Strength training Pre-season, In-season, and Post-Season
Cycling is not synonymous with strength training. Where power to weight ratios rule supreme, the idea of packing on muscle scares most. The “winter weight gain” sends chills down the spine of the hardcore racers. Weight is easier to gain than watts and to reckless abandon, the ever diligent cyclist works tirelessly to minimize “the gain” during the off-season.
Allow yourself a chance to rethink strength training……
The first thought that comes to mind with strength training is building muscle. It is about increasing muscle mass. This is getting stronger and this is ultimately the goal.
Contrary to this thought, what if strength training was thought of as creating an efficient muscle; training muscles to be 100% efficient in the job they are designed for? What if a training was about creating movement patterns that tapped into the full potential of available power? What if strength training taught you how to maximize force production?
Here at Speedcenter, it is our belief that creating a powerful and balanced, general athlete, will create a powerful and balanced cyclist. If you haven’t yet had the chance, read this article by Kenneth Lundgren, Life in the Gym for the Cyclist, as it paints a great picture. This article touches on the foundations of what strength training should look like for the competitive cyclist but also for the cycling enthusiast.
Strength training, like proper periodized cycling training, is best performed with solid structure and planning. Proper planning and execution will produce gains more quickly and noticeably. Through effective programming athletes can strength train year round without compromising performance on the bike.
*Before we dive into the three “seasons” of strength training, let me be clear that honest and clear communication is a must between athlete and coach. Unlike on-bike work with power meter, we are unable to clearly track the stress of strength training. Training with power and TSS (training stress score) helps a coach manage the workload but only for that portion. Athletes must be in-tune with their bodies and identify the postive and negative effects related to on-bike performance. Your coach can begin to understand the relationship between the on-bike and strength training but a simple rider diary can do wonders in creating a balanced work load that allows for meaningful progression.
Depending on your discipline of focus, this period of the year will vary but for clarity we will assume this for a Road focused athlete. Typically the Pre-season will run from Dec-March here in the NE.
During the first month, athletes should look to complete all work with body weight exercises. The focus here is to begin to create efficient patterns that allow for the most powerful movements possible. Exercise choice is important here but also how they are completed. The squat, a common exercise, is a great exercise and perhaps the most beneficial. However, it is also the most likely to be performed incorrectly. It is essential to master the basics the first before adding intensity.
Months 2-3, we look to increase intensity. Intensity can be increased in various ways and this should be dependent on what your focus discipline is. Be reminded though, as you increase intensity, the integrity of the movement must be preserved as the movement pattern is most important. If the integrity is lost, revert to a lower intensity and build back up slowly.
The last month of this block should be reserved for an intense focus on your discipline. If you are a sprinter, you should look towards max power efforts. General road riders should look towards performing with moderately heavy loads. Mountain bike and Cyclocross should look towards performing with moderately heavy loads with a focus of repeatability and speed.
When racing starts, dedicated training time is concentrated around the bike. Rightfully so, but it does not mean giving up on strength training. It’s important to continue moving to retain a connection to all of the work that you have just accomplished. The biggest difference here is that much of this strength work should be done only with body weight. The idea here is to allow for full range of motion in movement with relatively low stress to combat the repetitive and restricted range of motions seen in cycling.
As your season winds down, enjoy some down time. Leisure riding and cross training is highly beneficial in prepping the body for the “In-season” strength training. The variety provided by the cross training will wake the body from the cycling slumber – the mundane, repetitive pedal stroke. Stimulate the body by performing a variety of physical activity – hiking, cross country skiing, yoga, etc… In doing so we begin to acclimatize the body for the coming months, preventing (or lessening) the utter shock of the of day 1 in the gym.
Whatever path you choose, remember that proper programming and integrity of movement are the most important. In order to maximize your time in the gym, the focus needs to be razor sharp. Just as you train for cycling with specific goals, you should strength train with goals as well and these two goals should be aligned to allow for peak performance for when it matters for you.
To the common question, “As a cyclist, should I lift weights?”, I ask why aren’t you? Why aren’t you doing everything to be your best? Don’t be scared about putting on weight, you aren’t going to turn into Arnold. Appropriate programming is the key to maximizing results.