strength but not as great on the upper body.

Obviously, cross-training is an option, but even if you are 100% committed to your bike, you can probably get significant results from two common calisthenics pre and/or post ride: Push-ups and Pull-ups. The key is that you want to develop your chest/shoulders/triceps (pushing) and your back/biceps (pulling), and doing multi-joint exercises is likely more efficient/helpful than isolation exercises. If you can't do pull-ups and don't have access to a lat pulldown machine you can help yourself by using your legs to give yourself a gentle assist. If you have or can scrounge some dumbbells you can do a bit more.

Try this:

  • Do a set of 20-25 pushups, then 8-12 pull-ups, either just before or just after you put on your shorts/jersey.
  • Do a second set 5 minutes later after you've made up your water bottles, etc., put on your shoes, whatever.
  • Pump up your tires and get your bike "ready," then do a third set.

Go for a ride, and try to get in as much climbing as possible. You'll probably be amazed at how quickly your strength will improve just with three sets of good form concentrated upper body calisthenics pre-ride. Again, if you have dumbbells or a weight bench you could do bench presses/military presses, or laterals, and you could do rows to help with the "pull," but the goal isn't really do to a full on weightlifting session, just some quick calisthenics with one effective push and one effective pull exercise and at least two, preferably three sets as you prep for your ride.

share|improve this answer
1  
I have a physiology book that says the following: "[E]xperiments on muscle building have shown that six nearly maximal muscle contractions performed in three sets 3 days a week give approximately optimal increase in muscle strength, without producing chronic muscle fatigue." As you said that is not that much, if one thinks about it! –  heltonbiker Apr 5 '12 at 4:00

I think there are two important ways to use your upper body riding a bicycle:

  • Ride very steep hills, where you need to pull up the handlebar and swing your upper body to counteract the torque on the pedals (specially if you ride a bike without extra-low gears);
  • Riding over technical terrain, like XC mountain bike and other stuff.

While commuting, you can do these (or at least a bit of these) if you choose some unusual route if you live in a hilly area.

If that is not the case, I am afraid riding itself is not enough to provide significant upper-body exercise (except postural "exercise", which might indeed induce health issues if too prolongued).

Hope this helps

share|improve this answer
    
I know this is implicit in the answer but you need to be climbing out of the saddle so it is your upper body doing some of the work. –  dumbledad Nov 26 '12 at 17:15
1  
@dumbledad I disagree. Even if you're in the saddle, there is much flexor-extensor action both in the arms and the erectors of the spine, specially for steep grades, to the point of feeling muscular soreness in the forearms after more gruelling sections. –  heltonbiker Nov 27 '12 at 12:35

Something mentioned before but without explaination:

The position you sit while riding can affect upper body strength. When changing from a long ride on a cruiser to a long ride on a road bike, after the road bike trek I feel my arms working harder from holding more of my body weight up.

The geometry of your frame, seat height and handlebar position can greatly affect how much work your upper body does while cycling. If I had a mountain bike, I wouldn't however try to adjust a mountain bike to road bike dropdowns specifically for this though!

share|improve this answer
    
If you're using your arms to hold up your body weight, you need to reposition your saddle or change your posture so that most of your weight is over the pedals. Sheldon Brown said "good overall bike position would assure that the rider is well balanced and does not have to expend excessive muscular energy in the arms and shoulders to support his weight in any of them. " –  Mike Samuel May 22 '12 at 16:00

Your bike is not a whole body gym. You could do sprints standing in extreme gears, accelerating as fast as possible. Sprinters tend to have developed upper bodies. They don't develop them on the bike, but they use them enough.

share|improve this answer

Biking is not an upper body work out. As a matter of fact: on longer treks I have found my arms getting rather numb. Riding a stationary bicycle that works both arms and legs simultaneously is an upper body workout. Riding a stationary bicycle that just peddles like your standard bicycle is not an upper body work out. Sorry....

Unless you are not using your hands on the handle bars and swinging your arms wildly or flapping them, you are not exercising your upper body while riding a standard bicycle. While exercising: make sure you do get enough liquids when riding and don't overdo it, because it can be a long way home.

share|improve this answer

There is a way to train your upper body while riding, but it's not the way most of people think of. Have you ever looked at pro BMXers arms? I rode BMX myself and can confirm that lots of bunnyhops, manuals and jumps are serious upper back, and whole arms workout. Just think of it, in a bunnyhop you pull with your lower and upper back, together with the arms, then you push using again your back and arms. But I don't know how this could go under common term of riding :-)

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.