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Indoor Cycling: A Rower’s Primer

PHOTOS AND STORY BY LIZ HINLEY

For rowers looking to gain an edge in the boat, recover from pesky injuries, or want to have an option for cross-training that supports rowing fitness, cycling is a beneficial tool. The main muscle groups required in cycling are similar for rowing. The key muscles to pay attention to are the quadriceps, gluteal, and hamstring muscles. 

Quadriceps
Cycling-Drives the pedal downwards (from 3 o’clock to 6 o’clock) by extending the knee
Quadriceps
Rowing-Applies initial pressure to the footboard by extending the knee
Gluteal
Cycling-Drives the pedal out and down (from 12 o’clock to 3 o’clock) by extending the hip
Gluteal
Rowing-Applies ‘follow-through’ pressure into the footboard during drive phase by extending the hip
Hamstrings
Cycling-Brings the pedal back and up (from 7 o’clock to 10 o’clock) by flexing the knee
Hamstrings
Rowing-Brings the boat up underneath during the recovery phase before the catch by flexing the knee

Keep these muscles in mind as you hop on the bike for your next ride. For those that ride on stationary bicycles, here are some tips: 

  • Set the seat height to about hip level when standing on the ground. You want to have a soft bend in the knee when the pedal is at the bottom (6 o’clock) to avoid locking out the knee or having to reach for the pedals (too high), or putting strain on the knees with too much flexion (too short). 
  • Elbows and shoulders should stay relaxed with very little bodyweight leaning on the handlebars. The elbows will have a slight bend. If they are stiff and straight, try adjusting the handlebars a little closer to the body. If they are too bent and tense towards the body, try moving the handlebars a little farther away. 
  • Most stationary bicycles will have flat pedals with straps that tighten over gym shoes. To properly engage the hamstring be sure to use the straps. Be careful when getting on and off, however, as you are strapped to the pedals. If there are no straps, riding is still possible just be prepared to feel the quadriceps engage the most. 

Here are two, 30-minute workouts you can do on the bike that can give your rowing a little boost: 

Technical and motor activation: Doing a single-leg work can help fine-tune how to keep consistent pressure on the pedal all the way around the stroke (entire clock face). Alternate pedaling with one leg at a time and then apply that focus to the 2-minute sections to practice. 

5-10 minute warm-up

(3x) 30s right leg only pedal, 2 minutes both legs, 30s Left leg only, 2 minutes both legs, 

5-minute easy cooldown

To get that heart-pounding: Using cadence (rpm) with various resistances can enhance pedal control and efficiency. 

5 minutes warm-up

(2x) 20s Right leg only pedal, 1 minute both legs, 20s left leg only pedal, 1 minute both legs 

Set resistance to low

(3x) 10s high cadence with high effort, 50s easy pedal (aim to keep seated on the saddle avoiding any excessive bouncing) 5 minutes steady pedal

Set resistance to high 

(3x) 15s low cadence with high effort 45  easy pedal  (feel those large muscle groups drive the pedal around allowing the cadence to be low but the resistance being high) 5 minutes easy cool down

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