Strength training for cyclists – find it on the wall…


…and not the bonking kind!

Since falling well and truly in love with cycling all strength training has taken a back seat. Whilst this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, there are of course areas that I should continue to work on, for example strength and conditioning. The last thing I want is an injury. I try to go to yoga when I can but recently I rediscovered a childhood activity that tested and strength trained me in a new and fun way.


Now for someone who was and still is to a certain extent scared of heights and falling climbing might not seem like a good idea but I started off with bouldering. Using my arms, core and legs to help navigate different routes came back to me incredibly naturally and easily.

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I have also now tried climbing, at the West 1 Climbing Wall, with a rope and a harness for the first time in about 14 years! It was terrifying. Which considering I cycle on the roads of central London might seem ridiculous but it’s true. The hardest part for me wasn’t the climbing. Like a lot of sports climbing requires focus and strategic thinking which means all other thoughts vanish. When you are focused on moving forwards, or rather upwards, your mind is on the wall. Which hold for the hand next, which for the foot. You are looking up and the floor and thoughts of height vanished from my mind. Until you reach the top. You can’t keep climbing forever (unfortunately).

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Climbing vs Bouldering

Unlike bouldering where you climb down, on the rope walls you are required to abseil. The “lean back” moment is hands down the worst moment. I suppose you could say it’s because I’m independent and I’m not good at handing over control to someone else. Maybe that is it. Maybe it is just the over-riding fear of falling. Whatever it is, or was, it got easier each time I climbed. By the last wall, the fear of that moment no longer dominated my entire ascent.

Bouldering also is less time consuming and a bit more social. You can all be bouldering at the same time, or each route is much shorter, so your rest and recovery time is shorter. All in all this means that over the space of an hour you ‘do’ a lot more climbing and therefore get a more intense ‘workout’.

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Strength Training

It was the day after my initial return to the climbing wall for bouldering that I really felt effects. Muscles I hadn’t used since I was in a gym weight lifting and doing designated “upper body” workouts were aching.

Not only my arms though, my abs and core. I have strong legs from running and cycling so these didn’t ache at all. You only really use your legs to push yourself up and hold your upright (nothing unusual there). It is your arms and core that lead and stabilise you, keeping you on the wall. Your arms, hands and shoulders reach, pull, hold and support you.

Benefits for a cyclist

Muscles that will only benefit a cyclist further:

  • Strong core – a strong core isn’t the easiest thing to get from just cycling but is a real benefit to enable you to ride strong. The best thing about climbing is you don’t even realise you are using your core particularly in the same way if you were doing 100 sit ups!
  • Stronger arms and shoulders – it isn’t just the strength that benefits but the ability to stabilise yourself on the wall and the bike. Strong arms don’t need to be “big” arms, we all know that is not a cycling physique 😉 but the strength also to support the body over the handlebars, or when cycling on the drops. Climbing and bouldering definitely give you strength for this.
  • Tougher hands – there is nothing soft, or comfortable about climbing holds. You come away from the wall with calluses forming and your fingers aching. Another body part we rely on heavily on the bike, therefore ‘training’ that benefits us. Just as long as you don’t have a really long ride that same day!

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The Buzz

As with any exercise the post “buzz” is the best. The ache the next day was a good ache, all over. An ache that says you have woken up old muscles, given them a new lease of life.

All the fears, all the pain I had felt in my fingers gone.

The adrenaline when you get back to the wall floor after each climb and look up at how far you got.

All these thing make climbing the most fun you can have with indoor training.

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Where to go:

If you are based in London then there are loads of great options. Climbing is pretty ‘on trend’ right now:

White Spider, Tolworth

West 1 Climbing Wall, Marylebone

The Climbing Hanger, Parsons Green

If you aren’t in London check out Everyone Active and search your area with a filter on climbing walls to find your nearest wall.

Happy Climbing.


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