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Strength Training for Cyclists: Exercises, Tips, Plans
Iron makes you strong – provided you can touch it. Strength training is part of the repertoire for many cyclists. Because: With power comes speed. Practical tips and exercises for more effective strength training.
In theory, the calculation is quite simple. More pedal power at the same cadence means more power. In cycling, that means more speed. It is the maxim of competition. The higher top speed decides between victory and defeat. This can be improved with strength training.
Mountain riders also achieve very high wattage to ward off attacks or shake off opponents. In order to achieve such physical performance, a high level of strength is required.
The closer you get to your individual maximum strength, the greater the importance of maximum strength. The value of maximum strength training has often been underestimated. Hobby athletes can also benefit considerably from this.
Maximum strength training: myth and reality
"Maximum strength training increases body weight and thus reduces overall performance", this myth persists. There are several reasons against it.
For one thing, weight gain often results from a "hypercaloric diet." Translated, this simply means you're consuming more calories than your body uses. This "holiday phenomenon" has little to do with strength training.
In addition, it depends on the measure. Anyone who sits on their bike regularly will hardly have the goal of taking part in the bodybuilding world championships. In the normal context, the regular combination of strength and endurance training primarily improves the body constitution: more muscles, less body fat.
What happens during strength training?
In the case of strength training beginners, the strength gains are initially realized primarily through regular training, largely through neuronal adaptations.
The central nervous system (CNS) plays an important role in this. When there is a load, there is an impulse via the nerve fibers to the muscles so that they contract. The more nerve fibers are activated, the higher the power development of the muscle.
Sports scientists refer to this fact as "intramuscular coordination". The athlete draws more power from his existing musculature and learns to make better use of his body's natural power reserves. In short: you have more strength without gaining weight.
More speed thanks to strength training
Example: If an ambitious driver performs 600 watts when accelerating, the higher their maximum strength, the lower the stress on them.
The relative force used in each pedal stroke falls as the level of his maximum force increases. “Relative” here means the relationship between the completed exertion of force and the individual maximum force.
Consequently, if you increase your maximum strength level, you will increase your muscle efficiency and at the same time be able to pedal at a higher pace for a longer period of time.
Study situation: Strength training and performance
Several studies testify to the positive effects of maximum strength training on individual performance.
For example, researchers were able to prove that a test group that also did strength training in addition to cycling performed significantly better in the high-intensity range, with a five-minute all-out ride and with a 40-minute exertion than the test group that did did no additional strength training.
Researchers found similar effects. During the investigation period of eleven weeks, they had some of the 19 trained subjects train in strength units in addition to their endurance program. Two times a week, four leg exercises, three sets of four to ten repetitions each.
Strength training: More muscle mass, but no effect on body weight
Result: The "effectiveness" (how much energy is required to maintain a certain level of performance) of the cyclists who had completed the strength program was significantly improved compared to the endurance-only athletes. They could also use more oxygen.
A key factor for these results is the larger muscles, the scientists stated. Remarkable: Although the muscle mass of the subjects had increased on average, none of the athletes gained body weight.
Strength training for cyclists: which exercises?
When strength training, choose exercises that engage the same muscles and structures that are used on the bike.
On the one hand, these are the entire leg muscles and the upper body muscles, which are so important for posture. If these muscle groups are trained regularly, they adapt to the load and, ideally, also enable better cycling performance later on.
Strength training for cyclists: sample exercises
Exercise 1: Squats
They are the Kraft classic. Everybody knows her. After all, squats work the main muscle groups of the lower body, which are also extremely important for cycling. Even leg extensions and hip flexions are similar to cycling. Squats develop more power on the pedals, making them essential for maximum strength training.
Exercise 2: Deadlift
The deadlift uses almost the same muscle groups as the squat. In addition, the lower back area, often THE weak point of cyclists, is activated.
Exercise 3: bench press
Bench press uses the upper body muscles, which is so important on the bike, especially on descents, bumps and cornering technique.
Exercise 4: Standing Dumbbell Rows
Standing rows with dumbbells activates the muscle groups in the upper body, which are particularly important when sprinting or climbing. There, the successful athletes literally pull themselves forward on their handlebars. It also improves posture. It's more than an alternative to the many pressing exercises.
Exercise 5: Forearm Plank
The athlete's body experiences how long a minute can be during this exercise. Staying plank for 60 seconds requires endurance. Above all, it trains the entire abdominal muscles, the lower back and the gluteus.
Strength training tips
Strength training is generally recommended two days a week. The sessions should be at least a day apart. Two to three days in between would be ideal.
The strength units can look almost the same as those in our example weekly schedule (see below). Core exercises for the abdomen and back should be included in addition to the weight exercises.
After learning the technique or the movement sequences, the goal should be to do the strength exercises not on machines, but with free weights.
Strength exercises offer potential for improvement
Beginners who have mastered the technique can increase from unit to unit. In order to generate long-term success, the increase should be as small as possible.
When doing squats and deadlifts, you should put on a maximum of 2.5 kilograms more than in the previous week. With bench press and dumbbell rows, the increase is even smaller at one kilogram. Under no circumstances should the technology suffer from the additional load. Make sure you perform the exercise properly, even with higher weights.
Deload week: Reduce training intensity
A so-called deload week can be interspersed every four to five weeks. This gives the body the time it needs to adapt.
In the deload week, only two sets are trained instead of three, and the intensity is reduced to 70 to 80 percent of the weight. When bench pressing, for example, instead of three eight exercises with 75 kilograms, only two eight exercises with 60 kilograms are completed.
Terms in strength training for cyclists
Frequency : Training frequency per week. In the off-season and winter, strength training twice a week is recommended.
Volume : It is the number of repetitions performed multiplied by the weight. Example: 3 x 10 repetitions of the bench press with 75 kilograms mean a volume of 2250 kilograms.
Intensity : The value in percent of the maximum weight. Example: 80 percent intensity with a maximum value of 100 kilograms corresponds to 80 kilograms.
Progression : Means nothing other than increasing the load week by week. The aim is for the body to constantly adapt to it.
Deload : Overloading the body should be counteracted by using less weight. The "deload" usually takes place every four to five weeks.
Efficiency : doing as much work (force) as possible in as little time as possible. So you choose exercises that use many muscle groups at the same time. This is more specific, since several joints and muscles work at the same time on the bike.
Rest : Rests are just as important as the workout itself. For maximum strength training, rest between sets for three to four minutes.