Without fail every October and November conversations surrounding strength training for cycling always surface. The purpose of this blog is to touch on the why behind a focused strength training plan and offer up a template allowing you to construct your own plan. Much like your on the bike cycling specific training, your strength work should focus on your weaknesses and properly equip you to meet the demands of events you will see in 2016. Before we dive in its important to understand that power is defined as force times speed, more power comes about by pedaling faster for the same force, delivering more force, or a combination of the two. Modern science and the correlating studies show that strength training can in fact help one increase force and ultimately enhance various facets of ones training.
Why should I have a strength training plan?
- A number of studies reflect that after age 40, people generally lose 8 % or more of their muscle mass each decade, a process that accelerates significantly after age 70. A closer examination shows a loss of 1-2% percent of muscle mass a year after age 50, on average, or about 30 percent between age 50 and 70. Less lean muscle mass generally means less strength and a decline in mobility.
- Muscle imbalances and injures can in many instances be remedied and prevented through the use of a balanced strength training regimen.
- A balanced strength training plan can increase aerobic strength and overall endurance. Both of which are pillars in the sport of cycling.
- A strength training plan can increase bone density and muscle tone.
Muscle imbalance is hands down the most prevalent issue I encounter with athletes I work with. This is a situation where two groups of muscles that are designed to work with or against each other enter a state where one set becomes stronger or weaker; leading to compensation which creates unequal forces at an associated joint or a pain syndrome in the muscles themselves. For example, a muscle having to work against another stronger muscle may be limited in ROM (range of motion), or might have to work harder as a result. This results to tissue breakdown and increased fatigue. Regardless of ones age and aspirations the benefits associated with weight training are undeniable.
The Facts and Supporting Studies
There certainly isnt any shortage of information circulating on the web surrounding this topic. To drive the point home I took two studies from respected medical journals. Below are two studies and the connecting takeaways.
Rønnestad, Hansen, and Raastad 2010 (40km TT) (2010 Abstract A)
Rønnestad, Hansen, and Raastad 2011 (185min Test) (2011 Abstract B)
The test took 20 competitive cyclists and placed them in two groups. The scope was to evaluate the effectiveness of pre-season and in season strength training. One group followed a 12 weeks preparation phase that was then followed by a 13 week in season program. The other group was following an endurance only gym routine without a maintenance phase. The tangibles both abstracts tested were oxygen consumption, muscle cross-section area, and strength. Lastly, the exercises within the abstract were designed to resemble cycling specific motions and included half squat, recumbent single leg press, standing one leg hip flexion, and ankle plantar flexion.
Results 2010 Abstract A: 40 Minute TT
- Leg strength increased by 23% in the weight training group and was maintained over the duration of the study. Leg strength did not increase in the endurance group.
Results 2011 Abstract B: 185 Minute sub max effort with a 5 minute all-out effort at the end
- In forty-minute time trial tests, the strength group increased their mean power by 8% during the preparation phase and then an additional 6% by the end of the competition phase. The endurance group increased mean power by 4% at the end of the preparation phase.
- The strength group showed a lower heart rate and oxygen consumption during the last hour of the 185-minute exercise when compared to the endurance group.
- The strength group increased mean power output during the final five-minute sprint by 7.8% compared to no increase in the endurance group.
There is no disputing the raw benefits associated with a structured strength training plan. In closing these benefits become more pertinent as the athlete ages given the steady decline in muscle after the age of 40. Look at the below format as a reference point when designing your own plan.
Making a Plan:
Much like a cycling specific plan, your weight training regimen will return the best results when formatted in a periodized fashion. This is a fancy way of saying a tiered approach that offers various levels of intensities and variations in exercises over time. Right off the bat you're going to want to identify your greatest limiter(s) and construct a plan to remedy the issue(s). Is your core and in particular lower back bothering you? Do you have good snap with your sprint but cant seem to stay on top of the gear long enough to podium in uphill drags? Start the process off right by looking subjectively and identify limiters. Focus your stabilization phase around growing those areas. Remain consistent, track the workouts with a journal or within Training Peaks, and do the WORK! Below is a sample of something you can use to get you from to November-May
- Transition Phase: Recovery period typically 10-21 days following the last race of the season but keep in mind,-everyone varies. Your motivation and body need to be in a position to really allow you to put your head down and stay consistent.
- Stabilization: 6-8 weeks: Long slow movements with the focus on lengthening reps and range of movement. This is the ideal phase to address weaknesses and muscle imbalances.
- Strength: 3-6 weeks combining two different exercises back to back (stability effort after a strength effort) tread lightly with the on the bike intensity during this period of time. The timing of the strength phase will overlap with the base training segment of your training.
- Power/ Muscle Endurance: 6-8 week phase designed to build power: The routine includes one power effort followed by a strength effort. Imagine a dead lift followed by dumbbell bench press. This phase focuses on high reps and is the most important phase. This phase stresses aerobic metabolism. So for a cyclist that needs to pedal at 90-100 revolutions per minute (rpm) over many hours in competition, the muscle endurance phase needs to focus on many repetitions per set with less recovery between sets.
- Maintenance: 1 session per week with no lifting the week of A rate events.
Typical pitfalls arise when doing consultant work with Florida racers. The trend lies in the athlete carrying too much on the bike intensity which minimizes the quality of the gym work. Start light and don't start until you're fully committed to the next season. Ease into the program, this isn't power-lifting. Have fun with both plans and remain flexible, life will inevitable happen, you need a plan that meshes with your obligations. Have an at home routine that you can implement if you miss the gym. You don't need a gym to build and maintain core strength.
Lifting will not only improve your power but will also trickle over into other areas of your life. Less injuries means more riding. More riding equates to a happier faster you. The gains are real and if your aim is to make 2016 your breakout year, it starts now! Have questions regarding your regime or need someone to take a second look, call or email me.
Ronnestad, B.R., Hansen, E.A., & Raastad, T. (2010). In-season strength maintenance training increases well-trained cyclists' performance. DOI; 10.1007/s00421-010-1622-4. European Journal of Applied Physiology. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20799042
Ronnestad, B.R., Hansen, E.A., & Raastad, T. (2011). Strength training improves 5-min all-out performance following 185 min of cycling. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. DOI; 10.1111/j.1600-0838.2009.01035.x. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19903319