This past Friday I was perusing my Facebook newsfeed as part of my usual “First thing 5 minutes” as I began my workday. While this may strike you as odd, those 5 minutes on Facebook give me a bit of a feel as to whats going on in the life of my athletes, friends, as well as common trends in the Cycling/Fitness/Triathlon/Running/Strength Training world, as I see updates from the various groups etc.
This Friday a triathlete asked the question:
“Strength Training for cycling…which days and how many days a week?”
This is a fantastic question that many triathletes are beginning to ask, and while they have 3 sports to work on, the answer actually holds true for the vast majority of cyclists as well.
Check out the considerations all triathletes and cyclists should take, when looking to add in strength training to their on-bike training schedule.
Adding in strength training- while incredibly important- must be done on a personal basis, especially taking into consideration your weaknesses, strengths, RECOVERY, and ability to deal with the training stress.
Here are a few things to consider, that will significantly help you make the right choice:
1. How well are you currently recovering from your training load?
While many coaches will tell you that you should do more strength training time during the base time of year, if you’re having difficulty recovering from your swim/bike/run schedule, adding in strength training and maintaining that level of sport training can actually set you up for injury. If this is the case, take a look at your overall training schedule, figure out which of the sport practices takes you the longest to recover from (session to session- for me, as an example, it’s running that takes me 2-3 das to feel good again after a 45-75 min workout), and decrease that sport training by 45-75 minutes per week (but make sure that you are maintaining at least 60-120 min of total training in that sport a week, depending on your level of fitness and abilities). Do the same with your strongest sport (these should be two different sports- if they’re the same you may want to revisit your training schedule), and you’ve now made 90-150 minutes for strength training.
Pretty scary to think about DECREASING your sport training time, I know, but if you’re going to do strength training, we might as well do it right.
2. Frequency of Strength Training
Technically speaking, the frequency of your strength training sessions should be at least 2-3 days a week, BUT it depends on your “training age” for strength training. This is COMPLETELY different than your chronological age, and your sport-training age!
So if you’re new to strength training, you may find that 2 days a week, consistently, is enough. If you’re a more advanced lifter, you may need 3-4 days to put enough pressure on the body to see advances.
The thing with strength training is that we need to have it consistently enough so that the body will adapt, just like the other sports.
3. Exercise selection (And also a bit on Mode)
Choosing exercises can be really challenging to most endurance athletes, as the first thought is to do “sport-specific movements”. While this comes from thought of “If I want to get better in my sports I should train the same muscles”, we actually need to refocus our thought to what strength training for sports has as it’s big 2 goals:
1. To decrease risk of injury
2. To improve muscle balance at the joints so as to improve performance.
These are our two big focuses, as when muscles are in balance at a joint, and in the right resting lengths, they can now contract stronger/more powerfully, as well as do their jobs more correctly. Strength training serves the role of allowing us to hit muscles NOT used much in our sport, to help us keep a healthy balance at the joint, thus decreasing our risk of injury, and “games lost due to injury”.
If you’re a beginner LIFTER (less than 2 years of strength training) forget “sport specific” movements/work, as our first job is to help make you GLOBALLY stronger at the Basic 5 movements:
(think deadlift or Kettlebell swings)
(overhead, although we MUST be a bit careful with this, as we need to balance out the shoulder joint so that the shoulder blade is moving properly. Point being- don’t go too heavy/ crazy on the press)
This isn’t to say that WHILE you’re working on these 5 primary movements that we shouldn’t or can’t work on some anti-rotation strength or movements that we can see/understand relate to our sports of swim/bike/run, BUT it does mean that we must keep the main thing, the main thing- work on making these 5 movements better/stronger, and you’ll see carryover to your sport as your body will globally move better.
Think of it like this: would you try to teach a toddler who can just now take 5 steps before falling (learning to walk), how to run on a treadmill?
4. Mode (TRX/Yoga/Barbells/bands/Kettlebells, etc)
We’ll end with this one, as there’s quite a bit of info here…
Choosing the mode is important, as each mode has it strengths and weaknesses (no pun intended), and we should keep that in mind as we choose.
While I’m a Strength coach and lean heavily toward barbells and dumbells due to their utility in helping to teach the 5 basic human movements in a classical fashion, the vast majority of endurance athletes I coach are either intimidated by the weight room, or simply going to the gym takes another 30-60 minutes out of their available time (for EACH session, due to travel time, parking, etc), making it more worthwhile for us to utilize a method they can do at home.
In my professional opinion, most triathletes benefit greatly from the combined use of Kettlebells + bands or TRX at home, as the combination of the two modes allows for greater variability in training (think FUN and challenging!), as well as for us to work not only on the basic 5 movements, but also to load the muscles and joints in a variety of positions, thus allowing us to have more freedom and flexibility in how you’re training, and, as it relates to triathletes, positions that happen to fall more in line with your sports, which while “sport specific” shouldn’t be a primary concern if you’re a beginner lifter, doesn’t mean we should avoid some similar working POSITIONS, IF the training method & mode allow for it! (with good technique+ form, of course)
I know this is a lot of info, and a long post….these are the primary considerations one must be taking as they think about this. Of course we have to also consider what distance you will be competing at, how far out from race day you are, what current injuries/imbalances you have, as well as past injuries/issues, as these will heavily impact your exercise selection, and training loads.
While this can all seem overwhelming, you should take it all into consideration, plan your work, then work your plan, and adapt based on your body and its abilities.
Be sure to keep recovery as a # 1 focus- working hard and not recovering isn’t going to get you the biggest thing you need to see results from strength training: CONSISTENCY.
No matter what mode, or how many days a week you can do strength training (and recover from it + in-sport training), be CONSISTENT. This doesn’t meant that the total number of days a week shouldn’t change based on where you are in your training year…. it should…. but it DOES mean that for 3-6 weeks at a time, you should be consistent with how many times a week your lifting, within your normal training regimen.