by Coach Harvey Newton
Cycling, plus sensible weight training, is a winning combination. These are my recommendations for off-the-bike conditioning for cyclists.
Use a Training Diary
Be sure to use your training diary to record off-bike conditioning work in winter and hopefully, throughout the year. If it’s weights, record the various reps, sets, and intensities (weight used). Also record subjective content, such as how the top effort felt, reminders to move up in intensity next session, any injuries you might be nursing, etc.
These diary entries are invaluable when you look back on certain exercise selection or performance and plan for the future. It’s also a great idea to keep a personal record chart within the training log, so you can regularly work to improve performances over time. As the off-season progresses, record various exercises and your personal best for X number of repetitions.
For example, in a Step-up (after proper warm-up) record your best total weight effort, whether dumbbells held in the hands alongside the body or a barbell across the upper back, for 15 reps (each leg), 12 reps, 10 reps. In this exercise there’s little use in going heavier and further reducing the repetitions performed.
Personal record details vary based on exercise choice and repetitions performed in the various cycles within a periodized training program. Your personal record for a particular exercise and rep scheme should be attacked once every two weeks or so. Inch up on these efforts, don’t pile on too much weight and end up cheating to perform an otherwise impossible repetition. Only count as improvement those efforts made with perfect technique.
Don’t Strength Train Longer than 1 Hour
Regardless of the weather conditions outside, keep your off-bike strength training sessions to no more than an hour. During the time I worked with USA Cycling’s national teams, I was amazed (and disappointed) at the needless volume of weight training many roadies utilized. Needless duplication of muscular efforts, as in Bench Press, Incline Press, Dips, etc., all in one workout are a waste of time — and likely to lead to unwanted gains in muscular bulk.
This may be how a bodybuilder trains, but cyclists just don’t need this. The overall philosophy behind the Strength Training for Cyclists System is to get in the gym, work hard, and get out of the gym. If you can’t get on the road and have already ridden the trainer, do something constructive around the house, enjoy your family, do some extra stretching, etc. It just doesn’t make sense for cyclists to spend more than 45 to 60 minutes, three times a week, in the weight room.
A total of about 24 sets per workout, including a warm-up set for each exercise, are about all that’s needed. Address something for the lower body, upper body pushing, upper body pulling, the lower back, and the abs. For improved skeletal health, most of these exercises should be ground-based, multiple-joint movements.
Echoing the popular advice always provided me by longtime friend and colleague, the late Ed Burke, Ph.D., “train smarter, not harder.” In this case, translate “harder” to “longer.”
Coach Harvey Newton is a former USA national weightlifting team coach and former strength training consultant to USA national cycling teams throughout the 1980s and ’90s. He’s the author of the Strength Training for Cyclists DVD-based program.