Knowledge Level: Intermediate
The winter can be the ideal time for cyclists to hit the gym in order to reap performance and injury prevention gains come the spring.
Q: I struggle to find enough time to ride my bike, why should I go to the gym?
A: Many riders, with limited time to train, have understandable reservations about giving valuable saddle time over to gym work and so neglect it. Cycling fitness should be viewed as a pyramid with your actual cycling performance just the capstone on top. It should be underpinned and supported by a broad base and subsequent tiers of all round conditioning. Cycling, on its own, in terms of movement and conditioning, is a very narrow activity and won’t give you that crucial all-round athletic broad base. Without this base, your layers above, including your cycling, will be limited and compromised. If you focus solely on cycling, your pyramid will be inverted, which isn’t stable or sustainable.
Q: That is all well and good but will it make me a faster rider?
A: Off-the-bike conditioning work will make you faster on the bike but it will also deliver a host of other benefits. It will slow and even reverse the loss of muscle mass associated with ageing, improving strength, health and facilitating weight control. It will improve bone health, specifically bone density, which is an issue even for Grand Tour riders. Finally, by being more robust and resilient, you will be less likely to injure yourself lifting the kids out of the car, carrying shopping or working in the garden. Less time laid up with an injury means more time out on your bike.
Q: If I have to drop a couple of rides to fit in some strength work, won’t I lose fitness?
A: Studies have shown that there is no detriment to your aerobic fitness by substituting in two or three conditioning sessions each week for a period of 6-8 weeks.
Q: How often do I need to be doing strength work?
A: Through the winter the ideal would be to do 2-3 sessions a week with 48 hours of recovery between workouts. As you move into the season, you can drop this down to two sessions or even just one for maintenance.
Q: What exercises should I do?
A: Every rider is an individual, with their own specific strengths and limitations. Many cyclists, despite having strong legs, are relatively week in the trunk and have poor flexibility. This means that an exercise such as a barbell back squat, which is often thought as being a good movement for cyclist, might not be suitable. If you have any doubts about your capabilities or have past injuries to consider you should seek professional advice. For most amateur riders, a goblet squat, some form of split squat or lunge, a plank and press-ups for the upper body are good starting points.
Q: How many sets and reps should I do?
A: Determine set and reps number by following the “Rule of 24”. Aim to perform 24 reps for each exercise using a maximum of 12 reps per set. If you are feeling strong this might be two sets of twelve but, on a day when you are more fatigued, it might be three sets of eight. Once you are consistently managing two sets of twelve for an exercise, consider moving on to one of the progression options. Strict form is essential for strength training to be effective and safe. End the set when you are unable to maintain perfect form.