May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Bodywork, May 1997

By Jim Harmon

Please excuse hard-core cyclists for that cocky post-ride walk of theirs — they're just a bit stiff from an exercise that arguably strengthens and tones the sum of your leg muscles more thoroughly than any other activity. The downstroke works the lateral and medial quadriceps, the upstroke works the hamstrings, and the stroke across the bottom taxes the calves. The glutes benefit, too.

All this is to the good, obviously, but if you're not interested in taking over where Miguel Indurain left off, don't sweat the technique: Even a sloppy pedal stroke will do quite a lot for your legs, though mostly your quads. "The less skilled you are, the harder a workout you'll actually get," says Craig Griffin, endurance track coach for USA Cycling. Griffin would have us all spinning elegantly round circles at a high cadence, but if you're employing your bike strictly to beef up your gams, you can safely forget such purist stuff and grunt away in a too-big gear.

The Routine
Sunday: For the longest ride of the week, clock the distance you can cover in two hours, keeping your heart rate at about two-thirds of your maximum. Use this figure as a benchmark, calculating mileage for each day based on Sunday's distance.

Monday: Rest.

Tuesday: Ride 60 percent of your Sunday distance. Limit your heart rate to no more than 70 percent of your max.

Wednesday: Ride about 90 percent of Sunday's mileage, at two-thirds of your max heart rate.

Thursday: Do a harder ride of 75 percent of Sunday's distance. At midride, include three five- to ten-minute "strength endurance" intervals, pedaling slower than 60 rpm in a big gear. Don't push your heart rate over about 70 percent of your max. Today's the day to make your quads, hamstrings, and glutes sing soprano.

Friday: Ride 40 percent of Sunday's distance in the name of resting recovery.

Saturday: Do 80 percent of your Sunday distance with an eye toward specificity. Include about six 20-second sprints in a large gear, pedaling at 80 rpm. "This is a fairly unstructured exercise, like fartlek training," Griffin explains, "the purpose being to work on accelerating out of the seat while properly balanced."

Jim Harmon, a longtime contributor to Outside, runs on the sand in Long Beach, New York.

Photograph by David Roth

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