Four Reasons to Train Strength for Cycling
As the winter months have now drawn in it’s funny to see cyclists clamour for the their indoor cycling classes. I can certainly understand why they may wish to continue with the peddling. After all it is the closest thing to being on their actual bikes.
If you are a recreational cyclist then that may just about be enough. One thing I’ve come to learn is that there is no such thing as ‘just’ a recreational cyclist. We all get hooked at some point and that means we start to look at our averages. Speed, cadence, power, times and any other performance indicator that helps us improve are scrutinised. The statistics are mainly the individual vs themselves and being reflective about improvement.
I’ve a few friends doing the Inverness ETAP next April. They are pretty much all saying they want to improve their time from last year. They will reminisce about that hill (steep and about five miles long – for those that don’t know it) or where their average time either failed or worked for them to get that target time!
So, here is the crunch as the light hours diminish, how do we get better with less time on the road? Indoor cycling, right? Well, that may not be the best approach for us. It will certainly have its place and smashing circles with the feet will help advance us a little. But it could also hold us back with our longer-term goals.
Our longer-term goals should look at the whole performance requirement. When cycling any meaningful distance, it is very likely that the terrain will differ substantially. Inverness ETAP has one monster of an incline that seems to catch people out every year. We are likely missing that training opportunity and getting it wrong!
My view in part, is that the majority of cyclist forget strength training. There are a number of benefits to strength training for cyclists:
- You are stronger for longer
- Get over fitness plateaus
- Avoid injury
- General health benefits
Being stronger for longer may be an obvious one, but when a lot of people think about strength training Eddie Hall or Arnold Schwazenegger come to mind. The reality of the situation is far from even close to them and their physiques.
First you build a winter programme around getting stronger. Not just the legs, the whole body should be considered. Create some balance in the whole frame. It’s also a good time to think about where you may be having issues and focus some much-needed TLC in those areas. Designing that programme should be straight forward and you may find that as you invest time across the whole, some of those issues will subsided. Flexibility and Mobility should be a priority through the whole year and it’s also an area to maintain and improve through off season training.
We develop strength through (relatively) heavy resistance with relatively low repetitions and higher sets than you may expect. Once you have started to lift your strength thresholds it will be time to bring more focus to your performance elements. Strength will and should still form the basis of your programme. power generation and muscular endurance start to be the focus. A natural addition here as you increase loads and speeds and reduce rest, is that of cardio-vascular performance. Pure strength is generally the longest attribute to develop, where conditioning can be the quickest, which is why there is a focus for strength training at the start of most off-season or winter training.
Getting over fitness plateaus is another reason to strength train. The body will tire of doing the same thing week in, week out. We need variance to keep our long-term development on track. That is why we see periodisation training formats in all professional sports programmes. They recover, build/develop, refine and perform. The body must have adequate recovery to develop as cycling is very repetitive by nature, this area should be a key consideration.
Which brings us on nicely to the next benefit, avoiding injury. The body was not designed for bikes and bikes are designed for the terrain that they are used on. The human body is only one of a number of design considerations. Lower back issues with road cyclists are well reported. This is due to the position we place ourselves in. We can obviously optimise this, but it is less than ideal for our body, it generally doesn’t like being in a fixed position for long periods of time. By training in different ways, we can strengthen those areas prone to injury and mobilise tight or stiff areas. It’s a way of helping the body open-up and release a lot of the tension we develop in sports that are repetitive like cycling.
Better Long-term Health
Other health benefits of strength training are many and varied, but one that has been talked about a lot in the last year is that of a former Olympic cycling athlete having weakened bone structures as a result of her cycle training. Resistance training, especially weight training has been proved to improve not only bone structures and, the obvious, muscle, but also ligament strength and stability. The stresses it imposes upon the body are not just unilateral. The body’s adaptation to weight training is many and varied, if done correctly, it’s a good thing for us all.
In the last year I’ve worked with a number of cyclists. They have specifically worked on their strength and endurance. Their aims have been varied.
One Client has increased his lean mass around his thighs. He worked hard to develop his strength endurance whilst trying not to increase his weight by too much. A result of this strength and mass increase was his Inverness ETAP overall time was down and the ‘hill’ that everyone dreads was smashed at a much faster average speed. This improvement enabled him to focus more on the other areas of the route and improve his time by a significant margin of 30 minutes. Strangely, because of time constraints, his time ‘on road’ before the event was also down. This meant that his training was far more focused. He had decent rest periods between gym and road sessions.
Another client overcome some repetitive knee injuries, by strengthening her quadriceps and deeper glute muscles. These accessory sessions helped her improve how the knee tracks through the whole pedal movement and increase knee stability when generating power quickly and pain free!
Another cyclist who is on the Endro circuit has spent several moths developing strength, then migrating to power and endurance as the season neared. Her ability to sustain a high work rate on demand has been a step change this season. This was achieved by doing the hours in the gym and building the body that her sport requires. It is all about performance, not just the numbers, but the satisfaction of obliterating the field in front of her! It was so satisfying to hear the excitement in her voice after her race performances.
All the cyclists I know have pretty good endurance. It goes without saying that cycling for an hour or two a few times a week is always going to have a positive influence on this aspect of your fitness. But most of these guys and girls also monitor their average speed, elevations and times. It’s when we look at these areas in any depth, we can start to see how strength training helps to improve your performance!
If you want to know more, then get in touch with us at Forty Four. We run bespoke scaled Strength and Conditioning Programmes for all abilities and sports. We love nothing more than helping people achieve their goals and get better at the sports they love.