Strength Training for a Peak Race: Is 12 Weeks Enough Time?

Strength Training for a Peak Race:

Is 12 Weeks Enough Time?

Should You Start Strength Training 12 Weeks Out From a Peak Race?

These days many cycling and triathlon coaches have begun to dole out strength training programs to their athletes, as well as many cyclists & triathletes finding or developing programs for themselves…. But many see strength training in a very limited view, which leaves them categorizing strength training as a “Base Period” only activity. 

This is a problem, as due to this small world-view of what strength training is, and the benefits it can offer, means that many are missing out on the massive benefits that can be had from an intelligently designed strength training program.

Should I Start Strength Training If I'm 12 Weeks Our From a Peak Race?

This morning as I perused the interwebs, I came across a post in a group along the following lines:

Hi all,
 
I am currently targeting my Road Race Cycling Age Group Nationals in 12 weeks. It’s 70 miles over a 10 lap Circuit, with a hard 4:45 minute climb at the end of each lap.

I am 36 and have ridden consistently for the last 12 years, but with no structure to my training. I’ve recently hired a coach, and my question is about strength training.

 
I’ve never done any strength training, aside from middle school phys ed, but I would really like to start a Strength routine, as I think it could help me. But I feel nervous that with only 12 weeks to my peak race that this may be the wrong thing to do, as I wouldn’t be able to do all of the on-bike sessions each week that my coach wants me to do.
 
I’m thinking of starting with the basic movement patterns without weight, because they are not so hard, and will help me be able to keep up the on-bike intensity that my (new) coach wants.
 
Any thoughts would be great.
Thank you!
 
 
 

The "Common Sense" Answer

Adding Strength Training 12 weeks before a peak race?

“Common sense is neither common, nor sensical”

This saying holds true here, with many answering that it’s either “too late to start”, or “progressive loading for X weeks and then de-load”, as well as the all-popular “focus on core”, and of course the “focus on X on the bike, which will have better benefits than strength”.

 

Before we get into the answer here, let’s make one thing crystal clear here:

Every single person who has attempted to answer this question, comes from a place of caring, and wanting nothing but the best for this individual. They come from a place of sharing their own experiences and the culmination of their knowledge and abilities up until that point in time. 

They are all trying to help.

However, those answering are working with a very old and outdated paradigm of what strength training is, and how/ when it should be applied. 

It’s not their fault, however, as this is what the public understand from a strength training perspective. 

But these beliefs and understandings of strength training are heavily based upon bodybuilding & power lifting principles, which have influenced nearly every corner of human strength programs, from physical therapy to sports performance- until recently. 

Important Considerations When Strength Training for a Peak Race 12 Weeks Away

The notion that strength training needs to involve heavy weights, soreness, and detract from cycling or triathlon for that matter, is extremely old and outdated- yet how many approach it…
 
“Lifting heavy Sh*t” in your base period, and then ignoring strength training the rest of the year, or “doing core” (whatever that is) is what many cyclists and triathletes do, and what has driven much of the research to date on “strength training for cyclists”. 
 
 
However, the primary gain for endurance athletes with ZERO strength training history or experience who are getting started in strength training, is learning motor control, and motion control, as well as how to create proximal stiffness to get distal motion (thus the efficiency of  your movement improving). 
 
Only after those foundational pieces, and relatively “low hanging fruits” are performed and established, should you look to add load. These two pieces, Efficiency (Skill & Technique), and Neuromuscular Control (Engrams, Motor Control), make up 33% of what contribute to your performances.
 
 
*** Important to note that this ALSO applies to your riding/running/swimming technique and abilities as well!***
 
 
Meanwhile, Muscular Contractions, aka mechanical strength, makes up just half that, at 16.5%.
 
Or, looking at performance from an energy standpoint, the following graphic, drives the point home:
 
 
strength training for cyclists and triathletes does for more than add strength
Adopted from Joel Jamieson
 
 
There are a number of myths and misconceptions out there, many of which revolve around the idea that you need weights in order to improve. However, as you can see in the diagram above, that means one is focusing only on ONE component of energy utilization, namely the mechanical aspect. 
 
In fact, a good amount of time needs to be spent on tissue preparation and learning movement and motor patterns (Neuromuscular Control, Efficiency), especially for those over the age of 25 who have been riding for more than 4-5 years seriously (greater than 5 hours a week), which is where it appears this particular athlete (36 years old) falls.
 
Fantastic gains can be seen from a program which is developed to help the individual move better (Neuromuscular Control), and be able to grasp the elements of force control and force direction (Efficiency), much of which occurs at the base levels without added resistance or loading.
 
In an effort to “train by science” many endurance athlete and coaches alike, are needlessly loading up their athletes with weights, thus pushing them closer to the brink of a tissue injury (tendon, ligament, bone, spine). This is in large part due to the their poor understanding of what the primary qualities we’re after, and need, from strength training is, alongside poor or no prior loading (strength training) history for the individual, poor movement patterns, and a lack of understanding that in order to see performance gains from said strength training safely built, all of the above need to be properly addressed, before adding load.
 
Namely, these changes can be gained through building an intelligent strength training program, focused around the foundational building blocks of:
 
1. Better motor control (Efficiency)
2. Improved co-contractions for movement throughout the body (Neuromuscular Control)
 
Having built these two foundational items to endure for the necessary patterns and abilities needed, we can move to becoming a bit more robust through:
 

3. Improved ability to produce proximal stiffness for distal motion (Although this should be addressed in step 1. better motor control, it is here that we build a bit more robustness, and look to improve strength-endurance)

4. Improved tissue qualities and preparedness for loading (time under tension, use of various positions to change moment-arms of movement).
 
 
 

So with these 4 building blocks in mind, what do you think?

Is 12 weeks enough time for this rider to see on-bike improvements in their performance from an intelligently designed strength training program?

 

The Correct Answer

The TRULY correct answer is….

It Depends.

On the athelte
Their abilities
Their needs

And frankly, we do not have nearly enough information from a 2 paragraph post on some forum online. 

In fact, forums are not the place to debate these kinds of topics- that can only be done via a live conversation, or a correspondence over a period of days, weeks, or even months. 

There are far too many questions that remain needing to be asked, than answers.

So for now, the correct answer remains to be learned, and we’ll only truly know if we try something, and see how it goes, followed by taking the time and effort to dig into the results and seeing what could have been done better, or what massive wins (or mistakes) were made along the way.

Hindsight is 20/20, as they say.

Conclusion

But you’re not here for the real answer, you’d like to know IN GENERAL, for your own knowledge and application.

So here’s a GENERALLY correct answer:

12 weeks is not too late for a properly designed strength training program to help this individual unlock potential and abilities they already posses, and to help them look, feel, and move far better than they already do, while putting out more power on the bike.

In fact, we can see significant improvements in as little as 6 weeks, even with “just bodyweight” movements, as many of those who have been through my 60 Day Movement Mastery Program have felt and experienced.

HOWEVER, should you focus on weights on the bar, or more repetitions at a given weight, you’ve missed the boat on performance, and are simply following a power lifting, body building, or general fitness approach- none of which will help you perform better as a cyclist or triathlete.

Sure, you may see some general improvements, but those will typically fall off after the first 3-4 months, with your cycling or triathlon failing to improve, and being crunched for time – and let’s be honest, it’s far more fun to be outside biking and running than it is to be int he gym- so you’ll drop the strength training…. This means starting back from pretty much scratch, the following transition or base period.

Meaning you’ve essentially wasted your precious time and energy.

Which sucks. 

A Lot.

Capital L. 

 

Avoid this, by using strength training year-round to help you build strength, resilience, and better movement, while complimenting your riding or training and helping you be the best and most resilient endurance athlete you can be. 

If you’d like to learn more about Strength Training for Performance in Cycling, Sign up for the Insiders List for the Strength Training for Cyclists Certification Course, which opens again February 14, 2021. 

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Menachem Brodie

Menachem Brodie

Coaching since 2000, Menachem Brodie has been working with athletes in a number of settings, and a broad variety of sports.

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