By: Heather Nielson
The person who wins the race is the one who can turn the biggest gear the fastest
Cycling is an endurance sport. This means that to get better at it, you generally need to just ride your bike more. More can mean more time, more intensity &/or both.
A lot of cyclists shy away from taking away any of their precious training time on the bike to spend it doing something else for lots of reasons. The #1 reason usually being time constraints. Most people who ride a bike do it for leisure, extra curricular competition or if they’re highly competitive at all it still needs to be juggled with work, family & personal life commitments.
As an elite bike racer who has tried just about every style & philosophy of training I’ve ever come across, I am a firm believer in committing some of your training time, no matter your athletic level, to off the bike exercises.
Cyclists spend more time than most other athletes in one position on the bike moving along a single plane. So why spend time moving our bodies in any other plane of motion if we spend so much of our time in that one position and plane of movement?
In order to become a better, faster, stronger & more efficient ‘pedler’, you need to focus on all the energy systems & mechanics separately. Aside from the mechanics of learning how to pedal smoothly & get the most out of each revolution (which is another topic), you need to be able to turn big gears fast. Always pedaling a small gear but at high revolutions (RPM’s) will not make you strong. Always pedaling a big gear slowly will not make you fast. However you do need to train your neuromuscular system to pedal at a high cadence with little resistance as this teaches your body the patterns of fast muscle contractions. Additionally, you do need to train at higher resistance & slowly which teaches your body to recruit my fibers and increase its’ ability to produce force. These are two different work-outs and they both need to be trained on and off the bike.
If you want to accelerate or maximize your training time so you can in fact, get fitter, stronger and faster….FASTER, then balancing your training to include on and off the bike exercises is the smartest & best use of your training time.
Your body has 206 bones and 640 muscles (depending on who you ask). Every movement you make never takes just one muscle or bone. Increasing the efficiency & strength of coordinated muscle movements will only ever make you faster. Incorporating exercises that challenge all planes of movement like plyometrics and muscle activation like redcord or other suspension-like systems to address muscle weaknesses & imbalances will train your neuromuscular system to make faster more coordinated contractions. Having a strength training & movement program will increase your production of force. A combination of all of at least some if not all of these will absolutely make you a better cyclist.
Developing a progressive, specific off the bike training plan will require at minimum a lot of time commitment from yourself in research & education if not also from another professional. You also need to have a really good handle on your personal strengths & weaknesses so you know what you need to focus on; and those strengths & weaknesses will change and so your program should be changing a lot also. Don’t just do the same thing all the time. My suggestion would be to re-think your training plan(s) every 4-6 weeks. Don’t forget to listen to your body (I’m never going to stop saying this). Don’t forget that with all types of training, start small and build progressively higher loads, frequency, volume, sets, reps etc. Develop your program to build into more specificity & stay focused on your weaknesses as they apply to reaching your goals.