CYCLING PERFORMANCE TIPS
A reasonable approach is to focus on building strength (not bulk) in the winter and then backing off to just maintain it during the peak riding season. Strength from the weight room will help with on the bike performance, but 3 sets of leg presses at 400 pounds is different from the riding demands of roughly 30,000 pedal strokes during a century. When you're riding, resistance is in the range of 10-40 pounds per pedal revolution. So for the riding season you need to convert that weight-room strength to cycling-specific power with intervals, training time trials, and hill work.
WHY "MUSCLE UP"?
1.The upper body, including abdominal muscles, is an integral part of the pedal stroke. A strong torso provides the rigidity to deliver maximum power from the quads to the pedal. On a level stretch, a strong rider will barely move their upper body while those who are tiring will rock their pelvis on the saddle. And watch a group of road riders in a sprint or a technical single track rider pulling and rocking their shoulders and handlebars. This motion actually levers the bike, adding to the power of their legs on the pedals.
2. Muscle strength in the quads and legs can mean the difference between walking and riding up a short (10 to 15 pedal stroke) hill.
3. A strong upper body gives additional protection for those falls that are part of the sport.
4. Muscle strength and endurance help prevent the fatigue of the constant jarring and correction that are part of a long descent - and in turn this freshness helps to maintain sharp reflexes and technical
RECOMMENDED EXERCISE PLANS
There are two approaches to resistance or weight training. The first is the "keep it simple" approach one can put together at home and on the bike, and the other is the more "traditional" using free weights. Both should be done 3 times a week (2 times at a minimum) to maximize benefits.
Most coaches recommend a program of strength building (higher weights, fewer reps) in the winter and then a shift to lower weights (perhaps 50% max) and more reps (3 sets, 50% max.weight, 25 reps OR 2 sets, 25% max.weight, 50 reps) as the cycling season approaches to mimic the ways you use your muscles on the bike and to decrease the possibility of injuries.
The following idea builds on the concept of transitioning from a pure muscle building program to one that mimics how you use those muscles on the bike. Do a 3 - 5 minute "muscle reeducation" on the spin cycle after lifting. This stresses the muscles and then uses a sport specific task to coordinate the firing patterns of the muscle cells. The same concept is being applied when a coach uses a medicine ball to encourage new firing patterns.
KEEP IT SIMPLE (i.e. you don't have free weights available)
1) You have to lift extrememly heavy weights to increase muscle size. Not so. Competitive body builders, whose success depends on muscle size, work with only moderately heavy loads using multiple sets of up to 12 lifts per set. The chance of injury with extremely heavy weights outweighs their benefits.
2) You can sculpt your body by using multiple reps with light weights. Up to a point this is true. But anything more than 15 reps per set offers little benefit.
3) The up side of a lift is more important than the return side. The up side, when you actually lift a weight, is called the concentric phase. The return, when you allow the weight to return to its starting point,is the eccentric phase. While both are important, there is evidence that the eccentric phase may actually have more impact on developing muscle strength. It is recommended that you lift with a two count and return to the starting postion with a four count.
4) Abdominal crunches will build up your back muscles. While crunches will strenghten abdominal muscles and protect your back, back extensions are needed to strenghten the spinal erector muscles.
5) Weight lifting increases aerobic capacity. Although a rider that is in better shape might ride more efficiently and thus for longer periods at any speed, there is no evidence that weight training will increase your VO2max or AT/LT. That's not to say that you can't add aerobic work to a weight session however. Aside from the warm-up it can be helpful to incorporate two or three "spin-bike", ergometer or stair-master aerobic "breaks" between standard exercises. These aerobic sessions should be limited to 3 to 5 minutes each so as not to detract from the core exercises (squats, toe raises, leg extensions, ab work, etc).
BUT WILL WEIGHTS INCREASE MY PERFORMANCE? Even though most coaches include weight training in their programs, there is controversy on this point - particularly as to the usefulness of weights during the cycling season.
Lance Armstrong's coach, Chris Carmichael, recommends building leg strength with low repetitions and heavy weights in the winter, then switching to the bike for high-repetition power work in the form of intervals up steep hills. But cycling physician and trainer Max Testa says to begin the winter with 3-4 sets of 12-18 reps with medium resistance, then progress to 3 sets of 25 reps followed by 2 sets of 50 reps with light weights. Testa's reason for high-repetition/low resistance leg training: "When you pedal you use a very small percentage of maximum strength on each pedal stroke."
The moral? The physiological law of specificity can't be avoided. Weight-room strength has to be converted to cycling-specific fitness before it's of much use on the bike.
The following article also suggests that any benefits are minimal, at least for endurance performance. BISHOP, D., D. G. JENKINS, L. T. MACKINNON, M. MCENIERY, and M. F. CAREY. The effects of strength training on endurance performance and muscle characteristics. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 31, No. 6, pp. 886-891, 1999
Purpose: The purpose of this study was to determine the effects of resistance training on endurance performance and selected muscle characteristics of female cyclists.
Methods: Twenty-one endurance-trained, female cyclists, aged 18-42 yr, were randomly assigned to either a resistance training (RT; N = 14) or a control group (CON; N = 7). Resistance training (2×·wk-1) consisted of five sets to failure (2-8 RM) of parallel squats for 12 wk. Before and immediately after the resistance-training period, all subjects completed an incremental cycle test to allow determination of both their lactate threshold (LT) and peak oxygen consumption V(dot)O2). In addition, endurance performance was assessed by average power output during a 1-h cycle test (OHT), and leg strength was measured by recording the subject's one repetition maximum (1 RM) concentric squat. Before and after the 12-wk training program, resting muscle was sampled by needle biopsy from m. vastus lateralis and analyzed for fiber type diameter, fiber type percentage, and the activities of 2-oxoglutarate dehydrogenase and phosphofructokinase.
Results: After the resistance training program, there was a significant increase in 1 RM concentric squat strength for RT (35.9%) but not for CON (3.7%) (P < 0.05). However, there were NO significant changes in OHT performance, LT, V(dot)O2, muscle fiber characteristics, or enzyme activities in either group (P > 0.05).
Conclusion: The present data suggest that increased leg strength does not improve cycle ENDURANCE performance in endurance-trained, female cyclists.
But there is another, often overlooked, benefit of weight training. We're discovering that cycling may contribute to bone loss in both men and women because it's not a weight-bearing activity. So cyclists should crosstrain for bone health. Weight training and jumping (like rope skipping) are helpful.
For those of you interested in further leads in pursuing weight conditioning, I'd suggest the web site of The National Strength and Conditioning Association.