On Bike Strength Training

Okay I admit it, I’ve been banging on to all of you for as long as I can remember about increasing your leg speed, or cadence, when you are riding your bike. So the following comes with a general health warning.

“The following advice is for the specific training purpose set out, it is not a green light to go back to your mashing ways!”

Riding your bike at a higher cadence utilises your slow twitch muscles fibres more. These have great blood flow which allows better delivery of fuel and better removal of waste. Slow twitch muscles have more mitochondria and are fatigue resistant. This all means that higher cadence riding, is more efficient for riding long distances. Period.

They won’t however produce enough energy to make you fast 💨💨

I was discussing with my coach yesterday about how there is much talk about training energy systems but not that much talk about training the muscular system. Since muscles are pretty vital in powering a bike, we think that many riders are missing a key component to their training. Gym work can be excellent at improving muscle fibre composition and the strength and resilience of tendons and ligaments. However, many riders do not have the time or the inclination to go to the gym and do the right type of exercises. So what can be done on the bike to build strength and resilience?

Strength training involves recruiting fast twitch muscles. These muscles can be very powerful but are very quickly fatigued. They have less blood flow, fewer mitochondria, and are not as good at converting fuel to energy via blood flow. There are two types of fast twitch muscles. Type A take on some of the characteristics of slow twitch muscles and are more useful for endurance, whilst Type B muscles are the ones you will be using for the sprint to the town sign!

Incorporating some strength training on the bike can be very beneficial at this time of year. For the past few winters we have included a weekly Hillathon ride with all of our coached riders. These involve finding short hills of 2-6 minutes long and riding them in a high gear at a low cadence.

Here is a typical Hillathon Ride session.

“Choose a hilly course with several short, sharp and steep climbs of 2-6 minutes long.
Warm up for 20-30 min building to tempo pace. Then start the¬†climbs at lower cadence of 50-60rpm in a high gear to start building muscular strength and endurance. Power should be around your threshold. If possible and safe, hold the handlebars with just one hand and focus on keeping the core engaged, driving the complete revolution of the pedal turn. Each week increase the number of hills and the total elevation climbed”

In addition to this you can also include some over geared efforts on your indoor trainer. A Wattbike is ideal for this as you can fine tune the combination of cadence and gear. We have a great session called Grimpeur which starts with 4 sets of 3 minute over geared efforts with 60 seconds hard to end, imagining yourself cresting the hill strongly. Both the indoor and outdoor version of these are great for improving those Type A muscle fibres, allowing you to improve the muscular force that you can put through the pedals.

We also like to include some power work, working those Type B fibres. Standing power starts are a great workout for this with short bursts of 15-20 second efforts with plenty of recovery. Choose a hard gear that takes some effort to get going and explode out of the saddle from a near stationary position and then sit and spin as fast and as hard as you can! Recover for 5 minutes or more and then repeat for between 5-10 times.

These are good sessions to think about building into your plan in December and January when the weather is cold and long rides don’t seem that attractive. The outside Hillathon rides do not need to be long. Ride 5-15 short climbs and your legs will know you have had a stern workout, but you might only need to ride 40-50km. Repeat these sessions every 2-3 days and include some higher cadence active recovery rides as well. After 4-6 weeks you should notice an improvement in muscular force and power.

Whatever you do make sure you mix things up a bit this season. We see too many people just repeating the same training year after year. Moving in a different direction will stimulate adaptions and improve your strength and fitness.