As cyclists progress with their strength training, several modifications to the strength-training program can be implemented to ensure its optimal effectiveness, which can ultimately improve cycling specific performance. Three strategies that can enhance the cyclists program are periodized strength training, specificity of training and in-season core-strength maintenance.
Periodization refers to the careful manipulation of training volume and intensity to achieve specific goals and objectives to maximize performance and minimize the possibility of overtraining. In other words, to provide an optimal training stimulus, the cyclist must frequently vary the training program by altering the load or the exercises. For example, consider a cyclist who performs ten exercises, without varying the weight, three times per week. Once he/she has adapted to this program, different exercises and/or higher intensities should be implemented to continue stimulating training adaptations. As the cycling season approaches, specific exercises (unilateral work, balance/proprioception training) should be incorporated into the program in order to transfer strength gains to cycling performance.
The concept of specificity, widely recognized in the field of strength training, holds that training is most effective when strength exercises are similar to the sport activity in which improvement is sought (Harman, 2000). In analyzing the sport of cycling, two critical elements can be targeted with specific strength training exercises. First, the mechanics of the pedal stroke involves unilateral force production. In other words, only the downward leg is applying positive force to the pedals at any one time. Studies have shown that even elite cyclists do not exercise force to pull up from the 6-oclock position to the 12-oclock position, rather they unweight the ascending leg. Second, cycling is a balance-dominated activity. Regardless of how routine riding a bicycle may become, a significant amount of balance and coordination is required to maintain an upright riding position.
To improve unilateral force production, exercises that focus on single-leg control (single leg squats, step-ups, split squats and lunges) may be added to the overall program to provide an effective training stimulus. These exercises can be quite challengingon a personal note, we have encountered many cyclists who perform a two-leg press with hundreds of pounds, but lack the strength and control to perform lunges. Placing the upper body in a cycling-specific position can further enhance exercises such as single-leg squats and step-ups.
To improve balance and proprioception (joint awareness in space), several tools can be integrated into traditional strength training exercises. Exercise balls, foam pads (Airex), foam rollers, wobble boards Dyna-Discs and Bosu Balls can provide the cyclist with an unstable training environment to enhance dynamic balance and control. Adding an unstable element to unilateral exercises such as squats can challenge even the most advanced cyclist, and serve to improve overall balance and coordination.
For many cyclists, the core musculature is the weak link in the kinetic chain. A strong core is critical because all movements either originate in or are coupled in the trunk; this coupling action connects movements of the lower body to those of the upper body and vice versa (Hedrick, 2000). Optimal core strength and stability can promote efficient biomechanical movement patterns and reduce the potential for injuries. For century, brevet and other endurance cyclists who spend long hours in the saddle, neuromuscular fatigue is virtually inevitable, and training the core can serve to minimize such efficiency losses and injury possibilities. Tools such as stability balls, balance boards, medicine balls and Thera-Band tubing can provide the cyclist with many different exercises to train the core in multiple planes of movement.
Strength Training Exercises
Doing the strength exercises recommended in part 1 of this article will increase general strength. As training progresses we move to more specific exercises to increase cycling-specific power.
Recommended exercises for:
- Increasing core strength [ Part 1 |
Part 2 ]
- Developing leg strength [ Part 1 |
Part 2 ]
- Improving muscle balance [ Part 1 |
Part 2 ]
- Strengthening connective tissues [ Part 1 |
Part 2 ]
- Improving upper body endurance [ Part 1 |
Part 2 ]
Strength Training LogDownload a spreadsheet to log your strength workouts.
- Bompa, T.O (1999). Periodization Training for Sports. Champaign: Human Kinetics.
- Burke, E.R. (1983). Improved cycling performance through strength training. NSCA Journal, 5(3), 6-7, 70-71
- Harman, E. (2000). The Biomechanics of Resistance Exercise. Baechle, E.R. & Earle, R.W. (Eds.). Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. (pp,.25-55). Champaign: Human Kinetics
- Hedrick, A. (2000). Training the trunk for improved athletic performance. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 22(3), 50-61.
- USA Cycling Expert Level Coaching Manual. (1995). Colorado Springs: USA Cycling.
Originally printed in UltraCycling