Strength training is an interesting topic among competitive cyclists as many only strength train during the off-season and some do not strength train at all. There are many reasons why this is the case. First, cycling like all endurance sports takes a lot of time to train for and after family and work obligations leaves precious little time for much else. Second, the notion of cyclists not strength training is fairly “old school” and is brought about today by team directors and coaches who coach their riders the same way they were coached. Due to that many of today’s training methodologies including strength training or lack thereof are 20-30 years old and therefore quite antiquated.
Wall Sit: This mimics the 3 o’clock position in the pedal stroke and helps with muscular endurance of the quadriceps out of the saddle and in the saddle. Start the wall sit with as close to a 90 degree bend in the knees, your upper body angled forward at the hips and keep your toes up. This will emphasize your quadriceps and will make the exercise much more effective.
Theraball Hamstring Curl: This position most closely mimics how the hamstrings work from the 6-9 o’clock position in the pedal stroke. Start with your your up-per body angled slightly from your lower body, then with one leg extended on top of the ball, curl the ball toward you will lifting your hips slightly off the ground.
One Leg Squat: This mimics the 12-6 o’clock position in the pedal stroke. Stand on one leg, then while keeping your low back flat and your body bend forward, squat down with your knee coming slightly forward. Squat down to as close to 90 degrees as you can then come back up.
It is important to note that when talking about strength training, we’re not talking about your standard exercises like bench pressing and bicep curls. What we’re talking about is functional strength training. This means that all the exercises are designed around a singular focus which is to increase performance on the bike. It is also important to note that the goal of this type of training is to increase strength, not muscle mass. Today’s training is all based around specificity. In keeping with that notion, when designing exercises for cyclists, the body position of a cyclist is examined in a specific position and then reproduced with the same body angles in a gym setting.
There are four main benefits to strength training:
Increased leg strength/power: This is perhaps the number one reason why cyclists strength train, to increase their strength on the bike. The reason why this works is called the “overload principle”. All this means is that your body positively adapts to physical stressors placed upon it. That being said, the overload principle is at work anytime you train on the bike or off however by strength training and therefore placing more stress upon a muscle(s) then you would be able to elicit on the bike, your strength gains will be greater. For example, doing a wall sit with your toes up and body angled forward mimics riding in the saddle and in a sprint in the drops. This will increase your ability to sustain prolonged efforts with a focus on the quadricps.
When strength training, it is important to know what you’re trying to accomplish. For example, if you are strength training to improve your time trial, your program would differ from a cyclist whose goal is to compete in a hill climb event. This is due to different position in the saddle that the two riders would be in and therefore would change the angle in the knee and hips when strength training.
Maintain lean muscle mass: During the racing season its not uncommon for cyclists to put in between 150-350 miles a week. Depending on a cyclists ability to recover, many cyclists lose lean muscle mass during the racing season. This loss of lean muscle mass and ability to recover is why some professionals use drugs such as anabolic steroids and human growth hormone (HGH). While amateur cyclists do not train or compete at the level of professionals, they do lose muscle mass during the season. This can be remedied through functional strength training.
Correct muscle imbalances: While we all love our sport, it does not mean that it feels natural or is biomechanically efficient. Due to the fact that most of us are not perfectly symmetrical and are not 100% set up on our bikes correctly, we often have slight to “not so slight” deviations in our positions on the bike (and off of it) which can lead to muscle imbalances. After a thorough postural and biomechanical assessment, a customized functional training program can be developed to help minimize and/ or eliminate postural deviations.
Increase upper body strength: In regard to strength training, this is probably the most overlooked area as most cyclists do not see the correlation between upper body strength training and increased performance.
Having a strong upper body positively affects the body in many ways. It allows a cyclist to ride with a flat low back and depressed and retracted shoulder blades…all of which are important for an efficient power transfer from your core muscles (abs, low back, obliques) to your legs. This position also allows for your lungs to expand to their maximum capacity.
Lastly, by having a strong upper body and proper biomechanics, a cyclist will be able to increase their speed during a sprint and during out of the saddle climbing. This is because when riding out ofthe saddle, a cyclist’s upper body should never move and the bike should move underneath the rider. This requires chest and shoulder strength to be able to push the bike laterally. By moving the bike laterally so that thefront wheel tracks in line with the frame guarantees an effective power transfer between rider and bike. Most cyclists only use their legs when sprinting and as a result, the front wheel tracks independent of the bike, this causes the cyclist to not ride a straight line and therefore slower. Another reason for pushing the bike laterally is because when the bike is upright and does not move laterally when sprinting, the hips have to rise up and over the top tube. This creates a dead spot in the pedal stroke which causes a decrease in power output. By pushing the bike laterally, the hips stay in the same place and therefore legs can push straight down on the pedals versus in an arc motion (laterally and down on the pedals) which occurs if the bike does not move laterally.
While only a few benefits of functional strength training are listed here, the benefits are endless. Just as with training on the bike, you don’t want to jump into strength training full bore. Start off slowly and gradually increase your weight/repetitions to avoid potential injury and to maximize your strength gains.
Rick Prince is the owner of Fulcrum Performance Training, a cycling specific training company. Rick is also a competitive category two cyclist, USA Cycling certified coach and certified personal trainer. To contact Rick please contact him at fulcrumpt[at]yahoo.com or at www.fulcrumpt.com