Getting Back to Strength Training
Key things to focus on when getting back to strength training after a year of riding
For those of us in the northern hemisphere, the days have begun to shorten and the temperatures cool. As autumn begins, bringing with it cool, crisp mornings, and more golden hours to ride, now is the time to begin strength training for next year’s cycling season.
For many cyclists, the fall and winter seasons mean strength training. Here are 3 considerations to take, which will allow you to get the most out of your strength training this winter, and for the coming year.
Take the time to “unwind” your body from the season
Perhaps the most overlooked step in strength training, especially for cyclists, is what Tudor Bompa calls Anatomical Adaptation. This first phase, which an athlete should pass through in every training year, should occur as the very first phase of the new year. Usually, after some time off and away from the athlete’s chosen sport.
For some, this may mean 2-3 weeks completely off the bike, which is common for many pro cyclists in October or November. For others, this may mean a few weeks of unstructured riding. The latter option may be especially preferred for older cyclists, who likely experience less ability to recover lost fitness from extended time off. Whatever the case, this break serves 2 purposes:
- To allow the body time to physically repair itself from the rigors of a long season
- To allow the individual to mentally refresh.
Both of these are important, and must be respected in the right amount, for your needs from the most recent season.
Within this time, and as we begin the anatomical adaptations phase, we want to help aid the body in “unwinding”. Put another way, we need to slowly coax the body back into better breathing patterns, postures, and positions.
This need not be aggressive, nor tiring. Rather, you should leave each session feeling a little better. There are a few ways to do this, ranging from 2-3 times a week of gentle yoga, to light movement sessions focused on technique, to sessions that include breath work, dynamic stretching, and light movements to hit common tight spots.
If you’d like to experience the latter, my Stronger After 50 program’s step 1 is a 4 week program accomplishes just that. Or you can simply go through the HVTraining YouTube channel and piece something together for yourself.
It’s all about movement QUALITY, not weight
Once we do begin to strength train with resistance, be it bands, bodyweight, or barbells, many of us (yes, I’ve been guilty of this myself) get excited and ramp things up relatively fast.
Yes, adding more weight to the bar, or more reps for the same weight is definitely rewarding in the moment. But if you’re seeking the gains that help you push the pedals more economically AND powerfully, it’s all about the “long game”.
Think of focusing on technique and how you perform an exercise. You’re focusing on the fundamentals that will help you attain the best results possible. While I wish I could tell you that it’s easier and takes less effort, the truth is that it’s a whole lot harder to play this game, as it take focus and purposeful action each and every time you hit the gym.
But boy, oh boy, are the rewards worth it!
Build yourself a solid warmup, and stick with it
For the first 3 years or so, when I first began as a personal trainer, warmups were something that needed to be done, and which I tried to make a bit fun. While nobody ever complained, after a few years of tracking client progress, I began to realize that I could do even more for those I worked with, if I just changed my approach from “get the blood going and prepare for the session at hand” to “how can we do those two things, AND hit on the biggest weaknesses?”.
The result was absolutely breathtaking:
- More clients with better posture
- Drastically improved movement patterns
- Way better “core” strength and abilities
- Tons of Personal Records set
- Clients telling me they had never felt better!
Unlike before, we weren’t changing the warmup every week or two. Instead we had our “core 4” (usually some variation of the McGill Big 3 and an exercise for their biggest weakness) finishing with 2-3 movements to prepare them for that session’s focus.
We kept their foundational warmup the same “until”… Until they could move regularly through them with great strength, postures, and quality. This equaled out to around 2-4 MONTHS of the same warmup.
That’s not to say we didn’t slowly and appropriately progress these movements, we did. However it was at a much slower pace, which returned 10x results.
Fight the urge to “change it up” because it’s been a month. Instead, build that foundation solidly, taking your time to truly master the movements.
“4 inches wide, and 4 miles deep.”
Strength training can offer those who have seen the seeds of consistency and focus on quality massive returns in their riding, but it can also sap energy, and precious training time if done incorrectly. Following these 3 tips can help you not only be on the right side of the equation, they’ll also help you multiply the rewards for your efforts.
If you’d like to hear a little more about these 3 tips, and to learn 3 more powerful pointers for your strength training, take a listen to episode 136 of my Strong, Savvy Cyclist and triathlete podcast.