FITNESS: 8 Upper Body Functional Strength moves for all riders

A stronger body is a more functional body and whatever kind of riding you are into a little extra upper body strength is going to bring gains. If you ride on the road or gravel you won’t need too much time in the gym to see some real gains on the bike. On the other hand, mountain bikers will need more strength work — generally the gnarlier the trails, the more functional strength needed.

Registered Biokineticist and strength training expert Nelia Harding says these 8 moves, when done properly, will give all riders an excellent foundation of functional strength. Remember, your form through all these movements is key to maximize results so pay special attention to all the details provided.


To lower your risk for injuries, please never skip this step. 10 minutes on any cardio equipment or a skipping rope if you prefer. Then, 10 reps of the Cat-Cow, Bird-Dog, and Push-Up.


SETTING UP: Place your bar on the rack so that you can lift it off without rounding your shoulders. When you lie on the bench your eyes should be in line with the bar. When lying on your bench five points of your body should be grounded; your head, shoulders (shoulder blades should be flat) and bum should be on the bench and your two feet on the floor. At no point of the movement are these points allowed to lift. Place your hands on the bar slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Please refer to the picture below for hand placement. Your thumbs are rotated inward so that the bar is in a slightly diagonal position in your hand. This way the bar can’t roll off your hands while your wrists stay straight during the movement.

Time to lift! Lift the bar off the rack as you straighten your arms and align the bar with your shoulders. Wrists must be straight (not rolled back), think about pushing your pinkies to the ceiling. All reps start from this position.

DOWN: As you bend your arms to lower the bar bring your elbows in to about 45 degrees away from your body. The bar must touch the bottom of your chest. In the bottom position your forearms and wrists should be perpendicular to the floor. The bar should be inline with your nipples or just below. Don’t drop the bar on your chest, keep the tension in you muscles as you touch, immediately push back up. It should take three seconds to go down to your chest.

UP: Push your shoulders into the bench as you extend your elbows. Push the elbows inward as you extend them to prevent them from flaring out.  Do not flare your ribs. Keep your chin tucked in. Push your feet into the floor.

TIP: Think about pushing your body away from the bar rather than the bar away from your body.


Inverted row, functional strength training for cycling as shown by Nelia Harding for Bike Network.

SETTING UP: Pull your bench out from under your bar so when you hang under your bar your legs are slightly bent and feet on the bench. Place your hands in the same position as your bench press and fully grip the bar (push your palm into the bar and then wrap your fingers around) so that you don’t hang by your fingers.

UP: Pull your armpits back to engage your lats, push down on the bar like you are getting out of the pool, and pull up. Touch your chest to the bar and squeeze your shoulder blades together for 2 seconds.

DOWN: Slowly lower yourself down for three seconds until your arms are straight. Do not lose the tension in your lats or round your shoulders at the bottom of your movement.

TIP: Keep your spine aligned and stabilize by using your pelvic floor muscles. If you cannot pull to the top where your chest is touching, place your feet on the floor until you have built up enough strength to lift your feet.


SETTING UP: Stand in a split stance position with your left foot in front facing away from the pulley. Set up the pulley at shoulder height. Stabilize your spine in a neutral position and place your weight on your front foot. Grab the handle with your right hand (opposite to your front foot) in the same type of grip as your bench press. Your thumb must point up to the ceiling and your wrist stays straight. Your elbow must be slightly behind your body and shoulder your open.

FORWARD: Explosively, push forward with your right hand, while your left pulls back to counter your movement. Fully extend your right arm and lock your elbow. Do not rotate your body or round your shoulder. Both hips must point forward throughout the movement.

BACKWARD: As you slowly control back to the start position, ensure that your elbow stays close to your body and keep your shoulder open.

TIP: As you push forward lead with your pinky and keep your shoulder in a neutral position (do not pull it up of push it down).


SETTING UP: The pulley is now moved to the bottom of the pulley system. You will also be in a split stance position, facing toward the pulley. Your back foot and shoulders should form one diagonal line. Put your weight on your front foot and hold the handle in the same way as above. Your shoulder must be in a neutral position. Look at your Push-Up + if you are not sure how to place your shoulder.

BACKWARD: Pull back by while keeping your elbow close to your body. Do not rotate your body, your hips must keep pointing forward. Pull your shoulder blade toward your spine in order to open your shoulder.

FORWARD: As you slowly move back to the starting position, ensure that you extend your arm and don’t round your shoulder. Do not rotate your body.

TIP: Ensure that you feel your right lat and left glute and hamstring working. This is an excellent exercise to work your posterior sling, which is a group of muscles that diagonally work from the right upper body to the left lower body. The key is to sit back into the front leg so that you can stabilize from that glute.


EQUIPMENT: Olympic lifting bar of 25kg and some weights. As you can see in the picture, some gyms have a landmine press apparatus but if your gym doesn’t, just find a corner to push your bar into. You can even use the corner of a weight rack.

SETTING UP: Place your bar in a corner. Stand in a split stance position with your opposite leg in front. So if you are pushing with your right arm, the left foot must be in front. Maintain a neutral spine position.

UP: Push the weight up over your head by extending your elbow. Make sure you push as high as you can by sliding your shoulder blade away from your spine. Do not rotate your body.

DOWN: As you lower the weight slowly, counter your movement with your opposite hand. Open up your shoulder by sliding your shoulder blade back into a neutral position. Ensure that your elbow does not flare out.

TIP: Your back foot and shoulders should be in a diagonal line. Once you have pushed your weight to the top, make sure that you are in a diagonal line from your back foot to your hand. Keep your wrist straight in order to avoid wrist pain during upper body exercises.


SETTING UP: Stand upright with your feet hip-width apart. Flip the kettlebell over and balance it so that your upper arm is in line with your shoulder and your forearm is perpendicular to the floor. Your wrist must be straight and pinky pushing up to the ceiling. The grip is the same as your bench press across the handle of your kettlebell. Place  your shoulder is in a neutral position.

WALK: Walk 40 meters across the room and back while keeping the weight up. This will help improve grip strength and shoulder stability.

TIP: Keep your opposite hand on your ribs to ensure that they do not flare while you are walking. If you are unable to obtain a neutral spine position, lower the weight of the kettlebell. You might need to also work on your shoulder mobility. Ask a Biokineticist to help you.


SETTING UP: Start by getting a proper grip on the bar. Push your palm into the bar and tightly grip your hand around. Hang with your arms straight and your feet slightly forward to prevent your ribs from flaring or pulling into the lower back.

UP: Start by engaging your lats. Pull the armpits slightly back and lift yourself up by opening your shoulders but not yet bending your arms. Once you can feel that activation you can pull yourself up.

DOWN: Lower yourself down slowly, for three seconds. Keep the tension in your muscles, do not relax at the bottom.

TIP: Make sure your shoulders stay away from your ears at all times. If you struggle to pull yourself up, try starting on a box with your arms already bent slightly or wrap a power band over the bar and place one foot in it in order to lift you.


EQUIPMENT: Swiss ball and two dumbells. Make sure your dumbbells cannot roll. If they are not square, place a weight in front of them. You can use any type of bar that is fixed to something. The idea is just to grip onto something for your push-ups.

SETTING UP: Grip onto your bar/dumbell first. Place your feet on the ball and go into a high-plank position. Your spine should be neutral with your neck in line with your spine. Place your hands the same width as your handles on your bike. Your wrists are once again straight and your shoulders in a neutral position.

DOWN: As you lower down your body stays in a strict plank and moves forward and over your hands. Your chin stays tucked in and your nose goes to the floor. Your hands should end up directly under your shoulders.

UP: Start your push-up by leading with your ribs to ensure that you do not flare them on the way up. Keep your elbows in as you push your body away from the floor. Make sure you end with your shoulders directly above your hands.

TIP: Squeeze your feet and glutes together to help you with your balance on the ball.


Here is a link to the program that you can print out and take to the gym. Please use this to write down your weight for each week. You don’t want to just randomly select the weight you feel like doing or try to remember what you did last week. This will impede on your gains. Make sure you take your phone so you can see the instructions for each exercise. You can superset all your exercises. Do this program 1-2 times a week with 2 rest days in between. Do this in conjunction with your lower body program. You can do this program on Monday, the lower body on Wednesday and Friday the upper body again, next week you do the lower body twice and the upper body once. Or you can just do both once a week with two days rest in between. As long as you just do each program once a week you will reap the benefits.

Nelia Harding is a Biokineticist with a special interest in Strength Training. She has a B.Sc. Degree in Human Movement Sciences and Nutrition, a B.Sc. Hons in Biokinetics, an M.Sc in Biokinetics and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association in the USA.


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