Most cyclists who take the sport seriously know that in order to improve performance on the bike, whether that’s on the road or the mountain, they need to do more than just ride the bike. But what does that mean?
Cyclists who want to improve and take their performance to a higher level often enlist the services of a cycling coach who designs a riding schedule that takes into account the type of cycling and targeted races.
These programmes are tailored around the athlete’s own capabilities, using information such as FTP or VO2 max and heart rates to determine which zones the athlete needs to train in.
Beyond properly structuring the riding schedule, there are other areas that can be modified to improve performance, such as the bike setup, racing strategies, nutrition and resistance training.
Why hit the gym?
The idea of strength training may be intimidating for riders who do not have previous gym experience, not least because there are so many options, modalities and opinions on what should and shouldn’t be done.
A good starting point is accepting that working in the gym should be no different from how a coach structures an athlete’s riding. In other words, it needs to be a well-structured process that follows the same principles of periodisation. The point of this is to improve strength, power and overall endurance.
The science is clear - research shows that a well-planned strength and conditioning programme will improve both short and long-term endurance, as well as have a positive effect on lactate threshold and cycling economy. It becomes clear, then, why including properly structured gym work is important to improve performance.
In addition to that, resistance training may well assist in reducing the risk of injury, both chronic overuse injuries which may develop from muscle imbalances, and when falling off the bike, because it strengthens the soft tissues that support joints, and increases bone mineral density and strength.
Getting started with resistance training
There is no need to get caught up in complex workouts or to invest in expensive equipment - especially when starting out. Remember, the ultimate goal of the gym work is to supplement and improve your riding and general wellbeing.
Cycling-specific resistance training should always start with the basics. If someone is a novice at strength training the first vital step is to teach the body how to move correctly. Learning the correct movement patterns and how to perform exercises properly ensures that the target muscles are activated and strengthened.
A novice should stay away from the weights and build the foundation first. Once the foundation is in place, then weights provide great variety and intermediate and advanced exercises. By foundation, we mean that an athlete should not place too much load on the skeletal structure until they have learnt the correct movement patterns using their own bodyweight and resistance bands.
A strength and conditioning coach will ensure that each workout is a progression on the movement patterns that have been worked previously.
Putting it into practise
Below we explain the Peterson step up. This is an example of a basic movement that serves a great cycling-specific purpose:
1. Use a small step -the top should be halfway up your shin
2. Place one foot on the step and hold one foot off the step while keeping your hips even
3. Slowly lower the non-weight bearing foot down to the ground while keeping the heel of the weight bearing foot on the step at all times.
4. As you go down you should experience the sensation that you are sitting on a chair behind you. Your hips will be traveling backwards and your weight should be over your heels.
5. Make sure that the contact made between the ground and the foot that is not on the step is very light. As you make contact, start moving up again straightening the weight bearing knee.
6. It should take three seconds to go down and two seconds to return to the top
This is only one of several basic movements which forms part of Phase 1 of Warwick's Cycling Strength & Conditioning programme which you can find and sign up to