How to Train Your Cycling Strength

29th May 2018

Load your muscles. The answer to getting stronger is actually as simple as that, load your muscle up on bigger gears, do more headwind riding, add hills and reap the benefits of gravity as the loading resistance effect. Hell, even some eccentric techniques will add strength not recommended for problematic side-effects but you could ride around on flat tires, towing a trailer full of bricks, with one leg but it’s not as good for your muscles. The better detail is in the when and how best to do the muscle-loading efforts.

An old program format comes to mind and has never really been found to have flaws over the last few decades. Get fitter first, then get stronger, THEN get faster.
The gem inside this simple sentence is that you are best to become a little bit fitter before trying to get stronger. In other words commonly known, build some endurance base fitness before loading up the resistance and working harder to get stronger muscles. The same principle applies in the gym to weight training, where you don’t want to add weight to the exercises until you really have a good handle on technique and the fitness to repetitively complete the drill many times on a lower weight without fatiguing.

Endurance or basic fitness training (written about in another article on the Ridewiser Articles page) prepares the muscles and heart and lungs with high volume repetition so that joint movements are well practiced, oxygen delivery to the working areas is more effective, and the body’s ability to replenish after training sessions is efficient. This means that when strength training sessions are commenced, they can be quite hard work but the body is prepared for recovering, particularly by being more efficient for every heart-beat pump while you sleep!

Understand that whether you are riding a bigger gear size on the cogs, or working into a head-wind or climbing a gradient, the muscles are getting a ‘resistance loading effect’ and we are training them to get stronger. Let’s just use flat-road head-wind efforts on a heavier cycling gear load as the ideal strength-building method, in that the strain on the muscles is staying relatively constant for the duration of the climbing exercise. It is far better to do this drill on easier-to-pedal gears first, then add gear size strains as you become more competent. In aiming to isolate the work to just the pedaling muscle groups, it’s recommended that you sit on a cadence between 75 < RPM < 85 and concentrate on (1) deep full-lung volume breathing cycles, (2) exacting a continuous circular pedal-stroke movement using muscles at all clock-face points to sustain a constantly engaged turning pedal-pressure, and (3) maintain a stable posture under the pedaling load while working.

Once you have some general base fitness (endurance generally means regular 3 x 2hr rides per week do not fatigue your body), you might feel ready to complete 1-2 sessions per week of cycling strength training. Think of strength training efforts of 3 blocks of work under load. The 3rd effort is always the most productive and valuable effort in the series because its with a very well warmed up body – oxygenated muscles, mobilised organs (heart-rate, respiration rate) and focused technique under pressure.

As you progress through the weeks of strength efforts, typically 3 weeks on with 1 week of easy riding to rejuvenate, your best way to keep in check that all is going well is that you are working around the 80-85% effort (threshold heart-rate or power level) during the efforts, and that you are recovering within the time between strength effort days. Here’s a typical example of the training day routine commonly completed by riders building strength in the training fraternity. Other days are mixed up with rest, endurance and bunch cycling to speed up the muscle recovery.

Tuesday = 3 x 5mins – Flat road efforts into head-wind on big chain-ring gearing (75 < RPM < 85)
Saturday = 3 x 4mins – Climbing road efforts on mid-range gearing (75 < RPM < 85)

progress these efforts over 3 or 4 weeks to reach something more substantial like:-

Tuesday = 3 x 10mins – Flat road efforts into head-wind on big heavy gearing (75 < RPM < 85)
Saturday = 3 x 8mins – Climbing road efforts on heavier gearing (75 < RPM < 85)

* DO NOT prematurely over-exert during cycling strength training efforts as there is increased risk of over-loading gears and time spent on heavier gearing leading to sore knees, tightening muscles, or other kinds of physiological strain. Seek out a proper strength training program or fitness professional to guide you if unsure.



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