When it comes to strength training for cyclists and triathletes you shouldn't just think about doing an exercise for a movement or muscle group. Here's what you DO need to think about to get cycling & triathlon specific results
The last few weeks over had a number of readers ask about “an exercise to help me do ________”.
This is a fairly common question that trainers and strength coaches alike hear often, however the answer is a bit more complex than “just one exercise”.
When it comes to strength exercises, there are literally thousands to choose from: from different grips to different body positions, there are many ways that you can try to address issues, or improve.
While this may seem a bit overwhelming, there is actually an underlying principle, that when understood and used properly, will quickly narrow down your options.
What do you need to get out of the exercise?
This seems like a basic question, but in fact it’s very deep, as HOW you execute the exercise will determine the outcome.
Let’s take a look at 4 deciding factors:
1. Tempo- the speed at which you do the exercise. This will greatly influence what kind of neurological and metabolic demands are placed on the body, and thus what kind of changes you’ll reap in return.
Do a slow grind, heavy weight pulling, you’ll tend to get more muscle damage and increase in motor unit recruitment.
Do a lighter weight but more explosive, you’ll get even more motor unit recruitment and hit the ATP-Cp energy system in a way that can increase power output.
2. Breathing- Are you holding your breath and bearing down, or are you able to supply the stiffness needed to perform the exercise while breathing normally?
This can affect your oxygen use, as well as how well the body can produce stiffness at different % of threshold. We want to learn how to brace properly, and how to breathe behind the brace, while producing the correct amount of bracing for a given task.
3. What are you focusing on? – especially for cyclists and triathletes, this is really important, as the focus on posture, appropriate bracing, breathing, and getting the movement from the desired places, will determine if you’re getting a response like a body builder (muscle size growth), or for performance.
Many are surprised to find that when they begin focusing on the thing (or things) in an exercise that will help make them a better CYCLIST or TRIATHLETE, that they need to lower the weight….often significantly so.
4. Where in your program it’s being ordered- Exercise order has a huge impact on the results, and whether or not you’re going to get the results your after.
Due in part to “athlete readiness”, aka how fresh your nervous system, energy systems, and mental state are, and how able to perform an exercise at a given point in the necessary fashion.
This is one of the biggest misunderstandings of CrossFit, and what makes a “good box” vs. a “Not so good box”…. It’s their PROGRAMMING and how well they are able to understand who their members are, and how to build the programs to help their specific members progress.
There isn’t one answer for everyone, but a good starting point for ordering of a strength training program for cyclists and triathletes is:
1. 4-6 minutes of soft tissue work/foam rolling
3. Dynamic warmup (8-12 min)
4. Technique for, or explosive power (12-16 min, 1-2 exercises)
5. Strength (20-35 min)
Performing a bodybuilder or powerlifter style squat (or any other exercise) may be good for building the base of strength, but if one is looking to build cycling or triathlon performance (and that’s your whole motivation to strength train) then you’ll need to start thinking about HOW you’re performing the movement.
Using tempo, breathing, focus on what you need to get out of the exercise/how your performing it, and how you’re ordering your program, will help you get far more out of your strength training to build on bike or out on course performance, instead of just adding weight to the bar or machine.
If you’d like to learn more about this, my first book “The Vortex Method” gives you all you need in order to build a strength training for cycling program, allowing you to easily understand and use these high-level performance variables in an easy to understand way.
Until next time, remember to Train Smarter, Not Hared, because it is all about YOU!