The Importance of Strength Training for Endurance Athletes
When talking to cyclists I often get the same response when discussing the importance of strength training. It typically goes something like, “I don’t want to take away from my riding time.” The fear is that any time that’s available would be better spent training specifically for their sport, and not on strength and conditioning. This sentiment is not unfounded for time-crunched athletes looking to squeeze every possible gain from the time that they have available.
However, the importance of strength training cannot be underestimated, and the shoulder seasons are the perfect time to integrate off the bike training. This is the time to identify weaknesses and strengthen those areas. Shifting a small amount of time to strength-focused training can lead to big gains when the volume begins to increase.
Why Strength and Agility Training?
Most non-elite athletes have a hard time understanding how time spent training off of the bike is a productive part of reaching their overall goals. While it seems counter intuitive to many, it’s important to recognize that when training the focus should be on well-rounded athletic development and not a singular strength. This means identifying weaknesses and working to improve those areas in any way possible. Working on strength and agility allows you to shift your focus towards areas that don’t get proper attention when the focus is 100 percent on the bike. Areas like the core, lower back, and upper body can always benefit from off the bike exercise. These are areas of weakness for many cyclists and if strengthened, it can result in increased power and improvements to a rider’s form.
While strength and conditioning can help deliver notable physiological improvements, it also provides a valuable psychological shift as well. During the off-season and early base period, allowing yourself to focus on strength training as a way to maintain and improve your fitness can leave you feeling refreshed and ready for the season without feeling like you’ve fallen behind. Replacing one or two workouts a week with some time off of the bike can not only help you overcome weakness, but it will leave you feeling strong and less likely to become injured when the training load increases.
What Type of Strength Training is Best?
There are any number of workouts to choose from when it comes to strength training. Today’s gyms are overrun with options from CrossFit to group classes and everything in between. While everyone is different when it comes to the best way to train, there are a few things that I like to recommend for my athletes so that they get the most out of their time off of the bike.
First, functional exercises are a great compliment to the isolated movements experienced on the bike. Exercises that include lateral movements, sprints, and explosive exercises are the perfect way to work several of the body’s systems at once. These types of workouts help to strengthen joints and connective tissue making for a strong and injury resistant body.
As Many Reps As Possible (AMRAP) circuits are also a great tool for cyclists. These high intensity workouts are designed to not only be great strength workouts, but also provide a top end cardio session as well. These sessions provide an opportunity to blend both muscular development with gains to a rider’s top end and explosive power.
When constructing the perfect strength workout try to include high intensity body weight and explosive power workouts for maximum efficiency. Exercises like plyo pushups, jump squats, and mountain climbers are the best way for time-crunched athletes to see gains without a huge time commitment. Try the workout below for 8 to 12 minutes performing as many sets as possible in the given time.
Side Lunges: 15 per side
Bridge: 10 reps
Single Leg Squats: 10 each leg (20 total)
Burpees: 10 reps
Mountain Climbers: 25 each side (50 total)
Step Ups: 10 each leg (20 total)
Jump Squats: 12 reps
Focus on Your Weaknesses
Don’t be afraid to identify your weaknesses and design a plan to strengthen them. Now is the time of year to focus on the things that, if improved upon, could make you a better rider. If top end power is an issue focus on functional, fast paced exercises like jump squats and jumping lunges. For mountain bikers and cyclocross racers upper body exercises can be vital for improving bike-handling skills.
It’s important for every athlete to not neglect your upper body. As cyclists we often times become too lower body dominant, and forget that our upper body helps us maintain proper form. Not to mention the power that a strong core can help deliver.
Core work should be a part of every strength workout. Perform exercises that engage the core while also helping to develop other primary muscles. Remember that your body doesn’t use one muscle at a time, but rather utilizes sets of muscles in concert to create balance and power. Training with this in mind will help you become a better all-around athlete as well as helping to strengthen your problem areas.
Strength training shouldn’t be an afterthought for endurance athletes. Dedicating time to identifying and strengthening weaknesses makes for a well-rounded and injury resistant athlete. High intensity exercises offer dual benefits for cyclists allowing them to not only become stronger, but also develop top end power and speed. These gains can provide advantages when the race season begins that are not only physical but mental as well. Focused attention on strength and agility work keeps motivation high and burnout low. The goal of every cyclist should be to develop as a well-rounded athlete ready to tackle any race-day scenario. Strength training provides an athlete the tools necessary to be strong, injury resistant, and mentally prepared.