How do you get better at cycling? The most obvious way is by spending time on your bike. There is no denying that you cannot improve as a cyclist without actually cycling. The obvious aside, how else can you improve your cycling performance?
Strength training is sometimes overlooked in terms of importance. So much focus is put on the building of endurance through aerobic and anaerobic exercises that strength training is all but forgotten. However, a strict strength training regimen can greatly improve your performance. Strength training should take place during cycling season as well as during the off-season.
Strength training will allow you to excel beyond your current limit. It does this by helping you make better use of your muscle mass. You will be able to peddle with more power and set yourself apart from the competition during the last stages of the race.
A Cyclist’s Approach to Strength Training
Many cyclists have been taught to exercise and train a certain way so that they avoid adding too much muscle mass. The idea being that more muscle mass will increase their weight and lead to early fatigue in the legs. You may have very well been taught the same thing.
Their approach to exercise in the gym is usually to perform high reps with small weights followed by brief periods of rest. Strength training should be approached in almost the exact opposite manner. True strength training in the gym should include heavy weights, fewer repetitions, and long periods of rest.
How Does it Benefit the Cyclist
What about strength training is actually beneficial for the cyclist if they are trying to avoid excess muscle? Building strength does not necessarily mean adding muscle. Strength training can also lead to increased endurance and a stronger resistance to injuries.
The strength training approach covered above does not actually focus on building muscle. The heavy weights and low reps help train the body to make better use of any available muscle.
This type of training also increases the strength of slow-twitch fibers. Endurance training normally focuses on the building of these fibers. By increasing their strength through strength training they can be worked for longer periods of time without tiring. The end result is more endurance when cycling.
Fast Twitch Fibers Benefit Too
Slow twitch fibers are known for their lower power and high endurance. These are what get the cyclist through the majority of the race. As the race nears the end the cyclist switches over to the high-power and high-speed fibers with lower endurance known as fast twitch fibers. Endurance training is great for building up the slow twitch fibers that get you through to the last phase of the race, but it does not do much for after you have reached that point.
Training with heavy weights is ideal for building up those fast twitch fibers. A proper strength training regimen can also reduce the time it takes for you to create a certain amount of force. This means you can reach those higher speeds in a shorter period of time. Just enough to give you an edge over the competition once the finish line is in sight.
Building a Strong Core
A serious cyclist needs more than just powerful quads to get through the race. If you notice your back beginning to hurt or your body swaying as you take corners, it is probably because your core muscles are tiring out before your legs. Building up strong core muscles is essential for any cyclist.
Every stroke of the pedal relies on core muscles. It also reduces the amount of body movement you will experience while cycling. Though cycling does rely on core muscles, it does very little to help build them. That is where a strength training regimen comes into play. It is just one more way that strength training can improve your performance during your next race.
Where to Start
There are a lot of different opinions as to where you should start with your strength training program. Using free weights at the gym is never a bad idea. Some people prefer to start with body weight and resistance training before moving into the gym. If you are new to strength training, start with resistance bands or light weights, no more than 10 pounds for your arms and 20 pounds for your legs.
If you become fatigued or lose your form using these weights, back off even if it means taking things down to zero pounds. Once you are ready, move up in two pound increments as your body allows. A few great exercises to start with include lunges, planks, burpees, renegade rows and single leg deadlifts. Experiment and build a workout routine that works for you.