On Bike Strength Training
On bike strength training will build leg and core strength, increase your power output and reduce the chance of injury by strengthening tendons and ligaments. It will also make you a much better climber; what’s not to like about on bike strength training? Well there is the hour of excruciatingly painful effort…
Many of you will have undertaken weight training for cycling before. Some of you may have even become slightly obsessed with it… However, unless you see your future exclusively as a track sprinter, it is not generally considered conducive to being a good endurance cyclist. Weight training does have its place and can help with bone density issues or just provide a break from riding the bike (we’ll cover all of this at a later date).
But the main issue is that weight training is not specific, so whilst you can approximately replicate the movement that cycling muscles undertake, you cannot exactly replicate the pedaling stroke with weights, especially in terms of speed; a single leg squat is close in movement terms but is not exact, and cannot be performed at anywhere near even climbing speed. That’s why many coaches advocate strength training on the bike and why you’ll find many of the top pros doing it on a regular basis.
On bike strength training is strictly a strength-power workout as the number of repetitions and the speed of movement are both relatively high. It has numerous benefits and if done properly can give you similar leg strength to that achieved with (moderate) weight training but with the benefit of a range of motion that is totally specific to cycling.
These strength gains can seriously boost your overall power output as this training is done at cadences more akin to those one would use in cycling, albeit whilst climbing a rather steep hill. On bike strength training builds a really strong and stable core benefiting your pedal stroke at any cadence, and it will keep all of those lower body ligaments and tendons in tip top shape reducing the chances of injury as the season progresses.
You can generally do strength training on the bike for much longer than you could undertake a single exercise weights session and as on the bike strength training invariably involves hill work, it will massively boost your climbing ability, training you to tolerate the continuously high forces required to hammer those hills.
So if you think you could benefit from a bit of on the bike strength work, you will need to find yourself either:
1) a gradual hill, or
2) a variable resistance turbo trainer
The best position to adopt is seated in the saddle but with the option of just floating over it should you need to really ramp up the power output. In this way the strength that you build will be relevant to most of the pedaling you do at any cadence. Try and resist the temptation to get out of the saddle as that defeats the object.
Be sure to keep warm when doing this training, especially your knees. If outside, wear knee warmers to help mobilise the protective synovial fluid in your joints, or if you are indoors have the heating on in winter and your knees sheltered from your cooling fan.
Ideally the resistance or gradient and your gear selection will be such that you are limited to a cadence of under 60 rpm whilst in the saddle. If doing this outdoors, simply ride up and down your hill the prescribed number of times, stopping at a preset point if not the top, that matches the time you want to do each climb (interval). Spinning back down the hill in between each interval will give you plenty of recovery. Hill length is less important than the right gradient. Too steep and you’ll just grind to a halt or need to get out of the saddle. Too gentle and you’ll end up at too high a cadence, turning the strength session into more of a pure power session.
Indoors on the turbo trainer, you can be specific and control not just interval time but also the recovery period much more easily. We have used various turbos for this session including variable resistance fluid and magnetic turbos. To get the required cadence you will probably need to whack the resistance up to max and stick the bike in something approaching your biggest gear. In the recovery phases between climb intervals you’ll need to quickly reduce the resistance to zero and gear down to allow your legs to spin.
Usually we will be riding 53×11 with the resistance on maximum during the actual climbing phase and this will give us a cadence of around 40 to 50 rpm, combined with 53×19 and 70 to 80 rpm during recovery periods. For longer recovery periods we get in 39×19 and have a proper rest! If you are just starting out you can use an easier gear, say 53×15 and build up from there. A bit of trial and error is necessary; just be sure not to overdo it.
Recently we have been using computer controlled turbo unit from Bkool, tested on our sister site, CycleTechReview.com, with which we can set the gradient at a 5% slope and use 53×11 gearing. Again this seems to be good for a cadence of 45 rpm with a power output of around 400 watts.
Our favoured strength session is an interval session. This works well at all times of the year, no matter what your fitness level, as its easy to cut it down if you are feeling rough.
The session consists of 4 sets of 10 intervals, interspersed by 3 or 5 minute rest periods, composed of 30 second efforts up a 5% gradient in 53×11 accompanied by 30 second recovery periods. Its a pretty tough session that looks like riding up a series of steps as you can see in the screenshots.
Of course, there are other ways of achieving the same results and if you do not want to do intervals, a long steady effort will work just as well. However, intervals do allow you to work harder for longer.
If you decide to give this a go or want some more information please contact us.