I’m gimping around with a sore left hip / IT band / gluteals. I made a stupid rookie mistake. Here’s what happened.
Mud season has started where I live in the high country in Colorado. We had our first snow of six inches. The low temperatures are in the teens and the highs in the 40s. Each day the snow melts, our gravel roads are muddy and then icy overnight. More snow is forecast for today and tomorrow as you read this.
I’m doing strength training as part of my general fitness program. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) on Exercise and Physical Activity for Older Adults recommends two non-consecutive days a week of a variety of activities. The activities should include legs, hips, chest, back, abdomen, shoulders and arms. Note the recommendations are “a variety of activities” not “weight lifting.” Strength training is any activity that makes your muscles do more than they are accustomed to doing during your routine activities of daily life. Examples include climbing stairs instead of taking the elevator, using a push lawnmower instead of a power mower, parking in the far corner of the parking lot and carrying bags of groceries instead of using a cart, digging in the garden and shoveling snow instead of hiring a neighbor kid. Strength training also includes calisthenics that use body weight for resistance (such as split squats, single leg squats, push-ups, pull-ups, and planks), using weighted backpacks and bags as resistance, lifting weights and working with resistance bands. You can read more here:
Instead of doing strength training two days a week year-round I do it once a week in the summer, twice a week in the spring and fall and once a week in the winter. As we age, we need more recovery. Adding strength training to a busy summer of cycling and a busy winter of cross-country skiing cuts hack on recovery time. Research shows one session a week is sufficient to maintain strength; two sessions a week produce strength gains.
Dryland Training for Skiing
We hope by Thanksgiving we’ll be cross-country skiing. I use the mud season to prepare. Although I use the same leg muscles cross-country skiing as I do cycling, the biomechanics are different. Cross-country skiing has a kick-and-glide rhythm. I kick down and back on my left ski and try to fully shift my weight to my right ski as it glides forward. Then I move my unweighted left ski forward, kick back on my right ski and shift my weight to my gliding left ski. With each kick-and-glide I also push back with one of my ski poles. Because it’s a full body activity, cross-country ski racers have some of the highest VO2 maxes. I’m training in four different ways:
- My cycling cadence is 60 to 80 rpm depending on the terrain. My cross-country skiing cadence is 15 to 20 steps per minute. This means I need more strength and power in my legs than riding. I’m doing resistance training to strengthen my legs.
- I’m walking up hills trying to simulate the skiing motion with most of the power coming from by pushing off with my lower leg instead of just stepping up with the other leg.
- I need good balance so I can completely transfer my weight from ski to ski so I’m practicing tai chi. I wrote this column:
- Using resistance bands I’m also working on upper body strength and power.
What Went Wrong
Skiing I’m alternating legs so I’m doing strength training that isolates each leg. The lunge, the walking lunge, split squats and stepping up stairs and down all primarily work one leg at a time. I have bad knees so I don’t lunge. I start my training with split squats and step-ups and progress to single leg squats. Stupidly I started with more load than I could handle and strained the muscles in my left hip and upper leg. For weights I put gallons of water in my back pack and canned goods in a couple of cloth bags I hold in my hands. I should have started with either the backpack or the bags of cans not both!
The exercises and variations are illustrated in my column:
How to do Strength Training
The type of strength training depends on why you are doing resistance exercise:
- For endurance, to maintain or improve your capacity to exert low strength multiple times.
- For muscles (hypertrophy), to counteract atrophy and to increase power.
- For strong bones.
Note increasing muscle size isn’t a goal so you don’t need to be concerned about gaining weight, which would affect riding. Muscle growth replaces body fat. Muscles burn more calories than fat so strength training also helps you with weight management.
Like intensity, the types of strength training are a hierarchy. You should do four to eight weeks of endurance strength exercises (I didn’t!) before any hypertrophy and bone strength exercises.
Whatever your purpose, seven general principles apply:
- Body weight exercises (push-ups, one-leg squats, bridging, etc.) work the primary targeted muscle(s) and also train the smaller muscles and connective tissues.
- Free weights (or alternatives like heavy household items) are better than machines. Machines isolate a specific muscle or group of muscles and are effective for very specific strength training; however, they don’t simulate the kinds of strength that you need in activities of daily living. Using free weights also trains the smaller muscles and connective tissues.
- Multi-joint exercises are better than single. Exercises that engage muscles across multiple joints are more effective and take less time. For example, wall squats use the quads, glutes, hamstrings and calf muscles. Leg extensions only work the quads.
- Unilateral exercises are better than bilateral. Most people aren’t equally strong on both sides of the body. Your right leg may be stronger than your left leg and your left shoulder and arm may be stronger than your right shoulder and arm. Exercises that work one side of the body at a time help to improve muscle balance. For example, step-ups and split squats are better than regular squats.
- Variety is better. Improved activities of daily living and stronger bones are two primary benefits of resistance training. Both require moving your body in a variety of ways. Instead of doing the same exercises every session, vary the exercises for each body part. This will also keep you from getting (too) bored.
- Improvement requires progressive overload. To get fitter, you need to ask your body to do more than it’s used to doing and then allow it to recover. If you just ride the same number of miles, you’ll never get any fitter. If you always do the same number of repetitions with the same cans in your backpack, you’ll never get any stronger.
- Recovery means full recovery. If you ride four days a week and do leg strength training two other days, then your legs never fully recover. As much as possible, do your harder rides and your leg strength training on the same days. On your recovery days, only do active recovery activities.
- General warm-up first. Ride around the neighborhood or to the gym, ride a trainer, walk briskly, jog, use a rowing machine, NordicTrack, etc. for 10 – 15 minutes.
- Lift the load for two counts and lower for four counts. For example, doing split squats lower your body on a count of four and stand back on a count of two. You have more strength lowering something, e.g., the bags of cans, than lifting something. By lowering more slowly you’re providing more overload to your muscles.
- Exhale when you are lifting and inhale when lowering. Strength exercises increase your blood pressure momentarily with each repetition. Holding your breath while lifting increase your blood pressure even more. Depending on your normal blood pressure this could be dangerous.
- Exercise-specific warm-up. Start with a set with a light load concentrating on form. This warms up the specific muscles and reminds them how to do the exercise correctly. Then do the main set.
- Sets. After the warm-up about 80% of the benefit comes from the first main set. There’s not much value in doing two or three sets of the same exercise. If you have the time and motivation, then do two different exercises working the same muscles in different ways, e.g. split squats and step-ups.
- Progression. Doing the same number of sets and reps with the same weights is good for maintaining strength. To improve, try to increase the number of reps each session or two. For example to build muscular endurance, the first session do 10 reps, the second session do 11 reps, etc. When you can do 15 reps, then increase the load and start building back up from 10 reps.
- Repetitions for endurance. Do a warm-up set and one main set of 10 repetitions building to 15 reps with a light to moderate load and 30 to 60 seconds of recovery between the warm-up and main sets. This is my summer program and winter program.
- Repetitions for hypertrophy. To counteract atrophy and to increase power, do a warm-up set and one main set of 8 reps building to 12 reps with moderate to heavy loads with 1 to 2 minutes of recovery between sets.
- Load. What do “light,” “moderate” and “heavy” mean? For each of the above types of strength training, experiment to determine the maximum load at which you can do the maximum number of reps. Then increase the load a little and start with the minimum number of reps. For example, to build muscular endurance if you can do 15 split squats with 20 pounds of weight (e.g., a backpack of cans or holding dumbbells), start your program with just 10 reps with 22.5 to 25 lbs (don’t overdo it!) and build up to 15 reps.
- Bone strength. Both the endurance program and the hypertrophy program improve your bone strength; the hypertrophy program strengthens your bones more.
For more information see these columns:
- Anti-Aging: 4 Reasons Why Year-Round Strength Training is Good for You
- 5 Simple Strength Exercises to Keep Cyclists Injury-Free
- Ask the Coach: Strength Training for Older Roadies
- Anti-Aging: Core Strength in 1 Hour a Week
- 6 Muscle Strengthening Exercises to Prevent Cramps
My eArticle Productive Off-Season Training for Health and Recreational Riders explains in detail what you can do to become a better rider this winter. The article covers in detail outdoor endurance riding, intensity training, resistance (strength) training, cross-training, indoor cycling, drills for technique and stretching. The article combines all of these into:
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My eBook Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process describes in detail different strength training programs depending on your goal(s): 1) increase endurance, 2) address atrophy and increase power, 3) improve for hard riding, 4) build stronger bones. I include 30 illustrated exercises for lower, upper and core, which require very little special equipment. I explain how to combine resistance exercise with endurance and intensity training, which varies by season. My 108-page eBook Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process is $14.99.
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written over 40 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John’s full bio.