Most cyclists question the need for strength training as they prefer to rather spend the time on their bike. Nevertheless, people are realising that training the body in a variety of ways, results not only in getting stronger but also in preventing injuries.
Cyclists understand the need for improving “power” on the bike yet strength training doesn't form part of their exercise programme. When one understands the definition of "power" and "strength" it becomes a bit clearer.
"Power" is defined as the ability to generate as much force as fast as possible, whereas "Strength" is the amount of force a muscle, or group of muscles, can exert against an external load.
In understanding the definition, one cannot improve your power on the bike without improving your strength first. Once upon a time it would be predominantly the body builders and the gym goers that would be incorporating strength and power training but these days it is universally accepted as a crucial training component for most endurance athletes.
What is the difference between strength and power training?
When assessing someone’s strength, a 1-repetition maximum test is used to determine the greatest weight they can use to perform the exercise whilst maintaining proper form. The speed of the movement is not important.
With Power training it requires strength and speed training to develop force quickly. The load should be heavy enough to allow maximum force to be exerted, but not too heavy that the exercise is performed too slowly. With this type of training there is normally an explosive element incorporated into the exercise.
How long should I do strength training for?
When doing strength training, one should aim to do the exercise at about 80% of the 1- repetition maximum and be able to do 6-8 repetitions whilst maintaining good form. You know you're doing it right when by the 6th repetition you almost feel like you can’t quite do another two but manage to complete the 8 repetitions. Allow about 3 minute rest intervals between sets to ensure enough recovery time. A maximum of 2-3 sets is sufficient. Normally after 2-3 weeks the current weight used starts to feel too easy and then the weight can be increased.
Importance of a balanced training programme
Even though strength training will compliment your cycling and make you stronger on the bike, with fewer injuries, it is important to realise that it should only be part of an overall conditioning programme. Strength and power exercises for the average cyclist should be part of a 3 day per week programme and the rest should be considered for recovery, mobility/flexibility training and of course cycling.
Why incorporate strength and/or power training in my cycling programme?
The main focus with strength training is to create a stronger support system for your prime movers whilst on the bike. The stronger your core the better you are at handling your bike, climbing and the better your potential for improving your power. A stronger body ensures better form and alignment which in turns protects our precious joints.
Top Strength Exercises for Mountain Bikers
Gluteus maximus with latissimus dorsi - Deep squat with a bent over row arms
Stand with your feet hip width apart. Slowly squat down, ensuring your pelvis is tracking backwards and your trunk forwards. Keep your knees behind your toes. At the end of your available range, use a theraband, pulley or weights and pull your hands to the sides of your waist by bending your elbows. Maintain an upright body and long neck.
Easier version: Don’t squat too deep down;
Perform arm and squat exercises separately at first;
Decrease the weight or colour of the theraband.
Power version: Deep squats into a jump.
Abdominal muscles and triceps - Plank with Mountain climbers
Start with your elbows in line with your shoulders. Feet should be planted into the ground using your toes, with your heels in line with your toes. Ensure your hips are in line with your shoulders and that your back is not sinking down or arching too much. Slowly bring your right knee to meet your right elbow and then return to your starting position. Then bring your right knee to your left elbow and return to your starting position. Repeat on the other side.
Easier version: Perform the exercise on your hands.
Power version: Do the above exercise on your hands but bring alternate knees to chest as quickly as possible for 1 minute.
Gluteal muscles, hamstrings and back extensor muscles - Low to high modified lunge
Start in a plank position on your hands. Slowly bring your right foot between your hands. Ensure your back leg is strong by squeezing your gluteal, quadriceps muscles and being supported on your big toe. Make sure your back is long and there is little weight on both hands. Slowly reach both hands to overhead. Hold for 2 seconds and then return hands back to the mat. During the transition ensure the motion is being pivoted from the hips and the back is staying straight. Then repeat with left leg.
Easier version: Drop the back knee to the floor
Power version: Burpees