Is Strength Training for Cyclists and Triathletes really as simple as Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press, Pullups, and Rows?
Or perhaps you’re thinking: Lunges, Squats, Hamstring Curls, and Front Planks?
Despite Strength Training for the mainstream population having made large strides forward in the last 10 years, the cycling and triathlon communities seem to be joining the late 70’s and 80’s mentality of strength training:
”Yeah, it’s important, and I’m doing some lifts that feels good to what matters to me.”
While this is definitely better than the old mentality of “Strength Training isn’t for cyclists and triathletes, it will ruin your in-sport abilities”, we are still a long way off the path of truth, when it comes to proper programming for in-sport success.
There are a lot of different pieces that we MUST take into consideration before jumping into our strength training. Today’s post will cover one of the biggest considerations that EVERYONE must take into account as they begin strength training for cycling or triathlon:
Use of Corrective Exercises in their programming
This past weekend I was reading this Outside Magazine Article on “Top Fitness Trends for 2019” While I usually read these for entertainment value, Matt Fitzgerald’s guess that “Corrective Exercises will go mainstream, especially for endurance athletes” got me pretty excited. This is something that I’ve been teaching to my athletes at HVT the last 11 years, and which I had the opportunity to share with other coaches in my USA Cycling Coaching Summit Presentations. Understanding and implementing the use of Corrective Exercises as a major keystone in my programming has allowed me to help many athletes around the world unlock abilities they had, which they thought were impossible to attain, or which they thought they would never reach due to previous injury or dysfunction.
Today I aim to answer the questions of:
Why are corrective exercises so important, especially for endurance athletes?
What do we need to consider when it comes to strength training as an endurance athlete?
I hope this post helps you understand the pivotal role these exercises, and a properly designed strength training program for cyclists and triathletes, serve you. (If any of you know Matt and can get this in front of him, please give him a huge high five from me…he can even pretend to be Charlie in the GIF).
Our sport has us in a scrunched up, unnatural position
This means that we cannot, and should not walk into a gym, hire a “regular” personal trainer, who will have us simply jump into Barbell Squats, Deadlifts, and Bench Presses. There MUST be a ramp into your Moderate to Heavily Weighted Strength movements, anywhere from 2-4 weeks, depending on how far developed/ how bad your movement deficiencies and imbalances are.
This is something that is so often overlooked, in part because I think many trainers feel that they NEED to have you leave each session “feeling something”. It’s quite understandable, as having athletes/clients leave “because the sessions were too easy”, and their not understanding the bigger picture, is a real challenge.
But hey! We’re athletes! We can handle it! Just give us some weights and we’ll figure it out!
This mentality often leads to MANY injuries and issues for the vast majority of cyclists and triathletes over the age of 25.
However, a great trainer will have you start off with a movement assessment- NO this is NOT a Weighted Repetition Maximum assessment! Rather this is you going through a number of different movements, to assess where and when you lose stability of the moving parts, as well as help understand what muscles are tight, and not doing their job correctly.
These movement assessments can vary in their execution, from the FMS to simple Range of motion tests, but here at Human Vortex Training I’ve developed my own assessment process, which gets updated as things appear that are more valuable, or of use. No two assessments are the same, as the order of when the movements are done can affect how the body moves, and there are always a few pieces that are added or moved around to get the most out of the assessment for that particular athlete.
Here are a few examples of assessment moves I’ll use. I do cover the assessment process in both of my online courses “Strength Training for Cycling Success” and “Strength Training for Triathlon Success” hosted by Training Peaks University.
2. Simply throwing load/ a bar/ moderately heavy weights around is NOT an option
Or at least, it shouldn’t be at the very beginning. That is, if you want to stay healthy and injury free….
This is possibly one of the biggest points of education for most riders and triathletes I work with, and one of the many reasons I love resistance bands and TRX almost as much as I love Kettle Bells. We can add resistance to help the athlete improve and strengthen the movement, but not so much we push the upper limits of what their connective tissues, joints, and fascia can handle at the time.
As cyclists (and triathletes) we’re athletes who LOVE pushing our limits, but jumping right into moderate to heavy weights isn’t the brightest idea, as our sport (cycling) is a non-impact, non-weighted sport, and one in which the connective tissues do not have to bear weight more than our own bodyweight. This means that the connective tissues, joints, fascia, and muscles themselves need a little time to prepare to move under more stress. (Triathletes DO get impact via running, but the equation doesn’t change a huge amount).
Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean we only do body weight exercises when starting. Rather, it means that the first 2-3 weeks will be more oriented towards the used of bodyweight, band resistance and lighter weight exercises.
This is a fantastic way for the body to get used to the new movements, new loading patterns, and to help us work on common weaknesses that cyclists and triathletes tend to face.
We want to figure out how the body is moving, WHY it’s moving that way, and then look to find the best tool possible to help that athlete move better. No, this doesn’t mean throwing on knee sleeves and a band around the athletes knees while they squat because their knees cave in!
We’re cyclists and triathletes! This is an adaptation to the position we’re in on the bike- our main sport!
The glute medius (in particular) is probably under-developed, and the glute max is used to working in a lengthened position…These muscles, and those that serve supporting roles in the squat motion, must be re-educated as to what they’re role is OFF the bike.
Take the bar off the athletes back, get them doing some breathing exercises to help them learn to move their ribs, diaphragm, and pelvic floor appropriately, and get down to business on the Internal Obliques + Glutes, teaching them to work together to stabilize the hips while they move…
You can (and in my opinion, should) use Goblet Squats to help get some load. Goblet Squats are quite under-rated, as they are very difficult to execute properly for most cyclists & triathletes, and allow for massive bang for your buck. We’ll save that for another post.
3. Joint Position Dictates Muscle Function
Those of you whom have already taken my “Strength Training for Triathlon Success” Course will remember this very vividly, as it is one of the big take-home messages from the course.
Helping the muscles return to proper resting lengths and more appropriate strength proportions to one another, is a key component of unlocking your best performances. This is why “Corrective exercises” must be included in any and every strength training program for Cyclists and Triathletes (and, well, everyone). Yet, they are often the first thing to be dropped, that is if they’re programmed at all.
What’s interesting about “Corrective” or “Prehab” exercises, is that many serious athletes scoff when they see a program with these often light or non-weighted movements. Add to this skepticism the fact that these exercises often put the athlete in a position to feel weak or unable to do something, and we have a recipe for likely disaster.
Either the athlete will:
1. Go and perform the exercise over and over again or for long periods of time to try to master it in order to quell the feeling that they are vulnerable.
Me- "Hey, what are you doing with that 24kg kettlebell on your knee and your foot on top of the weight stack, for the last 15 minutes?
Broski - “I’m working on my ankle mobility dude, it sucks. If I do this for the next 2 weeks, it will be 200% better, and I’ll be able to squat more- I saw it on the internet.”
7 weeks later “Dude, I tore my ACL, no idea how that happened, I’ve been lifting regularly.”
2. They will ignore the exercise, or “Go through the motions” half-effort, in a way to simply check it off.
Unfortunately, both of these will lead to a less than desirable outcome, usually the athlete getting injured due to an imbalance being continued, or opened too quickly, before the rest of the bodies muscles, tissues, and systems can adapt.
While some strength coaches call the corrective exercises “Filler exercises”- meaning something to do as active recovery between your working sets- I prefer to educate the athlete to understand the importance of the exercise and why it’s in the position in the programming that it is.
Corrective Exercises are super important and should be included in every strength training program- whether in the dynamic warmup, or in between the primary lifts- as they help us to get the body into better balance…And yes, they can serve as fantastic Active Recovery options when need be.
But just because something is a “corrective” doesn’t mean that it can’t be a main focus. For example, Give the McGill Crunch and Side-Lying Windmill below here a go, but make sure your technique is perfect for them- NO CHEATING.
Super difficult, right?
Correctives can, and should, also be used as primary exercises for a well-designed training program, at times. It just depends on where that individual athlete is.
The Golden Ticket
Corrective exercises are 100% necessary, ESPECIALLY for Cyclists and Triathletes looking to use strength training to improve their performance. As a professional “in the trenches” for the last decade+ trying to teach cyclist and triathletes the better way to strength train and have life-long movement, I am pretty much in love with Matt Fitzgerald and his putting Corrective Exercise at the forefront for 2019. (I’m working hard on more courses and content to help YOU be able to get the most out of your own training here in 2019, and am excited to get them released!)
However, it remains that we MUST work on rebalancing the body, helping things (bones, joints) to be in positions so they can function as designed. After all, you wouldn’t take a Tennis Racket to a game to play Squash, would you? Both look kinda, not really similar, in that the ball goes to the end of the racquet, but the Squash racquet won’t supply what you need for tennis, and vice versa.
Same thing with our corrective exercises, proper use of Corrective Exercises, combined with intelligent Strength Training planning and design using the FUNdamental 5+1 Movement patterns (Push, Pull, Squat, Hinge, Press, Rotary Stability), will allow you to see amazing results from your strength training, AND help you keep your body in better balance during the season when your ride time is high, and time for strength training is low.
The Golden ticket is for you to develop a Dynamic Warmup that includes exercises that will help you breathe better, move better, and execute the strength training session of the day to the best of your abilities, AND help you be able to improve your movement qualities.
Consisting of 4-6 exercises, the dynamic warmup should be done 3-5 days a week, helping you get the repetitions you need to ensure you move towards the improved movement balance your body wants and needs.
While there are also ways to work the corrective exercises into the program, that process is much more complex and is a post (at least) in and of itself…. But you can always subscribe to the HVT YouTube Channel to keep on top of the fresh new content we’re putting out, which will allow you to move better, feel better, and unlock your full potential, or take one of my Online Courses mentioned above, to get a “deeper dive” into the Corrective Exercise pool.
Until next time, remember to Train Smarter, NOT Harder, because it is…all about YOU!