Strength and Conditioning for Cyclists

 In Discussions, Strength and Conditioning
Charles M. Kyle and Dana M. Stryk

During the heat generated by both warm summer days and battles in the peloton, non-cycling activities take a back seat to the race calendar.  As the days get shorter and colder and time on the road turns into time on the trainer, our thoughts can turn to ways in which we can improve our on-the-bike performance using off-the-bike training.  At KyleCoaching, we target two goals during the off-season:  strength and flexibility improvements, and we address the former below.
Mention the phrase “weight-lifting” to 10 people and you will receive different definitions.  From Arnold Schwarzenegger’s idea of “Pain is weakness leaving the body” to the Saturday Night Live parody’s of the Governator, a universally accepted theory of what to do in the gym does not exist.  Below you will find our strength and conditioning philosophy, a little bit of the science of cycling and weight lifting and some general recommendations on ways in which you can use your time efficiently in the gym to increase podium probability come spring and summer.

Our Philosophy:

Very simple:  Become stronger.  Become faster.  Race better.
Our method of strength and conditioning training will be broken down into four phases each having a physiological purpose. First acclimate your legs to the weight room, then 2) build some muscle 3) train that muscle to produce great force, and finally 4) enable that muscle to produce great force at cycling specific speeds.  What makes our resistance training program cycling specific is the neuromuscular sprint work that is coupled to the lifting in phases 3 and 4.

The Science:

Weightlifting is the means to deliver more of both power and force to a cyclist’s legs, with force being the ability to simply move weight and power being the product of that force and the velocity at which the athlete can generate.  For example, for a cyclist, force is the ability to push down on the pedal.  Power is this ability multiplied by the velocity (speed) of the pedal stroke.  From watching the Tour de France when it heads to the mountains and the sprinters move from stage victories to the groupetto, we know that sprinters and climbers require a different tool kit.  Off-season strength and conditioning helps to augment existing strengths and overcome areas of weakness.

Phase 1: Anatomical Adaptation (3 Weeks)

The first phase is called anatomical adaptation, and your objective is to develop and adapt your body to the levels of intensity that will follow in later phases.   Strengthening your core, strengthening your connective tissues (ligaments and tendons), and correcting your muscular imbalances are your main objectives.

Phase 2: Hypertrophy (2 Weeks)

The second phase, hypertrophy, is the muscular development phase, with the objective to build muscle mass, specifically in the prime movers, which are the muscles that do most of the work when you ride.

Phase 3: Maximum Strength (2 Weeks)

In order for muscles to be powerful, they have to be strong, strength being a key variable in power. So the maximum strength phase focuses on developing maximum strength in the prime movers of your sport.  The muscles and movements used for sprinting, backpedaling, jumping, changing directions rapidly, and any other cornerback-related movements are strengthened.  It’s time to train your muscles   to produce more forceful contractions, teaching your brain how to “enervate” (aka contract) the muscle you’ve built in the previous hypertrophy phase.  Thus, fewer sets, fewer reps and greater weight are the name of the game.

Phase 4: Power (6 Weeks)

In the power phase, strength gained in the maximum strength phase is converted into power, through Olympic-lifting, plyometric, and other ballistic exercises.   The goal is to increase the firing rate of your muscles, or how fast they go, so weight is reduced.
 

KyleCoaching Strength and Conditioning Recommendations:


Rules of the Road:

·         Prior to beginning any exercise program, please contact your physician to make sure that strength training and your health/body are compatible.
·         Learn the proper lifting form and function prior to implementing any strength training program.  Mimicking others in the weight room is not advisable.  There are lots of examples of poor lifting technique.
·         Listen to your body.  Soreness = good.  Pain = bad.
·         If you have not executed a training program in the last month, err on the side of caution so that you can walk the next day.
·         These recommendations target only the lower portion of your body.  If time allows, target your upper body as well.  Core strength makes us fitter overall and better in a TT or sustained climb.

General Exercises:

Two categories of strength and conditioning exercises exist:  compound and specific.  The former refers to exercises which target more than one muscle group while the latter targets one.  As much as possible, we recommend using compound exercises.
Squats – (compound) –  you have many choices, from free-weight squats with barbells or dumbbells to the Smith machine.  Technique is very important.  Unless contra-indicated for your body, use a stance that is the width of your pedaling stance and a complete range of motion.
Leg Press – (compound) – most common versions are the hack squat and the seated leg press.  Again, stance width = pedaling stance.
Leg Extension – (specific) – classic machine.  Learn how to adjust the parts of the machine so that you have a full range of motion without knee pain.
Leg Curl – (specific) – Seated and lying curl machines.  Back extensions during Phases 1 and 2 are another option.
Given your workout facilities and crowding, especially after the beginning of the New Year, you may need to be creative with respect to the compound leg exercises.  Traveling or stationary lunges with dumbbells are a good substitute if you cannot get to a leg press or squat machine.

Phase 1: Anatomical Adaptation (3 Weeks)

Goal:  Ease your body into lifting and determine easy versus  heavy weight targets.
Frequency:  2 visits per week, 48 hours rest between visits.  Pay attention to your cycling training requirements – long ride and weight training on the same day are less than optimal.
Workout:
·         Warmup:  10 minutes on the treadmill, easy walking.
·         Exercise #1:  Squat or Leg Press.
o   Set #1:  Warm-up set – 8-10 reps  (note:  depending on how much weight you lift, you may need more than one warm-up set at ascending weights)
o   Sets #2-4:  Main Sets
§  Weight Target:  Light to Medium
§  2-3 Sets
§  10-12 Reps
§  Note:  Goldilocks and porridge time:   It will take some time to figure out the optimal weight.  If you complete the first set and it was too easy, move up in weight.  Too hard, lower the weight.
·         Exercise #2:  Leg Extension
o   Set #1:  Warm-up Set to make sure knees are good and the position on the machine is safe. 8-10 reps.
o   Sets #2-3:  Main Sets
§  Weight Target:  Light to Medium
§  2 Sets
§  10-12 Reps
§  Note:  Goldilocks and porridge time:   It will take some time to figure out the optimal weight.  If you complete the first set and it was too easy, move up in weight.  Too hard, lower the weight.
·         Exercise #3:  Leg Curl
o   Set #1:  Warm-up Set to make sure knees are good and the position on the machine is safe. 8-10 reps.
o   Sets #2-3:  Main Sets
§  Weight Target:  Light to Medium
§  2 Sets
§  10-12 Reps
§  Note:  Goldilocks and porridge time:   It will take some time to figure out the optimal weight.  If you complete the first set and it was too easy, move up in weight.  Too hard, lower the weight.
Workout Notes:
·         If possible, alternate leg press and squats as the first exercise so that you do squats 1 day per week and leg press one day per week.  Given gym crowding and equipment constraints, this may not be possible.
·         Rest between sets:  2 minutes or so and WALK around rather than sit.  Sitting = bad!!!
·         Rest between exercises:  3-5 minutes.

Phase 2: Hypertrophy (2 Weeks)

Goal:  Using the same exercises, time to step up to some heavier weights.
Frequency:  2 visits per week, 48 hours rest between visits.  Pay attention to your cycling training requirements – long ride and weight training on the same day are less than optimal.
Workout:
·         Warmup:  10 minutes on the treadmill, easy walking.
·         Exercise #1:  Squat or Leg Press.
o   Set #1:  Warm-up set – 8-10 reps  (note:  depending on how much weight you lift, you may need more than one warm-up set at ascending weights)
o   Sets #2-4:  Main Sets
§  Weight Target:  Medium at the start, increasing weight by 5% for each set.
§  2-3 Sets
§  10-12 Reps
§  Note:  Goldilocks and porridge time:   It will take some time to figure out the optimal weight.  Write down the weights used for future reference.
·         Exercise #2:  Leg Extension
o   Set #1:  Warm-up Set to make sure knees are good and the position on the machine is safe. 8-10 reps.
o   Sets #2-3:  Main Sets
§  Weight Target:  Medium at the start, increasing weight by 5% for each set.
§  2 Sets
§  10-12 Reps
§  Note:  Goldilocks and porridge time:   It will take some time to figure out the optimal weight.  Write down the weights used for future reference.
·         Exercise #3:  Leg Curl
o   Set #1:  Warm-up Set to make sure knees are good and the position on the machine is safe. 8-10 reps.
o   Sets #2-3:  Main Sets
§  Weight Target:  Medium at the start, increasing weight by 5% for each set
§  2 Sets
§  10-12 Reps
§  Note:  Goldilocks and porridge time:   It will take some time to figure out the optimal weight.  Write down the weights used for future reference.
§ 
Workout Notes:
·         If possible, alternate leg press and squats as the first exercise so that you do squats 1 day per week and leg press one day per week.  Given gym crowding and equipment constraints, this may not be possible.
·         Rest between sets:  2 minutes or so and WALK around rather than sit.  Sitting = bad!!!
·         Rest between exercises:  3-5 minutes.
·         Weight thoughts:  There will be a little devil on your shoulder that tells you that the weight is heavy enough.  Do you want to win next season?

Phase 3: Maximum Strength  (2 Weeks)

Goal:  It’s time to train this muscle to produce more forceful contractions.
Caution:  If you haven’t used one thus far, you need to do so – find someone to spot you during Exercise #1 and to help launch the movement for the leg curls and leg extensions.  Make sure the spotter knows what he or she is doing and is strong enough to save you should you hit failure (i.e. a spotter standing four feet away from you during your squats will not be able to “save” you if you fail).
Frequency:  2 visits per week, 48 hours rest between visits.  Pay attention to your cycling training requirements – long ride and weight training on the same day are less than optimal.
Workout:
·         Warmup:  10 minutes on the treadmill, easy walking.
·         Exercise #1:  Squat or Leg Press.
o   Set #1:  Warm-up set – 8-10 reps.  Now that the weights are very heavy, you will need to spend more time warming up!!!
o   Sets #2-4:  Main Sets
§  Weight Target:  Heavy at the start moving to “Oh, my goodness. I am squatting with the Garmin Team Bus on my shoulders!!!).
§  2-3 Sets
§  4-6 Reps
§  Note:  Goldilocks and porridge time:   If the first set you can hit 6, increase the weight.  Anything less than 6, keep the weight unchanged.
·         Exercise #2:  Leg Extension
o   Set #1:  Warm-up set – 8-10 reps.  Now that the weights are very heavy, you will need to spend more time warming up!!!
o   Sets #2-3:  Main Sets
§  Weight Target:  Heavy at the start moving to “Oh, my goodness. I am squatting with the Garmin Team Bus on my shoulders!!!).
§  2 Sets
§  4-6 Reps
§  Note:  Goldilocks and porridge time:   If the first set you can hit 6, increase the weight.  Anything less than 6, keep the weight unchanged.
·         Exercise #3:  Leg Curl
o   Set #1:  Warm-up set – 8-10 reps.  Now that the weights are very heavy, you will need to spend more time warming up!!!
o   Sets #2-3:  Main Sets
§  Weight Target:  Heavy at the start moving to “Oh, my goodness. I am squatting with the Garmin Team Bus on my shoulders!!!).
§  2 Sets
§  4-6 Reps
§  Note:  Goldilocks and porridge time:   If the first set you can hit 6, increase the weight.  Anything less than 6, keep the weight unchanged.
Workout Notes:
·         If possible, alternate leg press and squats as the first exercise so that you do squats 1 day per week and leg press one day per week.  Given gym crowding and equipment constraints, this may not be possible.
·         Rest between sets:  2 minutes or so and WALK around rather than sit.  Sitting = bad!!!
·         Rest between exercises:  5 minutes.
·         Weight thoughts:  There will be a little devil on your shoulder that tells you that the weight is heavy enough.  Do you want to win next season?

Phase 4: Power (6 Weeks)

Goal:  Time to fire the guns, so to speak and work on how quickly your muscles can contract and produce the pop needed to create a break or win a sprint.
Workout:
·         Warmup:  10 minutes on the treadmill, easy walking.
·         Exercise #1:
o   This section uses plyometric movement with little weight.
o   Select one exercise from the list below, targeting 3 sets of 15-20 reps.
§  Jump squats with a Smith machine or dumbbells
§  Plyo step ups with dumbbells
§  Cleans
·         Exercise #2:  Leg Extension
o   Set #1:  Warm-up set – 8-10 reps.
o   Sets #2-3:  Main Sets
§  Weight Target:  Light to Medium
§  2 Sets
§  15-20 Reps
·         Exercise #3:  Leg Curl
o   Set #1:  Warm-up set – 8-10 reps.
o   Sets #2-3:  Main Sets
§  Weight Target:  Light to Medium
§  2 Sets
§  15-20 Reps
·         Exercise #2 and #3 advanced options:
o   Set #1:  Warm-up set – 8-10 reps.
o   Set #2::  Main Sets
§  Weight Target:  Very light to light
§  1 Set
§  4 minutes

 

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