Strength training during race season

The following is in response to a recent question about strength training (off the bike) during the race season.

My first question is: what’s the goal of your strength training?

Any training you do takes energy and time, and any training you do that’s not on the bike takes away energy and time that could be spent cycling. While a rider can benefit from off-the-bike training, these cross training activities need to address a specific goal, especially if they are being done during the peak part of the season. Specificity is key to top cycling performance, and during the middle of the summer that means time on the bike. Cross training can provide a fitness base but does not provide the specificity needed for peak cycling performance since it does not exactly replicate the motion and position of cycling.

As a result, strength training off the bike during the middle of the season needs to address a particular deficiency that cannot be easily addressed through on the bike training because greater strength does not necessarily translate to higher power on the bike (see Dr. Andy Coggan’s Stength vs. power article for more detail on how more strength doesn’t necessarily lead to more power).

Generally, weight training is part of a cyclist’s training program in the following scenarios:
  1. off-season cross training for full body development and maintenance
  2. bone health (weight bearing exercise)
  3. rehabilitation from injury or physiological imbalance
  4. address a specific muscular weakness
  5. increase short-duration (sprint) power [this is somewhat debatable—see above article link]
  6. comprehensive physical development for young riders
As a general practice, for every weight/strength workout you plan, subtract that time and energy from what you will have available to spend on the bike. If you ride less during the core racing season as a result of strength training, reconsider how much weight training you do (if at all).

A few exceptions apply. If you have issues with your lower back like I do, then time and energy spent on core strengthening and flexibility in the short term can be well worth the time saved from injury in the long term (see 3 & 4 above). Also, if the strength workouts take place during time you would not have been able to ride, then it may be a great addition to your training.

If you have chosen to do strength training during your cycling season, I recommend always giving priority to the cycling workouts. That means strength workouts should follow cycling workouts on high-intensity days so that you have your full energy available to commit to the cycling workout. Next, make sure to balance your overall training plan so your body regularly has time to recover. Strength training also needs to be counted in your overall training hours to reflect the additional energy required to complete these additional workouts.

Obviously there is a great deal more to understanding how strength training can be a part of your annual training.

For more information, check out Cycling Anatomy by Shannon Sovndal or Weight Training for Cyclists by Ken Doyle, ask a cycling coach, and continue to learn more about the numerous factors and techniques for improving cycling performance.