The main purpose of Cycling strength is the ability to recruit more muscle fibers when necessary.
But normal cycling does not cause this to happen. 1) The body subconsciously attempts to do everything as easily as possible, to conserve energy. 2) Cycling in nature is an endurance sport. 3) to race well, you must A) conserve energy sometimes and at others either maintain or expend tremendous amounts of energy.
The body has an inherent desire to do something as easily as possible, in essence you body naturally wants to cheat. Something to do with caveman instincts. Gotta do something? Your body tries to use as little muscle as possible to do it, thus saving muscle strength for later. The problem for cyclists is that at some points, you will want as much muscle fiber recruitment as possible – whether that is for the decisive attack to be in the break, the final sprint of a race, or just the sprint to avoid stopping before a light turns red. Each of these actions will be better performed if your body is able to recruit more muscle fibers to do the work.
Cycling strength is created in 2 main ways: 1) Gym workouts 2) Training in the Mountains or Hill Repeats.
To do this you must overload the muscle fibers that your body is currently recruiting. 1 of the simplest ways to do this is a basic ‘Wall Sit’.
To do a Wall Sit, put your back up against a wall and slide down into a sitting position (thighs parallel with the ground). Your Knees and Hips should each be at a 90 degree angle. Your hips, knees, and ankles should all be the same width apart.
Use your heels to press your hips, shoulders and head into the wall. Within about 30 seconds you should feel areas of your quads start to quiver as they tire out, keep holding because this is what will cause other muscles to be engaged to do the necessary work. This is the start of greater muscle recruitment.
At first 30 seconds of this exercise may seem like an hour, but as you progress with this exercise you should get up to doing a minute each set.
As my clients have been progressing, then we will do the wall-sit and do a weighted goblet squat almost immediately after.
This is a way of tiring out the legs, then challenging them to push even harder in a functional way to stimulate muscle strength. It sucks, but it makes Pistons out of your legs!
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Train slow, move slow – train fast, and move with Power!
This doesn’t just mean that if you train fast you will have power……
I went out for a spin on a Friday before some Gold Sprints at Peachtree Bikes – but I realized I would waste my time attempting to sprint that night. My legs didn’t have the turn-over required to spin a gear that fast to do well in the sprints. I was having to put too much effort into attempting to spin much above 100 rpm’s…. but it is to be expected, especially when you consider where I am in the training plan.
Although this is disappointing, it is not unexpected, I have been doing a full cold, wet, snow/ice winter of gym workouts this year. Not a lot of heavy lifting, but more true strength building exercises, including weighted lunges & single leg squats. To complement the work in the gym, I have been doing hill repeats at least once a week. When I’m doing the hill climbing my RPM’s are around 70, and the focus is on leg strength – not cadence or Heart Rate. So currently my legs are more used to slowly grinding their way uphill, not turning over the pedals for the county line sprints. So, to suddenly ask my legs to turn over 150 RPM’s for 60 seconds is not suddenly going to be possible!
The good thing about a training plan is things are in phases and I know that the leg turnover comes around much faster than the strength building. Although it has taken most of the winter to build the strength of doing 1 leg squats, it will only be a matter of several weeks to get the legs to increase their turnover again.
As the strength from climbing is combined with the efficient pedal turnover the end result will be power to the pedals. And now that we are into the plyometric phase of the training regime, this is already taking place.
As disappointing as this is b/c I’m not racing in a great event, I know that as I add more speed to my training that the form and turnover of my legs will be a greater reward for the small sacrifice. This is truly where having a plan for the season allows small things like this much more understandable when you are able to look at the big picture and remember the seasons goals, not just what sounds fun this week.
When you are training for a big goal or event sometimes the mind and body respond in funny ways. Some weeks are very challenging physically and sometimes they become challenging mentally. I always let my clients know ahead of time that this is part of the process of becoming stronger. I can even tell them which week in their training plan it will happen & why it will be better the following week.
I find that 1 of the best things about accepting these thoughts as part of the process is although they still pop-up, you don’t dwell on them. Although this does not prevent these self-defeating thoughts from entering the mind, it does help you accept them and push them aside, understanding that it is expected and only temporary. And that just around the corner from this is growth and Strength!
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Everyone hears that they should weight train to gain strength. That’s true, take 2 athletes with the same body/endurance & the one that is 10% stronger will always win!
When you go to the gym is most of your strength training take place with 1 leg or 2? Most equipment in the weight room is designed for you to use 2 legs – why? Because the training philosophy that has dominated the industry for the past decade has been body building – building large amounts of muscle, and to impress the judges on stage. But does all the muscle size translate into speed & endurance?
When you train and race, all the force production is generated with single leg contractions – running, only 1 leg is on the ground at a time. Cycling, 1 leg is creating the force while the other tries to pull-up or at least not interfere.
So if your workouts should help you become better, faster, stronger shouldn’t your weight training also include specificity to your sport – for example single leg training.
I like to warm-up with squats on a balance board – each leg has to press equally or the board will flop to one side. I will follow this exercise with cone reaches on one leg – this requires using balance/stabilization as well as hamstring & glute activation.
Next I often do lunges – trying not to use the back leg and using the front leg as much as possible. Also, with doing single leg lunges, I find out if 1 leg is producing more power than the other leg. Optimally, both legs produce an equal amount of power!
I will follow this up with another single leg hamstring exercise that mimics the cycling and running foot/leg action, such as hamstring roll-ins on a stability ball.
I always use the best form possible & rely on Quality over Quantity of each exercise – do something until I can no longer hold proper form – then stop, move on to the next exercise.
I hope you like some of these tips and put the ideas behind them to use in your next workout!
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