Strength and Conditioning for Cyclists
This season I put myself through an intense 8 week programme of Strength and Conditioning to improve my triathlon training. I'd reached the point of being stuck in a rut of my swim and run times not coming down so decided I needed to get stronger. After being scened and tested it was clear I had many weakness most created from years spent riding a bike. So to correct this I contacted Function jigsaw who put me in touch with Dave Clarke, Over the coming weeks I then went through an intense block of training incorporating 2x1hr S&C workouts a week. To start of with the workouts really hurt. But after week 3 I was able to take the training load much better. And stated to see improvements with my posture which helped my running and form but one of the biggest gains was my swim times stated to plummet. Due to strength I gained in my upper body. Cycling remained stable but that was already my strong point so in this first phase that's what I needed. Basically with the extra load I was still able to sustain the training with no impact to my power on the bike By the end of the 8 weeks I managed to pull my first ever win in a triathlon. After nearly 16 months of trying to win one I can't tell you how good it felt https://www.giant-bicycles.com/gb/news/matt-bottrill-wins-leicester-triathlon/21340
We are also involved in the Function Jigsaw Performance day on the 12th November 2017 which will be a great day to come a long to and see how they can help you, for more information take a look at this link,
I've made the call for 2018 to make a full commitment of coming back to cycling. But one of the key elements I will be bringing into my training will be Strength and Conditioning. So for this month's blog I thought I would introduce you to my S&C coach Dave Clarke who owns Hybrid Performance Strength & Conditioning, you can find him on all social media platforms.
What are the benefits of S&C especially for cycling?
Strength & Conditioning isn't just about picking up heavy weights in a gym anymore, we take quite an hollistic approach. Taking into account nutrition, sleep, mobility and stability, recovery protocols as well as max strength, power and speed to name just a few things. I always believe you have to master the basics before you can dabble with the sexy stuff.
The biggest thing for cyclists is actually getting you to do the extras off of the bike, like using a foam roller to improve tissue quality, a mini band to activate your glutes before a ride. I also seem to find that when a cyclist does go to the gym, they get on a bike for an hour.
When you do make it to the gym, we need to make sure you're working on things that are going to make you a better all round athlete based on previous assessments that you may have had.
A typical session should take on a certain order.
Pillar Preparation - Foam roll, stretch, activation
Movement Preparation - mini band, dynamic stretch, movement integration, neural activation
Plyometric & medicine ball - landing, jumps, hops, bounds, throws
Strength & Power - improve elements of the force velocity curve
Energy System Development - equipment based, field based
Regeneration - nutrition, hydration, sleep, alternative
It is highly important for cyclist to get stronger and more powerful through their legs. Cycling is a unilateral (1 leg ) sport, so we would use exercises such as a split squat for strength. This will really help any asymmetries between your right and left leg. Another focus would be your 'Core', this is vital for the absorption and transfer of force. So that you don't leak any energy by being weak through your trunk. Your ' core' isn't going to get stronger by doing crunches, you should be bracing, rotating and carrying to get stronger in this area.
With S&C you can improve on all strength qualities needed on the bike, through numerous planes of motion by manipulating the programming and exercises used but you have to get off the bike and onto the gym floor to do this. This can then be transferred into a winning result.
I'm limited on time, am I better doing one key session or 10-15 mins sessions every other day?
This will depend on your focus for the session or your short, medium and long term goals. If your goals are to improve your mobility then this is easily done in a short time at home but if we are looking at improving your strength and power this will take a little longer. You have to warm up correctly to minimise injury. Doing something I call Pillar Preparation and Movement Preparation before we go in to anything fast or heavy, this will prepare your body and mind for the work thats about to be done. We should also take rest times into account when training for strength and power. In certain blocks of training, to get what you want out of each set you could be resting anything from 3-5 minutes between sets. obviously this adds time to the session.
So if you want to improve your strength, power or speed we will definitely need to be doing a longer session.
When should is an S&C session best placed in your training plan?
Like i have previously mentioned S&C is different to what we the majority of us think. So really you could be doing elements of your S&C program in a warm up before a race, using the Pillar Prep and the Movement Prep to get you warm, improve tissue quality, mobilised and activated before you get on your bike.
For your big strength and power session, i would work it backwards from your next race. So if your next race was on a Saturday, you should be doing your hard and heavy S&C session on the Tuesday before. This will give you enough time to recover but you can do a light session on the Thursday, nothing to heavy that is going to drain your Central Nervous System and not to much volume that could give you any muscle soreness.
How often should I be looking at S&C ?
Every day, you should be doing the small things each day that can have an amazing affect on your performance.
Recovery protocols are an everyday thing to think about. Start with the basics of nutrition, hydration and sleep, then alternatives like meditation, Diaphramic breathing, hot and cold therapies, compression garments and massage.
As for your gym work 1-2 times a week would have some really positive effects on your performance if programmed correctly.
Should S&C be specific to the sport your taking part in?
I believe in making better athletes and better all round athletes will make better cyclists.
As part of your programming and your sports season, you should go through specific phases of training at certain times of the year but I first and foremost I concentrate on the person and not the program.
The majority of cyclists have tight hip flexors, Stretching these and improving the position your pelvis sits in is vital and will improve your cycling and help keep you injury free and will go in most peoples program but this is not specific to cycling.
Cycling is cycling specific, but if i can make you stronger, more powerful, reduce your injuries and get you in a better position on the bike, then this will transfer this onto the bike and you will improve your performance.
Do I need to go the gym to do S&C?
To really hit the force section of the force velocity curve, you will need to pick something heavy up, so a gym is an easy place to do this but if you can't get to the gym it doesn't mean we can't do some sort of training to make you a better athlete, you will just be slightly limiting what we can do.
You can utilise your own bodyweight, floor sliders or a towel, furniture, not to lift but to use to hang of for rows or dips etc for home workouts and then mother nature like hills, rocks and trees for chin ups. Some of my favourite sessions are using bodyweight and modern strongman exercise using tyres, sledgehammers, beer barrels and ropes, once you have some of this basic kit hanging round the world is you oyster when it comes to home workouts.
Should my S&C change through the season? E.g. Winter and summer when racing etc?
Yes, you should be going through different phases of training, depending on how your competition calendar is set out.
Generally the off season should be about increasing your numbers in the gym, building a foundation early on with general preparation then get more specific by developing the qualities needed for your events.
In season is all about race day, so we will maintain all the improvements made in the off season and then make adaptations when you have breaks in the race calendar.