Toolbox: One of the biggest mistakes many amateur athletes (and their trainers) make, is believing that more weight on the bar, or more repetitions at a given weight means that you’re on the path to increased performance in your sport. In fact, this could not be farther from the truth. . .
Hitting the weights has become much more accepted in the cycling world, with many riders looking to add some strength to help boost their riding. While the weight room can be a fantastic place to do this, there are a number of easy to make mistakes, even under the guidance of well-meaning trainers or coaches.
The key is making sure that the program is geared to what demands you’re going to be placing the body under. And in our sport of cycling, that means never having to overcome a huge mass’s gravitational pull.
Yet that’s how many train:
- I need to add weight to the bar
- I need to do more reps with the same weight
While these may be outward signs that you’ve become mechanically stronger, or able to do more work, focusing here will, more often than not, get you increased muscle mass but NOT performance on the bike.
Case Study: Sam
Let’s take a look at a recent case with an athlete who returned to me, after taking a year to work with a well-meaning in-person trainer. Sam is a soccer goalie who needed to develop power, explosiveness, ability to execute sport skills well, while getting less beat-up by the training. The exact same things that we cyclists are after, but just for different sport-specific outcomes. Performance, not strength and mass, are at the forefront.
When Sam and I parted ways in 2019, he was weighing in at around 85 kg, and we had been working on his hip power and explosiveness – two shared goals with cyclists.
The result of the year with the trainer working on “fitness” from a traditional training approach of more weight on the bar/more reps = progress?
- Almost 8 kg of extra mass
- “Looking better” in the mirror
- Slower reaction times
- Less athleticism on the field
None of the above actually helps performance.
This is where most cyclists and triathletes are headed with their strength training approaches.
You train “sport specific moves” looking to add weight, reps, or speed, but miss the very important, but “non sport-specific” movements that help you develop better movement, balance, and athleticism.
When Sam and I began back again in July, Out was more reps for the same weight or more weight for the same reps. In was connecting the mind with moving from the right muscle, and keeping focused on HOW the exercise was being done.
We also changed his routine from 3-4 days a week strength training, down to 2 days week of strength, interspersed with a riding/running day in between. While a little apprehensive at first that he would lose strength, Sam trusted the process.
In just 5 months, he was down 5 kg, while his in-sport performances were far better. He was recovering better and leaving many of his training sessions feeling good, and able to tackle even more. Oh yeah, and he was moving heavier weights with much less effort.
Strength Training to bring the athlete out
You don’t need progressively heavier weights on a week to week basis to build athleticism and sport-oriented strength. You need better movement patterns to get the work done in a biomechanically efficient way, allowing your body to move better.
As you focus on HOW you’re moving, and how to appropriately deal with the forces placed on your body, you’ll find that, when done in the minimal necessary amounts to get the desired results, paired with sound nutrition, sleep, and riding schedule, that you’ll see an unlocking of your athletic abilities.
While focusing on good technique is at the center, you’ll need to go deeper, and feel the primary muscles working. This sounds easy, but is actually quite difficult.
Perhaps the easiest way to try this, is to try to perform the single-leg eyes closed deadlift.
In order to do this well, your brain will need to be tied into all your senses at a much higher level than ‘just doing the exercise’.
This level of intensity, is “intent”.
For Sam, this meant more power on the field, better distance, accuracy, and consistency on his goal kicks, as well as the ability to move better… and adding a good 6-7 inches on his vertical jump – an expression of raw power – in that time period, doesn’t hurt. While the weight loss accounts for a part of this improvement, he’s biomechanically better and also far quicker off the floor on exercises like box jumps. Two things related to HOW he moves, not his weight.
You can certainly spend your time worrying or focusing on the weight on the bar, or how many repetitions you’re getting at a set weight. But while progressive overload IS needed to see progress, these are only two metrics that often fall short when it comes to seeing in-sport performances improve.
So unless you have competitive Powerlifting or Olympic lifting aspirations, start to focus on HOW and WHERE you’re performing the movement, not just “putting in the work”.
The results are phenomenal when you do it right.
If you’d like to experience these kinds of results for yourself, I am opening a few spots in my signature Big Gear Blueprint program, which is either a strength only, or strength + on-bike training program that features weekly live Q & A sessions, and impressive results where they count – on the bike.
Email me at [email protected] if you’re interested, and we’ll schedule a call to see if the program is a good fit for you and your needs.