By Menachem Brodie
Fall — my absolute favorite time of year to ride!
We can enjoy four, five, and six hour rides without needing to get up at 4:30 a.m. to avoid the heat, and enjoy the breadth and depth of nature’s crayon box as the foliage and plains change in preparation for winter.
But while the riding can be more enjoyable (we are usually stronger, if we’ve done a good job over the season), there is a mistake that many cyclists make which hold back their building towards a better season next year. That’s putting off strength training until the foul weather sets in.
Here’s why this is a mistake, and how to do it best.
As with many of the enjoyable things in life, cycling vacations, grande tours, wine, whisky, fine pour-over coffee, and raising children, time is an integral and irreplaceable part of the equation that leads to an enjoyable experience. The same is true of strength training, especially when one is looking to build strength for improved performance — whether it’s taking the top step of an event, or just being able to ride your favorite route with less or no pain.
However, during the fall many cyclists push off hitting the weights until after daylight savings time, or after the weather has turned foul.
“I just need to get in as much riding as I can and build a big base before the days are too cold or short.”
“The weather and light is just absolutely perfect! I can’t waste them indoors….”
And the much more blunt “I can’t stand weight training. I only do it to help me stay sane instead of riding long hours on the trainer.”
While each of these are legitimate excuses not to start your strength training, as Chris Hogan quoted his football coach saying, “An excuse is the skin of a lie wrapped with a reason.”
And in this case, these excuses are robbing you of serious rewards come next season and beyond. Here’s the top five reasons why, and what you can do about it.
1. Learn how to move better
While many cyclists believe that in order to see returns on strength training that they need to add weights (and in the big picture this is true), for the vast majority of riders, simply learning how to move better and more efficiently will do far more than just adding weight to the bar.
Surprising to many, we in fact do not need heavy weights to see returns on strength training, as we first begin by learning what I call the FUNdamental 5+1 human movements of:
- Press (overhead)
- Rotary Stability
Learning how to coordinate these movements, and to move more efficiently offers riders huge returns on small investments of focused practice over time. But in order to attain these returns, you need to get started.
2. Tissue adaptations to be able to handle loads can take anywhere from 4-10 weeks
An unrecognized part of strength training are the tissue adaptations that need to take place. However these take quite some time to develop, and require that we stress the tissues, such as cartilage, ligaments, tendons, and muscles, in small, manageable doses, over a period of time.
For many cyclists, strength training is only a “winter” or “base period” time of year event, which means that between winters, you’ve now lost the tissue adaptations you acquired from last years strength training, and are now fighting an even more uphill battle to build them back up- something that takes more time as we age.
These tissue adaptations can and should be worked towards as early in the fall as possible (for most of my northern hemisphere athletes this means early September), when they begin with bodyweight movements, breathwork, and activating muscles that have become turned off, or used irregularly during their riding season.
3. You don’t need marathons in the gym. 30-45 minutes is plenty
In fact, for many cyclists, anything longer than 45 minutes will push them over the limits of what their bodies can currently handle, due to the fact you’ve been riding your bike all year, with no external resistance.
A properly designed strength training session should be focused, purposeful, and include specific rest periods between exercises, looking something like this:
Dynamic warmup- 4-6 exercises of 1 set each, with the first exercise being Crocodile breathing, or another breath related exercise to help you change the internal (hormonal) environment, and get the body moving better for the days session
Main Strength exercises- to include 4-6 exercises, focused on helping you move better
Cool down- Elliptical, or even some light sport movements, such as easy dribbling of a basketball, or something else you enjoy
4. You should NEVER be so sore from strength training that your riding suffers
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is a sign that you did way too much. If you’re sore beyond a touch the next morning for the first hour or two upon waking, you’ve pushed the body too hard.
When done properly strength training helps you move and feel better the next day, not worse.
Help spread the word and let everyone you know that DOMS means they’ve now torpedoed their own progress by taking their body beyond its abilities, and are now losing quality riding time, thus sliding backwards in their fitness and abilities.
5. You’re not getting any younger
As more and more research studies come out, thanks in large part to the size of the baby boomer generation and their needs, the findings overwhelming show that it becomes much more difficult to build muscle, and retain muscle mass, as you age. Starting around the ripe old age of 40.
Maybe that’s what they mean by “over the hill” — you’re now over the ability to relatively quickly and easily build muscle mass that will help you stay leaner, healthier, and more capable in your later years.
The longer you put off strength training, especially beginning to strength train year round (and no, Yoga, Pilates, and TRX do NOT count as resistance training), the harder you’ll have to work later to improve your postures, strength, and lean muscle mass.
Just as investing for retirement, it’s important to start your strength training as early as possible. Doing the simple, consistent work that is required to see long term gains may not be exciting or sexy, but unlike with your retirement portfolio, you’ll be be able to feel the pain of regret, or the uplifting energy of reward, every single day when you rise from bed.
So, which do you choose?
Menachem Brodie is a USA Cycling Expert Level Coach and Certified Strength & Conditioning coach with over 15 years experience working with cyclists & triathletes. He has presented internationally on the topic of Strength Training for Cycling Performance, and is the author of the most comprehensive and in-depth book on the topic “The Vortex Method: The New Rules for Ultimate Strength & Performance in Cycling”.