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Strength training for cyclists

Whilst strength training forms an integral part of injury prevention in running, this is not actually the case for cycling. Cycling injuries are mainly caused by training errors and/or faulty bike set-up. However, strength training can improve cycling performance and economy. So if you’re interested in improving your performance, keep on reading. If you’re just cycling for the fun of it, rather go for a bike ride or check out this post on stretching for cyclists!



In this article:

  • You have to plan your year

  • Type of strength training

  • An example programme

Here's the video of the livestream I did in the Sports Injury Group on this topic:



You have to plan your year


If you’re serious about your training, you’ll have heard about periodization. Periodization in sport means that you divide your year into different training phases. These tend to include a general preparatory phase, competitive phase, peak phase and active rest phase.


Why is this needed? Because our bodies need time to recover and repair. If you try and push yourself all year round to perform and train at max intensities, your performance will eventually drop and you’ll likely end up with an injury.


It is generally suggested that you use high volumes of heavy strength training during your preparatory phase to work on gaining muscle bulk as your cycling training is usually not so intense during this period. As you enter the competition phase and your cycling training becomes more intense and tiring, you have to decrease the volume of your strength training to a maintenance dose. Otherwise you can end up over-training your body and decreasing your performance.



A common concern for cyclists is that they don’t want to put on more weight (even through muscle) because that could in theory cause a drop in their performance. But what the research has shown is cyclists don’t have to worry about this when it comes to weight training – their performance increases despite gaining an extra few pounds because their power to weight ratio also changes – the new muscle may be a bit heavier but it allows you to create a lot more force and power!


Type of strength training


The research seems to suggest that cyclists who are new to strength training will gain the most from following a high load, slow velocity programme. This programme also has to be done for at least 12 weeks before you’ll notice big improvements in cycling performance. It should include exercises that target the main muscles that you use in cycling (quads, hip flexors, hamstrings, glutes and calves) and work them in similar ways to cycling.


Highly trained athletes don’t seem to be able to gain as much from this type of strength training. They seem to require more explosive load training to see extra gains in performance.



Example strength training programme for improving cycling performance


This is the programme that Vilkmoen et al. found improved the cycling performance of a group of female cyclists.


Duration of programme: 11 weeks


Number of sessions: 2 per week


Warm-up: The cyclists performed a 5 to 10-min warm-up at self-selected intensity on a stationary bike, followed by 2 to 3 warm-up sets of half squats with gradually increasing load.


Exercises used: half squat in a smith machine, one-legged leg press, standing one-legged hip flexion and ankle plantar flexion.


They worked the knee from 90 degrees flexion to full extension as this is the range that cyclists use on the bike. They also included exercises that trained one leg at a time to mimic the cycling action.


Speed of contraction: Participants were told to do it as fast as they could during the concentric contraction phase (cycling specific contraction) and more slowly during the eccentric phase (2 – 3 seconds).


Weights: RM stands for Repetitions Max or in other words how many repetitions you can complete before your muscle is completely tired.


Weeks 1-3

  • Session 1: 10RM (a weight that allows you to complete only 10 reps)

  • Session 2: 6RM (a weight that allows you to complete only 6 reps before you’re tired)

Weeks 4-6

  • Session 1: 8RM

  • Session 2: 5RM

Weeks 7-11

  • Session 1: 6RM

  • Session 2: 4RM

Important! If you’re new to strength training you may have to take it a lot easier and use much lighter weights. You have to also make sure that you have good technique so I would recommend that you work with someone who can check that you’re doing it right.


Let me know if you have any questions. Need more help with an injury? You can consult me online via video call for an assessment of your injury and a tailored treatment plan.

Best wishes

Maryke


About the Author

Maryke Louw is a chartered physiotherapist with more than 15 years' experience and a Masters Degree in Sports Injury Management. Follow her on LinkedIn, ResearchGate, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.



References:

  1. Bazyler CD, Abbott HA, Bellon CR, et al. Strength training for endurance athletes: theory to practice. Strength & Conditioning Journal 2015;37(2):1-12.

  2. Luckin KM, Badenhorst CE, Cripps AJ, et al. Strength Training in Long-Distance Triathletes: Barriers and Characteristics. Journal of strength and conditioning research 2018

  3. Schwellnus MP, Derman E. Common injuries in cycling: Prevention, diagnosis and management. South African Family Practice 2005;47(7):14-19.

  4. Vikmoen O, Ellefsen S, Trøen Ø, et al. Strength training improves cycling performance, fractional utilization of VO2max and cycling economy in female cyclists. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports 2016;26(4):384-96.

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