It’s that time of year where you’re feeling the benefits of the last 6 months of summer cycling. You’re lighter, ridden further, faster and for longer. You’re love and enthusiasm for cycling is at an all-time high. Fantastic. However, winter is coming and for the keen cyclists, this means fighting the cold, dark, wet weather. For the newbies or good weather cyclists, that means hanging up your bike until spring and losing all your fitness, and starting from square 1 again. That doesn’t need to be the case for either group of riders. A well planned, resistance based strength program will not only keep you going over the winter, it will improve your cycling performance next summer.
The role of strength and conditioning (S&C) in endurance cycling has long been a controversial issue among cyclists, coaches, and cycling scientists. In spite of such reluctance, the incorporation of strength training in endurance cyclists’ preparatory period for a new season has received increasing attention during the last 2 decades.
What is strength and conditioning?
S&C is lifting heavy weights and building big muscles right? Wrong. S&C encompasses the entire development of the athlete and what is needed to improve physical performance as well as injury prevention. This includes plyometrics, speed and agility, endurance and core stability with strength training being just one piece of the jigsaw.
That said, for endurance cyclists, the first stages of your winter training program should include a quality resistance based program. You may see an increase in weight due to muscle gain during this period. This, in turn will have a detrimental effect on our power to weight ratio (expressed in watts per kilogram). But let’s be honest. We can all lose more body fat that we will put on muscle mass.
First of all, you need to work out your cycling strengths and weaknesses. Include within this any injuries, cycling related or not, within this review. This may include lower back pain, chronic fatigue after X+ hours of cycling, in efficient pedalling style, one leg stronger than the other etc. From there you should design a program to include 4 lower body exercises, plus abdominal and upper body exercises. Perform these 2-3 times per week (depending on time available to train).
For optimal outcomes, it is recommend maximal effort in the concentric, cycling-specific phase. The concentric phase should also be performed as quickly as possible, while the eccentric, non-cycling-specific phase should be performed more slowly (lasting ~2-3 s). Using a Back Squat as an example, from the starting position, lower to a seated position should take 2-3 seconds followed by an explosive movement (lasting ~1 s) back to starting position.
You may feel some muscle soreness or heavy legs for the first 2-3 weeks of strength training so it is important to take it easy with any endurance training while on the bike. For this reason, you should start weight training as soon as possible as endurance training has a lower priority in the phase of the season.
Technique, technique, technique
It is important to remember that S&C is not just about performance gains, but also injury prevention. Therefore, technique has a far higher priority than moving as much weight as possible. A Back Squat for example, not only works the muscles in the legs, but also core and upper body. If you have a weak lower back, lifting a heavy weight with poor technique could have a catastrophic impact on life in general, not just your cycling!!
Get professional advice
Writing a personalised S&C program can be a daunting task. In order to get the best possible training plan (based around your goals for next year), you should work with a discipline specific coach. British Cycling qualified coaches cover Road & Time Trial, Mountain Bike, Track and BMX. Don’t just join a gym and work out in silence. There are professional staff on hand to oversee technique, weights and progressions so ask them for advice and technique. You may also want to enlist the services of a qualified Strength and Conditioning coach or personal trainer. If this is the case, don’t go for any old trainer. Ensure that they have a keen interest in cycling and training cyclists.