Guest Post By Kellan Anderson, CSCS
Click here to download the 12 Week Off-Season Strength & Conditioning Program for Cyclists and be sure to read the article below.
Strength training can be a huge benefit to your cycling performance, and it’s one of the biggest missing links that could perhaps give you that “edge”, and separate you from the predictable training program that most cyclists follow; which is, just cycling. Don’t get me wrong, it’s crucial that you spend time on your bike, and generally the more time spent on your bike, the better you become. But let’s take a closer look at the big picture, what is everyone already doing? Yes, we are all riding, many racing against Strava segments trying to become the next KOM (King of the Mountain).
I see it year after year, people searching for the lightest fastest bike, the next new diet, or sacrificing their relationships just to get those extra miles in each week, but more often than not, they are left disappointed because they have spent all this money, went on an extreme fad diet, and rode a thousand miles more than last year only for a dismal improvement. I’m not saying that a lighter bike, better nutrition, and riding more won’t increase your performance, but at some point you will hit a plateau. “If you do the same, you will remain the same.”
Strength training is a crucial for many of the top cyclists, not only from a performance stand point of increased strength, power output, and cycling economy, but injury prevention as well. As an endurance cyclist you are generally in a fixed position, only using certain muscle groups for long durations, which over time can become detrimental to your body. In order to complement these negative adaptations and reduce the chance of injury, a properly designed strength training program could make all the difference.
Photo by Epic Ebike
It’s important to remember that strength training in the offseason differs from training in season. Most endurance athletes have many false impressions about strength training, and are too apprehensive about increased muscle mass, or a decrease in aerobic efficiency. While this is all possible, it’s important to note that these adaptations will only occur if cycling, or endurance training discontinues for long periods of time, along with not following a proper strength training regimen geared for endurance athletes. Generally, most endurance athletes associate strength training with performing high repetitions with light weights. While this is acceptable at certain times of the year, this type of training alone will not improve your cycling performance.
When you begin training it’s essential to determine how much weight you will need to use for each exercise. In order to determine your loads you will use RPE (rate of perceived exertion). RPE is based off a scale of 1 to 10 to verify how difficult something is; therefore a RPE of 10 is what you could ultimately complete one time in an all-out effort. Using RPE will eliminate the need to find a one rep maximum to determine your weights based off of percentages. Not only is RPE more efficient, it also decreases the chance of injury for anyone who is not familiar with lifting heavy loads. For instance, you wouldn’t take part in your first century ride without having been training for a distance of that magnitude.
RPE is very easy to use, if you are required do 10 repetitions at a RPE of 10, then you need to use a weight that only allows you to complete 10 repetitions. Although we are not using percentages, you could think of an RPE of 6 as 60 percent, this means the weight you choose is 60% of what you could actually perform for the given amount of repetitions. Throughout the program you will begin to have a better understanding of how to use RPE. In order to see results and continue to keep improving it’s important that you record the weights you use in order to refer back to, so you can progressively increase the load as you get stronger.
For the duration of this 12 week strength training program you will be in the weight room three days a week. Throughout this time, it is recommended that you reduce your riding volume, and turn your efforts to the weights. I’m not saying you shouldn’t partake in any type of endurance training; it just means you have to back off on the amount miles you ride. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, without drugs to maintain high cycling volumes while increasing strength. Most athletes will begin to over train, and their performance will take a substantial hit, same goes for strength training in season. When you get closer to your cycling season your efforts will shift back to riding more and your volume in the weight room will decrease. Keep in mind that it is very important to continue to lift during your cycling season in order to maintain the progress you made in the off season.
Whether you continue to strength train three days week, or drop down to one day per week, it’s important to remember that it’s a lot easier to maintain your strength, than to build it. Strength training in season not only helps you finish the season stronger, but it allows you to start the off season in a more superior form than the previous year. This is where you start to see the biggest benefit, rather than each year dropping off completely, and having to start all over.
While you continue to strength training in season your loads will stay reasonably heavy, allowing you to maintain strength, whereas the amount of set and repetitions per set (volume) will decrease, this will help avoid any issue of over training, and allow you to continue to strength train in season without taking away from your performance on the bike. When the cycling season begins, and you start riding more, you will begin to have a better idea of how much strength training your body can tolerate. A good rule of thumb is 2-4 set of 2-5 reps per set, at a RPE of 7-9.
The 12-week off season strength training program is made up of three phases. The first is a four-week preparatory phase. Throughout these four weeks you will create the foundation for your off season strength training. The volume of lifting will increase, and the loads (intensity) will be moderate (generally 3 set of 8 to 12 repetitions), focusing on technique, and addressing any weaknesses.
The second phase is maximum strength. During these four weeks the loads will progressively get heavier, and the repetitions per set will decrease (3-5 sets of 2-6 repetitions on the main movements). This is considered the meat and potatoes of the training regimen. Research has shown that stronger athletes are able to produce higher power outputs, and greater levels of muscular endurance. Therefore, it is critical that we develop strength in order for your offseason to have the payoff. During this phase you will be required to lift heavy loads (with proper technique) in order to get the response necessary to create an adaptation that will allow you to have a higher watt output on the bike.
The last phase is muscular endurance. During this conversion phase you will begin to transfer your strength into the type of endurance necessary for the sport of cycling. It’s important to understand that this phase is dependent on which sport you are training for because this is the phase that transitions you into your sport season. Throughout this phase the volume will dramatically increase while the loads will be lighter, focusing on being able to produce force multiple times (as we do on the bike). While it may not be practical to spend 3 or more hours in the weight room, what we can do is use loads slightly higher than the forces used during cycling to create a similar response much sooner, therefore our bodies will begin to adapt to that stress and be able to put out more force for longer periods of time. An example would be when you have a big climb, or are reaching the last mile of a race; you will be able to push much harder than you would, had you not trained for this in your strength training regimen. In cycling we often measure this by watts; therefore if you have a higher watt output for the duration of your ride, your time will ultimately be faster, which is our ultimate goal.
When you begin your off season strength training, keep in mind the goal for each phase, understand that each phase has a different importance, but together, they create a seamless integration that will have you on your way to crushing PRs and leaving people in admiration. In any competitive sport athletes are always trying to mimic what the best are doing. But, what if the opportunity for you to become the best was right here at your fingertips. During your off season training routine remember that consistency is key, and a lousy workout is better than no workout.
One final note. These workouts can be performed in a traditional gym or a home gym. If convenience is important working out from home may be a better option for you. If that is the case check out these best home gyms for 2017 to explore some options. I wish you the best, and I can’t wait for you to experience the difference these next 12 weeks will have on your cycling performance. Enjoy!
Kellan Anderson was hired by Regional Health Sports Medicine in 2013, to create a performance enhancement program now known as REP (Regional Elite Performance). While working for Regional, Kellan has introduced numerous programs into the sports medicine program. Kellan earned his degree in Exercise Science form Black Hills State University while playing football for the Yellow Jackets. Kellan is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach from the National Strength and Conditioning Association, and holds many other certifications as well. Kellan oversees various positions in the field of strength and conditioning, one being overseeing the strength and conditioning for women’s basketball and cross country at BHSU, as well as the majority of athletes for Spearfish High School, and numerous other clientele. Kellan resides in Spearfish, South Dakota with his wife Darbi and daughter Kaizlee, more often than not you can find him ripping through his local mountain bike trails, or grinding the gravel roads that surround the beautiful Blacks Hills.
For more info you can reach him by:
Twitter @AndersonKellan Instagram
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