Lifting For Cyclists in 2019 Part 2- Speed and Acceleration
We already took a deep dive into why any cyclist who is concerned with performance on the bike should lift here but the long story short is that there is a great deal of evidence that shows spending time in the gym lifting heavy will help you perform better on the bike WITHOUT any aerobic gains. We advocate you stick to the basics when it comes to heavy lifting. Squat, Deadlift, a pulling exercise like a row or pullup, and a pushing exercise like overhead press or bench press. Keep it simple, and keep your reps low. Most likely, we aren’t looking to build massive biceps or even put on a whole lot of leg mass, and sticking with a low rep scheme will help assure that we keep our lean mean cycling physiques!
Consistency matters most.
Ok, so you have done your time. You hit the gym 2-3 times a week and you are noticing a new found STRENGTH. Maybe it’s 3 hours into a ride when you feel less fatigue before, or maybe it’s in the last 5 minutes of that sweet spot workout and you can just keep smashing. AWESOME! There is nothing like feeling your hard work WORK for you and it really makes training fun and sustainable to keep seeing improvement.
Training adaptation is not a result of one massive soul crushing session. It’s putting in the work time and time again that really ends up having a difference on your performance. Just like when you hit the road day after day to do endurance rides and workouts, you do the work, but it takes time to realize the performance gains you are after. The same thing holds true to the gym. You will only begin to realize the improvement from your work if you really STICK WITH THE PROGRAM! It will take about 6-8 weeks to increase your strength in a meaningful way that you will notice when pedaling.
What’s a Watt?
We always talk about our watts when we are talking about cycling. Cycling training really has come a long way really quickly because of our ability to measure output so specifically but it’s easy to forget what makes up every watt. Power is a function of Torque, and speed, meaning how hard can you push the pedals, and what rate is the crank moving. Getting in the gym and improving your ability to create force helped your legs learn to recruit more muscle fibers for the same job, making you stronger, and able to push harder but there is more work to be done. The next piece of the puzzle is a combination of plyometric and explosive work. With the right diet of speed training you can take that strength and learn to apply it faster and more precisely.
Watt’s Next? SPEED!
Turning the pedals over and creating leg speed is half of the equation when it comes to producing power. Cycling is not a steady state activity, even in time trials, and there is so much more to pedaling than just FTP The gym gives us an opportunity to cross train our ability to accelerate quickly. The goal here is moving as fast as possible! By working on speed here your body will learn the coordination it takes to focus your energy into single sharp movements.
Medicine ball throws
These are simple. Pick up a medicine ball and slam it against the wall or floor as hard as you can! Start rigid and in one precise movement, throw that thing as hard as you can, pick it back up and repeat for 10-12 reps. You can do this as a rotational exercise, a floor slam, or a front pass. All of these are going to be helpful for teaching your body to move in a more coordinated way so you use your strength efficiently.
You have seen the massive thick ropes in the gym? Pick them up and do 3-4 sets of 20 seconds. SPEED is what counts! You will surely be winded after a couple sets of Battle rope swings! This exercise is going to hit your core and stabilizing muscles in your arms and back in nearly the same way as when you attack out of the saddle. Just like with medicine ball throws, it’s really important to focus on the snap. Attack the very first second of this exercise as hard as possible and don’t save to get through the set smoothly. Let it all fly from the first rep!
A tried and true way to work on accelerating is jumping as high as you can! Start at a reasonable height and try to increase it after a few weeks of practice. This requires a lot of coordination, so practice makes perfect. I like to slowly squat down with a 3-4 second squat and as soon as i dip just past 90 degress in my squat, or equivilent to the furthest flexion I would have on the bike, LAUNCH up as fast as possible. Reset your jump every time and take your time. The quality of every rep matters a lot here.
Putting It All Together On the Bike
Specificity. Simply put, you need to devote a little bit of your weekly riding time to adopting these new gym skills as well. Here are our favorite 3 ways to put it all together on the bike:
Overspeed is exactly what it sounds like. Intentionally choosing a gear that is too easy to pedal, usually 100+ rpm should do it, and forcing your body to produces the watts with excessive cadence. This is usually an inefficient way to make power on a bike since you are going to lose some of the endergy you could have been putting into the pedals with just controlling your rapid fire limbs but this is exactly what we are going for. You will teach your body to have more control at your normal self selected gear range if you practice this. An added benifit is enhanced aerobic stimulus. Doing 10 reps of 1’ at about 100% of threshold is a great way to challenge your body to learn to be better coordinated but you won’t walk away from the workout totally exhausted either. I also like doing endurance rides on the trainer at a higher than normal gearing. You shouldnt be surprised to see your hr elevated because of the extra muscular demands of this cadence work!
Basically a track start, pick a gear that is very hard to pedal, 53-14 is great, slow to a stop, then rip it up to speed as fast as possible! Your will be working with high torque in the beginning of the drill and high coordination by the end, the perfect compliment to your gym work. Start at 0rpm, 0mph, and accelerate until you are over 100rpm. These efforts are pretty hard and because they take a little bit longer you should expect a bit more residual fatigue from them as well. Make sure you are well recovered before giving these a go!
Last but not least, sprinting itself is the ultimate way to bring all of the pieces together. Start from a roll, about 17-20mph at 80-90rpm(this is a personal preference) and rip it out of the saddle for 15 seconds. The feeling after a sprint workout is incredible! Your body will be buzzing after and you can practically feel your nervous system primed up for your next workout. Even if you have no interest in ever sprinting head to head against another cyclist, making sure you have a well developed anaerobic system is going to help you be a strong athlete, on AND off the bike.
Cycling is NOT Steady State
We have said it before and will say it again, but you really need to have a well rounded profile to get the most enjoyment possible out of the bike. It’s also worth remembering that even when you are at max steady state, ftp, you are going to have an anaerobic contribution. By working with weight resistance you can do wonders for your fitness and readiness to sprint, attack, climb out of the saddle, and hold that tt position. If you are an athlete, don't wait, get in the gym TODAY!