Spring is the time for strength training to ramp up, not dial back.
Here's how to do it right
As spring rolls around and the clocks get pushed ahead an hour, many cyclists drop the weights and ramp up their riding hours to get more time on the bike in an effort to gain more on bike fitness. But is this in fact, the right thing to do?
For many of us strength training is one of the things that we see as a pester or something that has to be done, but only during base or during the winter. However, looking at strength training this way is going to leave you cheated out of a lot of the gains that you can and should get from it throughout the riding year- especially in the summer.
If you're time crunched shouldn't you prioritize riding?
Well, would you rather spend your time (six to eight hours a week on the bike) losing the strength gains, coordination, and the ability of the nervous system to stay resilient… And losing the recovery and adaptation boosts that strength training can offer you when it’s done right. You’re going to be able to get a lot more out of your riding when you head to the gym and understand that what you need to get out your strength training, isn’t exactly limited to strength itself.
Getting more out of your strength training as a time crunched cyclist
When it comes to being time crunched, we want to get the most we possibly can out of any second or minute, that is not spent on the bike, but spent training. While many cyclists burn 15, 20, or even 30 minutes on stretching passively, going through foam rolling or using the compression boots, there’s actually a lot more you can get out of just one 45 minute strength training session a week. In fact, now is the time of year for you to work on your maximum strength. That’s right. The time that most cyclists are dropping the weights is exactly the time that you want to start ramping them up!
If you follow the five stages of strength, training:
- Anatomical adaptation
- Maximum strength
- Conversion to sport
you should be about ready or have already started the maximum strength phase.
But this isn’t the case for many riders…
In the fall, most riders jump right into hypertrophy or max strength, working hard in the gym, doing less riding (and more getting sore) and then lose the ability to get those big performance boosts exactly when they need it- during the riding season.
If you’d rather get more time in the saddle right now, that’s okay. You’re just like everybody else.
But if you’re looking to get more fitness & results out of your riding time and to be able to ride stronger, then adding one strength session, a max effort strength that’s 45 minutes long each week, is going to help you get far more than just riding your bike. When done properly, the well timed and planned strength session can help you recover faster from your rides and allow you to see strength gains and performance gains all throughout the summer.
Don’t get me wrong- If you’re riding enough during the summer, you won’t be seeing all-time best PR numbers in the weight room (nor should you), but you’ll be lifting weights at a high enough RPE (Perceived Exertion) to get the hormone and neurological boosts you’ll want and need.
(Of course, pro-continental and world-tour riders are exceptions, due to the high ride volume and on-bike demands. They’ll still be doing strength, but different than what we describe here).
How to strength train in the spring and summer riding season to see performance gains on the bike, not in the gym
The summer is the time of year that the simple, straightforward strength training programs can have a massive positive effect. These sessions don’t look like much on paper, but when they’re done properly and with the correct rest periods between sets, and with the right frequency, you’re going to see big benefits on the bike.
Here’s how to do it.
Session #1 The Movement Session
Choose one day, (This would usually be either Monday or Tuesday) to have a “Movement session”. Movement sessions are super low intensity, dialed down strength sessions, where you’re doing just enough work to keep things progressing, but not breaking more than a light sweat. These sessions can be a great way to ease back in to a week of training after a nice, hard weekend of riding.
This movement session will start off with three to five minutes of general foam rolling or soft tissue work. Yes, you read right only three to five minutes. After that, you’ll move into your dynamic warmup where you’ll be performing a number of exercises (3-6) that help you move better, in general and for that day’s session, (think of corrective exercises), as well as prime the body for performance through getting you to be able to produce proximal stiffness to get distal motion. All in all this should take you no longer than 10 minutes.
Once done with the soft tissue work and dynamic warm-up, you’ll perform two to three of the Fundamental 5+1 movements. These Fundamental 5+1 movements are:
- Rotary stability
For our example today, Let’s choose a Hinge (Deadlift variation), a Push (Bench Press variation), and a Press (Overhead variation). You’ll pair these three exercises together, completing 2 sets of 12-15 repetitions at a perceived exertion of 4-5.
Move quickly from one exercise to the next, so you’ll break a very light sweat, resting 2-3 minutes between the 2 rounds. Once completed, your movement session is completed.
This is often best done either immediately before or after a cafe ride (a very short, light, and easy ride).
Session #2- The Development Session
Your “Development day” or in this case the max strength day, would be either the day right after session #1 (Movement Session), or after one day of rest from strength training.
While this puts you right smack in the middle of the week, this is when we want to do it.
In a perfect world the Development Session would be a non-ride day. Meaning that if you rode on Monday, Tuesday is the day off from the bike, but you would do the maximum strength session.
If you do manage to take Tuesday off from the bike, the next day, Wednesday, we would want to have an on-bike ride. Preferably this will be a high intensity session. This is important because it allows us to put the body through a maximum effort in the weight room (Neuromuscular) and then within 24 hours go out and perform hard metabolic work on the bike. This allows for recovery from the strength training program, as well as for you to be able to go out and ride hard after challenging the nervous system just enough to see the results start to take hold, and then putting them to SPECIFIC use: on the bike.
When performing strength training for the time crunched cyclist, the Max Effort Day should only be done if you have already gone through anatomical adaptation and hypertrophy stages in the appropriate amounts. Please see my previous post on the five stages of strength training for cyclists here.
If you’ve already gone through these first two stages of anatomical adaptations and hypertrophy and you have worked on establishing great technique for your fundamental five plus one movements, you’re ready for maximum strength.
If your technique is still lacking, you’re going to want to hang out in hypertrophy a little bit longer to work on the technique as how you perform a movement is going to be much more important than simply loading it up.
If you would like to learn more about this, you can go to the Strong Savvy Cyclist and Triathlete Podcast, where we discuss the importance of the purpose of movement or having purposeful movement in episodes 81 with strength coach Miguel Aragoncillo, and episode 82, purposeful movement, the golden ticket for strength training for performance.
That said, if your movements are up to par and you’ve done the first 2 stages in their appropriate amounts, then congratulations. It’s time for maximum strength.
Here’s how to set up your program.
How To Do The Max Effort Session
Three to five minutes of soft tissue work
Dynamic warmup- consisting of three to five exercises, helping you prepare for the day’s exercises.
Once you’ve completed the dynamic warmup and are feeling and moving well, we’ll go right into your first exercise, A1.
For many cyclists, A1 will either be a hinge variation, also known as a deadlift, or a squatting variation. Either of these is appropriate. However, they should focus on what your weakness and needs are.
You’ll perform 1 set of 10 to 12 repetitions with a very, very light weight focusing on technique, feeling the body, what’s working and what’s not working for the day.
Next you’ll increase the weight on the bar so it’s an perceived exertion of five and you’ll perform eight repetitions. In between these two sets, there should be next to no rest, only taking enough time to load up the bar and adjust the setup to make sure that you’re able to execute the movement with great technique.
After you’ve completed these first two warm up sets, One set of 10 to 12 repetitions, and one set of 8 repetitions, you’ll move on to exercise A2.
A2 is usually a complimentary exercise, which will help you be able to move better for exercise A1 either by opening up areas that may be liming you from attaining high quality movement, or by firing up muscles that need to be working, but which may be neglected due to riding a lot.
For many cyclists, the A2 exercise would be something like a lunge, reach, twist or the foam roller “Y” stretch.
A1. Rack Pulls 1*12 @ RPE 3 + 1*8 @ RPE 6, Start Rest Period Timer for 4.5 Minutes
A2. Lunge, Reach, Twist 4 breaths/ side,
Finish rest period of 4.5 minutes
A1. Rack Pulls 1*5 @ RPE 8, Start Rest Period Timer for 4.5 Minutes
A2. Lunge, Reach, Twist 4 breaths/ side
Finish rest period of 4.5 minutes
A1. Rack Pulls 1*4@ RPE 8, Start Rest Period Timer for 4.5 Minutes
A2. Lunge, Reach Twist 4 breaths/ side
Return weights from A1, Setup for B1 in time left for rest, then being B’s in same fashion
When the right exercise is selected for A2, you will move better, improve your breathing patterns, and even “open up” the tight muscles that are shortening and closing down because of the many hours we spend on the bike. But don’t spend too much time on the A2 exercise! 3-4 breaths each side, or 8-10 repetitions for 2-3 sets of a movement are more than enough.
After you’ve completed the first set of A2, you’ll set a timer and take a rest break for 4.5 Minutes
During this 3.5 minute rest you’ll set up the A1 exercise with the appropriate weight for your upcoming set of 5 repetitions, at a perceived exertion of 8.
After the rest period of four and a half minutes has been completed, you will do one set of five at a perceived exertion of eight.
Once this set of five at a perceived exertion of eight has been completed, you’ll set a timer for four and a half minutes, hit start, and then move into the A2 exercise again. While you’re doing this corrective or breathing exercise, you are recovering from the A1 exercise.
During the remaining rest period after you’ve completed A2, don’t sit down.
In fact, you’ll keep moving by setting up for your next set of A1, which will be a set of four with slightly heavier weight. Or if your technique was not that great for the full set of five, then you’re going to stay at the same weight.
At the end of the recovery time, you will do a set of four or five depending on what is appropriate for you of A1, and then moving immediately to A2. This completes the A1 A2 sets for the day.
Then go ahead and clean up the equipment from your “A” exericses.
From here, we’ll move into B1 and B2.
These are usually a row or a pressing motion, either overhead or horizontal, depending on what your needs are. We’ll pair this oftentimes with an upper back exercise or some type of rotary stability exercise. You’ll go through this in a same fashion as you did the A’s.
Once completed, you’ll have just one more exercise to complete for the day, which will be a “global” challenge such as a farmer walk or a suitcase carry, allowing you to tie everything together. You’ll complete 2 sets of 15 seconds to 30 seconds at a perceived exertion of 7 to 9, depending on where you are in your strength training cycle, resting 3 minutes between sets.
When it comes to strength training in season, something as simple as a movement day followed immediately by a maximum strength day and building your riding around the strength training, can have a powerfully positive impact on your riding capabilities. This comes from the juxtaposition of the strength training demands on the body with the metabolic demands and positional demands that you have on the bike. This is something that many of us often forget as we just want to ride our damn bikes.
In fact, strength training allows us to produce more human growth hormone, as well as a plethora of other positive hormones in the body that allow you to recover faster and remain strong, flexible, and move well on and off the bike. This allows the body to be able to repair the damage that we do to our muscles as we are cycling, (shortened/lengthened positions, partial range of motion, etc) as well as keeping the nervous system fresh and firing well.
If you have a little bit more time and you want to get even more out of your riding and your strength training, then it may be worthwhile to add another movement session on Friday or Saturday. However, this is going to depend on your energy available and how well you are recovering and adapting on a day to day, and week to week basis. If you’re not getting high quality sleep, you’re not getting enough sleep, or if your nutrition is not good enough, meaning you’re not getting at least 1.6 grams per kilo of protein, as well as 8 to 10 servings of dark leafy greens and other vegetables, you may need to take a step back and only focus on these 2 strength training days until you correct the sleep and nutrition side of the equation.
More is not always more.
We want just enough strength training to keep you strong, balanced, and able to perform on the bike.
Learn more about strength training for cyclists and triathletes and how to get performance gains out of your on-bike or in-sport time by subscribing to the HVTraining newsletter, and head on over to check out the HVTraining YouTube channel, where we’ll show you how to do strength training exercises to get cycling or triathlon results. If you’re a coach and want to learn how to assess your athletes and write strength training programs for cycling results, be sure to sign up for the Insiders List for the Strength Training for Cyclists Certification Course, to get early access, a discount, and bonus content when the course opens next.
Until next time, remember train smarter, not harder because it is all about you.