These 3 mistakes cyclists & triathletes make in their in-season strength training cost them power and strength out on course

Top 3 mistakes cyclists & triathlete make

Balancing your interval work with your strength training can be relatively simple, but not easy.

Here are the top 3 mistakes many cyclists and triathletes make that can derail your progress.

More and more cyclists and triathletes are now including strength training as a part of their training regimen. While the majority stop their strength training once the “season” begins in May or June, this actually detracts from performance.

It’s exactly like stopping riding your bike and running for the 2-3months before your key event because you “built up enough fitness/ strength for it”.

You would never do that! 

Right?

Stopping strength training as the season begins is a bad idea

 

Mistake #1 Stopping Strength Training Completely

This is so common, as many cyclists and triathletes are not properly approaching their strength training with the aim of acheiving 5, 6, and 7’s on a scale of 1-10 in the difficulty of their strength sessions.

 

A large part of this is the thought that our strength training needs to be similar to the interval work on the bike: 

Hard
Harder
Even Harder
Then…..

Strength training should NOT be as hard as interval training

 

Tony Gentilcore and I spoke about this on The strong Savvy Cyclists & Triathlete Podcast a while back. 

This is an understandable mistake to make, as LOTS of folks make this same mistake every year, around new years, when the urge to get in shape is thrust upon them….only to be battered, sore, and broken down after just 10-14 days, they abandon their fitness pursuits.

 

But strength training, when done as part of a training regimen for cycling or triathlon fitness, needs to be consistent, building stress on the muscles, connective tissues, and nervous system over time.

 

Once you remove the training stress, the adaptations are lost. This is what many miss when they think about the SAID principle (Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands).  

 

There is a simple way that we can (and should) continue your strength training throughout the season, and that is to decrease the days a week in the gym down to 1-2, and complete a shorter, more focused home workout another 1-2 days a week, using a kettlebell, resistance bands, or some dumbbells. 

We MUST keep strength training going, and PROGRESSING your strength & abilities, if you want to reap the full benefits of the time you’ve put into strength training. 

And this is where we need to check in and make sure that your strength training is having it’s desired effect, and that how you’re executing it is indeed building you up, and not breaking you down.

 

This brings us to our next mistake.

Mistake #2 Performing Strength Training as a Metabolic Activity, Not Neuromuscular

Understanding the spectrum of strength training programming, and how you can adjust your sessions to meet you needs

Those who have spent some time in the CrossFit world will be very familiar with the difference with how the STRENGTH part of the classes feel vs. the METCON.

But incase you’re unfamiliar, or you’d like a recap:

Strength part of class: around 40% of total class time that is NOT the WOD.

The perceived exertion and effort will vary from mostly 6-7 (scale of 1-10), with occasional 8’s and 9’s.

METCON/WOD: Around 20-40% of total class time, depending on workout.

This happens at the end of the class, after the warmup, skill, and strength work.

It pretty much feels like death when you’re done.

These are two VERY different workouts that result in different adaptations to the body. 

Strength Training Spectrum

Strength training can result in one of two different adaptations occur from it, and they do not mix:

On one end of the spectrum you are programming and executing your strength training in a way that your energy systems are getting better at improving their work capacity. 

This is what a METCON is. Literally “Metabolic Conditioning”.

You are challenging your muscles to be able to execute movements in specific positions to be more efficient and capable over specific periods of time.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have Neuromuscular adaptations. Literally the nervous system and muscles becoming more effective at producing movement and strength through greater contractile strength, better ability to fire more of the motor unit together, or even the ability to produce stiffness where needed in better amounts, to allow more force put out in a specific vector.

Diving into strength training details

Just as the prism above breaks down light into its various components, we too need to begin to view strength training as more than just picking things up and putting them down, or just simply performing a movement. 

 

WHAT you do and HOW you execute it is extremely important.

As is HOW MUCH you load it (as % of estimated 1 rep max), and your rest periods in between sets.

For today let’s just focus on the big mistake many cyclists and triathletes make in their strength training regimen:

Making their strength training into metabolic activities, and not neuromuscular.

 

This is an easy mistake to make, as thinking

“Well, my on-bike/ in sport fitness needs to be improved, so I’ll perform my strength training in the same way: 

Push hard (RPE 8/9/10) for an exercise, and then rest for just 1-2 minutes in between sets, and go again!”

 

As an endurance athlete you are already getting a ton of metabolic training in your sport, in ways that are much more specific to your needs than a strength training exercise.

Absolutely we can and should be using strength training to improve your muscular and strength balance, as well as your postures. However the way we should be doing this is through programming your strength training to be exactly that:

STRENGTH Training for cycling and triathlon performance

In order to do so, we need to follow 3 simple rules:

  1. Focus on HOW you perform the exercise
  2. Perform at an RPE of 6, 7, and occasionally 8
  3. REST for 3-5 minutes between sets

 

It’s the last one that gets most cyclists and triathletes, as most tend to rest for only 1-2 minutes in between their strength sets, making it a metabolic session, not neuromuscular.

 

When you make that switch you’ll find that your strength training sessions not only make you LESS sore and that you can recover better, but that your STRENGTH will also improve much quicker week to week, and month to month.

Mistake #3 Going to "Maintenance" way too early

Well, the season is here, so I'm just going to do some core, and some low weight maintenance.... IF you think this way, you can pretty much kiss your strength gains goodbye!

Yup. 

For the vast majority of cyclists and triathletes, going into “maintenance” for 5 months out of the year is costing you whatever strength gains you’ve made. 

This is still very prevalent, even with cycling and triathlon coaches whom I share the coaching duties with, who say they “understand” strength training and want their rider or triathlete to get stronger through weight training.

 

“Hey Brodie, Joe has made huge gains this winter and looks really great on the bike/ run/ swim, and it’s obviously from his work with you on strength. But now that March has arrived I need you to put him into a maintenance plan so we can dial up the riding/running/ swimming.”

 

No. 

Well, actually it depends.

But mostly No. 

 

While yes, we DO need to have a maintenance time of year, for those who are racing as amateurs, or who are riding/training recreationally and for general fitness gains, this time of year will ONLY be between 2-6 weeks, MAXIMUM.

Taking the entire 6-8 months between March- September as Maintenance is screwing you over, royally. 

Strength training, when done properly, will help you manage your training stress and continue to build you through the training season. 

But there needs to be a plan, and it should be written with the understanding that every 7-14 days you’ll need to re-assess how you’re holding up, and how the plan is working (or not).

In fact, I JUST had this very conversation with a rider of mine, who has agreed to trust the process and go with the program…..

Here are our messages this week, culminating in his last messages here a few hours ago:

Now, think about it.

This rider has just set an ALL TIME PR. 

They’ve been riding for over 10 years.

They are in their mid 50’s

Let me say that again- ALL TIME PR.

This rider is not a slacker. They’re one hard worker and hard revoery-ier, (if that’s even a word).

The difference is not the weights they’re doing in the weight room. Nor is it the on-bike program. The big difference is the positions they can now maintain. 

But most importantly, this rider was in their last 2 lifts for their 2nd (and last) Hypertrophy phase for the year. 

We haven’t even touched max strength yet, and this rider is already hitting all-time PR’s.

What if we had followed the common “rule” of jumping right into maintenance in March?

We’d see some improvements in this riders power and abilities, but not continual progress as we are seeing here. 

Yet this is where a large number of coaches and riders/triathletes stop their strength training program.

There are SO many more gains to be had!

Conclusion

These 3 most common mistakes when it comes to strength training in-season for cyclists and triathletes can completely erase the hard work you’ve done over the winter, and even detract from your in-sport performances. 

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