Over the last five years in particular, we’ve seen much progress made into endurance athletes and their coaches using strength training to help boost endurance performance. But why does it work, and what are the major factors in contributing to an athlete’s improved abilities?
When it comes to strength training, many athletes and coaches tend to think of the term “specific adaptation to imposed demands” (SAID Principle), and so they head to the gym and do exercises that mimic sports movements. While this is a great start, there is so much more that we can accomplish in the gym when we take a step back and look at the major governing principles of strength training, and how to properly execute it for maximal sport results.
Let’s start from the desired outcome of any and all training we do: increased power output.
This is after all what we are after: An increase in your power output/ sustainable output, so that you can crush your opposition, and move up in the ranks.
Power output has five contributors that all must be working at high levels in order to maximize your power output.
These five contributors for maximizing power output include:
Slide from TrainingPeaks University “Strength Training for Cycling” Course by Menachem Brodie
- Motor Control
- Movement Qualities
- Skill & Technique
- Energy Systems
For the sake of brevity of this post, we’re going to stay “big picture” and simply mention that properly designed and executed strength training programs significantly increase an athletes motor control through use of the five fundamental human movement patterns:
As we improve the motor control and attain better musculature balance at each joint, we will see the athletes movement qualities significantly improve—on and off the bike. This is one of the biggest things that properly designed strength training programs offer: A return of the athlete to good posture and better balance at each of the joints. In return this allows the muscles to be at, or closer to, their “ideal resting length,” which is a key in attaining optimal performance.
But how do we build these into our programs? And what do we need to do to keep ourselves and our athletes moving well, and continually seeing better performances out in their sport?
As with any sports training, we need to have our athletes consistently doing their strength training. Are you sitting down? Because what I am about to say may have you get all wobbly in the knees. All athletes, outside of World Tour/ ProTour/ pro riders, should be strength training two to three times a week THROUGHOUT THE YEAR.
This is simply a truth that we must accept, and learn how to program appropriately for both ourselves and for each of our athletes. While during transition and base periods, the strength training sessions should be between 45 and 75 minutes in length, as we get into build and taper, these workouts can be as short as 20 minutes, dependent upon what the athlete’s level and needs are. At a minimum, outside of ProTour and WorldTour Riders, we should get at least one 45-minute strength training session a week.
This consistency allows the athlete continue to build their strength, and not start back from the ground up the following year. While many of you may say this impossible, it is in fact actually very easy to do, especially when one considers all of the different tools one can have an athlete use, including traditional barbells, dumbbells, machines, bands, kettlebells and suspension trainers (i.e. TRX).
2. Dynamic warm ups
Unfortunately the dynamic warm up tends to be very underrated when it comes to programming. Many think of warming up for strength training as simply using a lighter weight for one to three warm up sets, and then going right to work.
While this kind of warm up is an integral part of properly training for strength, and is very valuable, a thoroughly thought out and designed dynamic warm up can not only prime the athlete for a great session, but it is also one of the best ways to consistently get the athlete the small corrective or “pre-hab” exercises they need in order to help them address major issues in the body. It also helps them both understand and develop how a regular warm-up ritual can help them get into a good flow before their session begins.
This simple and physically highly effective piece of a strength training program can help you begin to tap into the psychological side of performance, often times the missing link for an athlete to unleash their full potential out on the bike.
3. Compound sets
Also known as “super sets,” these are the structuring of a strength program based on the “balancing” principle can really work magic for you or your athlete.
As endurance athletes we must never lose sight of the fact that in order to get better at our sport we must be out on the road practicing our sport, and working on matching the skill, technique and energy demands of the sport for at least six to eight hours a week, if we want to see progress.
This presents us with what many would consider the biggest obstacle for adding strength training into an athletes program: time.
While some may feel time crunched when it comes to strength training, this “crunch” actually affords us a great advantage, as it becomes far easier to follow a super set-style program.
Compound sets are programed primarily with opposing or complimentary movements, such as a bench press and a seated cable row. However, while this is a nice way to think of compound movements, there is an even more dialed in approach that we can take by matching together one of the fundamental five movements above with a complimentary “prehab/ rehab” movement can prove to be massively productive and beneficial for you or your athlete.
Take for example pairing together a dumbbell bench press, with a half kneeling Latissimus Dorsi stretch. While the bench press motion is something seen as “sport specific” movement, the lats tend to get very short, and over time can play a leading role in shoulder pain and issues that many cyclists and triathlete suffer from.
Compound sets, combined with a well planned and thought out dynamic warmup add significant power and potency to your strength training programs, allowing your athlete to maximize not only their time strength training, but also boost their performance on the bike even more, by helping to address imbalances at the joints, as well as movement deficiencies/challenges that you or your athlete may have.
Stay tuned for part two of this series for more an movement qualities, motor control, and special considerations that must be taken as you build a strength training program for you or your athlete.
If you’d like to learn about more about strength training for cyclists, you can sign up for the most detailed and thorough online program available. My “Strength Training for Cyclists” course is available exclusively at TrainingPeaks University. See more details about it in the short video introduction below.
The program offers you more than eight hours of expert information on the science and practice of building strength training programs that have maximum impact, and help you and your athletes not only increase their power on the bike, but also improve their quality of life off the bike.