How to include Strength & Conditioning in your cycling training plan
In a previous post (At the risk of making myself unpopular…) I made the case for including a serious Strength and Conditioning element in your training. There are three major reasons for this:
- Increase performance
- Reduce the risks of injury
- Slow the effects of ageing
I also made the point that you should do it right or not do it at all. The risk of injury with incorrect movement patterns is high, so get professional help.
In this post I address how to integrate Strength and Conditioning to your on-the-bike training plan.
Strength and Conditioning: what is it?
The term “strength & conditioning” covers a range of different activities and different objectives. All of these are carried out off the bike, using minimal equipment.
- Strength sessions develop your ability to generate a high force, and once this is secured, to increase the power. The sessions often involve lifting weights. Once the correct movement patterns have been mastered, the focus is on higher weights, fewer repetitions and then faster movements. To be effective, these sessions are tough.
- Conditioning sessions focus more on developing the cardiovascular system rather than skeletal muscle. They may include extensive plyometrics or other high intensity training.
- Mobility sessions develop the joint mobility essential to allow correct movement patterns and thus avoid injury. The sessions often involve stretching as well as movements inspired from Yoga or Pilates. These sessions are not physically taxing and can be carried out as often as you wish and even daily.
It usually makes sense to focus each session on a subset of these activities, typically separating the more demanding strength and conditioning sessions from mobility which is more of a recovery type activity.
When should I be doing Strength & Conditioning work?
Stretching has always been important for cyclists the year round. Weight-lifting in the gym, on the other hand, was seen traditionally as an off-season activity only, to be dropped once the season got going. This is no longer the case and current recommendations are to do strength and conditioning sessions throughout the year. The reason is that strength is a crucial part of the performance equation, and like any other physical quality, it begins to decline as soon as you stop working on it.
The focus, however, shifts from developing strength to maintaining it as you approach your important competitions, only dropping to zero during the taper period as you seek to eliminate fatigue. You should actively develop strength in the off-season or Base periods, shift to a focus on power in the Preparation (or Build) period and drop to a maintenance level in the Pre-Competition and Competition periods. See below for an example of what this can look like.
Strength workouts should never completely replace your cycling workouts. They must complement your cycling, not substitute for it. In periods when your plan includes HIIT cycling workouts, you should plan your Strength workouts in such a way that you have recovered in time for the HIIT.
As always, the exact design of your training plan depends on your target events, your current level of fitness, your time available to train and your constraints. The outline given here assumes a relatively experienced cyclist with the ability to train for 10-15 hours per week.
Annual plan integrating strength & conditioning with cycling
How do S&C workouts dovetail with cycling workouts?
As a general rule, you should do your cycling workout first and your mobility/stretching session either as soon as you get off the bike or later in the same day. You can do cycling workouts and strength workouts on the same day, but in this case leave a 4h gap between the workouts and avoid doing HIT on the bike.
If you have read this far, you have taken the first step to becoming a stronger cyclist. All that is left is to find your Strength & Conditioning facility and coach. My advice, from personal experience, is don’t try to go it alone: remember it is easy to injure yourself through poor movement patterns or ill-advised overload.