With the turn of the calendar over to a new year, many of us have begun to assess how our fall training has done as far as helping us attain the results we want. For some, the results from our strength training seems to be mixed.
More weight on the bar/machine, or more reps completed at the same weight….but we’re just not getting faster on the bike!
Here are the top 3 things to look at, to help you salvage the strength training you’ve done, to help you get faster on the bike.
1. Stop lifting so much!
While we know that we need to get a solid 3-5 days of endurance sports in, in order to see progress, strength training doesn’t require that much!
In fact, for the vast majority of those cyclists new to strength training, 2 days a week of moderate intensity strength training, lasting 45-70 minutes each session, is enough to see the results you’re after.
But many of us fall into the endurance mindset of “needing more”. I see it every fall and winter, as the emails come in with those who’ve purchased one of my pre-made programs, all of which offer 2 days of strength training + an optional 3rd movement focused day (i.e. mobility, dynamic stretching, and gentle strength & core work). The emails are along the lines of
“I just bought your X program, but I see it’s only 3 days a week. This winter I want to get super strong, so I bought another program so that I can strength train 5 days a week. How do I put the programs together for 5 days a week?”
The answer is, and will almost always be “Don’t.”
Even for the most advanced strength training cyclist, we do not need more than 3 days a week of strength, as your primary results should be geared to the bike, not the gym.
If you’ve been lifting more than 3 days a week, drop down to 2 days a week, spacing the strength out with 36-48 hours between sessions. Fight the urge to increase the intensity of these two sessions, and instead follow action from #3, down below.
But first, let’s make sure you’re giving your body exactly what it needs, in order to adapt and recover.
2. Eat more protein & produce, get more sleep
This is a really big one, especially for endurance athletes.
Over my nearly 15 years of coaching cyclists, and 13 with triathletes, I have heard time and again “I’m not seeing progress in my strength training. I’ve never been strong, and I just cannot seem to progress.” and “I’m just not meant to get muscularly stronger, that’s why I like cycling”
While these may seem like relatively harmless statements, they’re purely excuses for something in the athlete’s lifestyle or training being off. While everyone likes to ride their bike, few think to look at where the drops may be.
Dial in your sleep!
Sleep is relatively easy for us to assess:
- Do you have a regular bed time? (+/- 30 min of same time each night)
- How soon before bed to stop screen time? (minimum 60 min, yes, even with blue-light glasses!)
- Do you dream most nights?
- Do you wake up refreshed and energized most nights?
- How many hours do you sleep on average? (7-9 is ideal, with more quality hours for those with higher training loads)
Monitor your nutrition
These questions about sleep are pretty easy for us to answer accurately. But nutrition and protein intake is far trickier!
Around 70-80% of the time, the rider will assure me they are getting enough protein and produce (ideally dark, leafy greens and seasonal fruits and veggies). However, very few make the effort or take the time to actually measure their intake for a few days. But when we do measure, they are hit with the stark reality.
Their protein intake is well below the minimum of 1.6g per kilogram they need to be eating, in order to support their training. More often than not, their protein intake is barely hitting 1g/kg, more than 40% less than they need!
And produce? Well, those serving sizes aren’t as big as you thought they were.
Track your protein intake for 2 NORMAL weekdays and one weekend day. You’ll want to be hitting at least 5-6 servings of lean protein that are the size of the palm of your hand for each of these days.
For produce, we want to have 8-10 servings the size of your fist.
3. Focus on IMPULSE, not weight
This was a tough lesson for me to learn as a young competitive powerlifter many, many moons ago, but thankfully my coach kept drilling it into my head:
“If you want to lift heavy things, first you need to move well, then you need to work on getting the movement with maximal force.”
Now, though this was geared 100% for powerlifting, it is ESPECIALLY true for cyclists and triathletes.
If you’re looking to see performance increases from your strength training, we need to train for specificity.
However, many confuse the “S.A.I.D. principle” with performing “sport-like movements”. While this is a nice thought, you already are getting hundreds of thousands of repetitions of those movements on the bike, and are the LAST thing you need in your strength training!
Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands has far more to do with HOW you’re using the strength and producing it. This is why in one of my previous articles, I shared on-bike skills to develop, which is where we can really transfer over the strength training to your riding.
By training for stiffness, control, and impulse, you are teaching the body how to coordinate movements to become more efficient, as well as helping you improve the mind-muscle connection.
If you’ve been seeing heavier weights or more repetitions for a given weight in the gym, but you are not seeing a transfer over to the bike, give the protocol outlined in my latest YouTube video a go for the next 2 months. You’ll be happily surprised by the results you get, despite working with lighter weights.
Strength training is very different than the riding training we’re used to doing, and as such requires us to look at it through a different lens, and focus on somewhat “unusual” approaches than what we would think of normally. However, by making these small changes and changing how you view strength training, can help you see the results you want, exactly where you want them: On the bike.