Coach Christopher Thomas explains why strength training, especially during the off-season, is key to becoming a better cyclist.
Appropriate strength training in the off-season can lead to significant improvements during the race season. The key is to stay patient. This patience can be one of the hardest elements for most of us type-AAA personalities, who demand immediate gratification. However, if implemented correctly, the benefits of exercise-specific strength training can be extraordinary.
A proper yearly training cycle allows for off-season recovery and strength focus. This is the time of year when the muscular system becomes more significant than the aerobic system. As the year progresses and the training cycle shifts into the build and peak phase, the aerobic system will catch up and surpass the muscular. However, the goal is to have this shift happen later in the season and at a higher power point than in previous years.
Here’s a home-based workout that does not require any major equipment. The idea is to have a convenient power workout that can be completed each week without having to go the gym. This workout should take one hour in total duration, and its key point is to build exercise-specific strength.
A proper, natural progression warm-up should precede the focused work to follow. The first five minutes should be used to let the legs adjust to spinning at a minimal effort (low heart rate: very easy). The next five minutes should be used to gradually build up to a decent effort (heart rate elevates by 10 beats per minute: moderate effort). A good 10-minute block of drills should follow. Two very good drills to incorporate into any warm-up are one-legged spinning and 30-second intervals of higher cadence work (more than 110 rpm) at lower resistance.
The heart of the workout, or main set, will follow. Each interval should last a total of 10 minutes. The interval starts with a superset of leg strength exercises. The strength exercises are performed first in order to fire or activate the muscles. A proper superset is performed with as little rest as possible before engaging in the next exercise. The first exercise is the walking lunge. The main focus for this exercise should be on engaging the core, keeping the neck neutral with the spine, and not letting the front knee move ahead of the foot. The second exercise is the hamstring curl. This should be done in the supine position on the floor with the heels over the top of an exercise ball.
Beginners should keep their gluteus touching the floor, while intermediate/advanced athletes can perform the curls with the gluteus raised. The third exercise is the jumping squat. Once again the core needs to be engaged with the neck neutral with the spine. The upper body should be upright and the squat motion should not go beyond 90 degrees. Then the explosion up should have a controlled jump that lands softly. The fourth and final exercise is the eccentric (focus on downward motion of the calf raise rather than the upward motion) calf extension. This should be a one-second upward motion followed by a controlled three-second downward motion.
Once the strength exercises are completed, the bike portion begins. The idea is to get right up to the prescribed effort level and try to hold it for the remainder of the 10 minutes. This is a strength workout and therefore the second and third intervals have lower cadence prescriptions. The first interval is important to set the stage for the intervals to follow. I recommend performing this workout once or twice per week during the off-season. This is a tremendous way to build explosive bike strength for the next race season. This strength session can also replace one of your regular weekly gym sessions.
Bike Trainer/Weight Combo
Bike Warm-up: 20 minutes of gradually building spin and to include bike drills.
- Superset strength exercises: 25-30 reps
- Walking lunges, hamstring curls using a exercise ball, jumping squats (no weight), eccentric calf extensions
- Bike: finish the 10 minutes (if the strength movements take you four minutes, then bike for six minutes) HR Low Zone 2
- Cadence: 85-95
- Repeat strength exercises
- Bike until the 10-minute mark HR High Zone 2
- Cadence: 75-80
- Repeat strength exercises
- Bike until the 10-minute mark, HR Zone 3
- Cadence: 80-85
Cool-down: 10 minutes of easy spinning
Christopher Thomas is an expert coach with LifeSport Coaching, Lifesportcoaching.com. Christopher is certified in personal training and weight room instruction from ACSM and AFAA, and as a Youth Fitness Trainer and Specialist in Fitness for Older Adults by the International Sports Sciences Association. He was named the 2009 USA Triathlon Amateur Athlete of the Year.
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