Strength training for cycling

A good strength training programme will improve your performance on the bike, reduce recovery time and prevent injuries. So this issue Sarah Walker provides a few practical tips.

It is important to strengthen movement patterns rather than individual muscle groups, as the brain recognises patterns of movement rather than individual movements. The areas of the body that take abuse in cycling include calves, quads, hamstrings, glutes, chest, shoulders and wrists.

Patterns of movement for the leg muscles mentioned would be squat calf raises, multi directional lunges and one legged squats. While for the upper body, do push ups, pull ups, dips and rows.

You should keep in mind though that there are different types of strength which are achieved in specific ways. But how do these types of strength relate to cycling and how can you train them?

Relative Strength

Relative Strength in cycling terms is the ability to move the weight of your body and bike efficiently in the direction you wish to go.
What: It’s all about recruiting more motor units in the muscle to create more force.
How: Use 3-5 sets of <40s per set, 6 reps, body weight plus high resistance where applicable (60-110% of your maximum resistance).
Exercises to do: Lunges, squat calf raises, push ups, dips and pull ups.

Speed Strength

Speed strength can be broken into two forms – Explosive Strength and Reactive Strength.

Explosive Strength

Explosive Strength relates to your ability to apply bursts of speed for sprinting or climbing.
What: The kind of strength those okes in the gym are usually trying to build.
How: Plyometric type exercises (jump training – exert maximum force in short intervals of time), 5-10 reps per set, 2-5 sets, <15s, controlled movement with pauses between reps to reset your position.
Exercises to do: Step or hurdle jumps, forwards backwards or sideways; progress to hops; jumps up and then down into a squat (shrug jumps) and burpies.

Reactive Strength

Reactive Strength provides you with the ability to perform springy light quick movements like spinning.
What: Stay light on your feet and promote muscle control/coordination even when exhausted.
How: 2-5 sets <12s per set, 10-20 reps per set, body weight or medium resistance.
Exercises to do: Up and down a step or skipping (stay on balls of feet to strengthen calves and explosive strength of the lower leg and foot).

Start your programme with a 10 minute warm-up jog, row or bike. Pick 2 – 4  exercises for each of the three groups mentioned above, mixing upper and lower body. Finish off with a few core exercises and stretches to cool down (see my Physio Columns in the June/July and August issues of Full Sus). 2-3 strength sessions per week are sufficient with a 2-5% increase in load each week. Remember to allow recovery time after each session and provide good nutritional support.

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