The winter off-season is the time to address your weaknesses – and for many cyclists, that means building strength ready for coming summer events.
Michelle Arthurs Brennan spoke to Dave Lloyd - an ex-pro rider who has been coaching cyclists from Dave Lloyd Complete Coaching for 15 years. He’s coached a wide range of athletes, including triple Team Pursuit Track World Champs Gold Medalist and Olympic Silver medalist Wendy Houvenaghel, as well as Carole Gandy, who he helped to win the Cycling Time Trials British Best All Rounder in her 60s.
Different coaches will have their own beliefs - some are in favour of having athletes lift weights to develop leg strength - but Lloyd advises developing lower body strength on the bike, and upper body strength in the gym.
He explained: “Weight training for the lower body, such as squats, can cause an injury unless performed correctly. Track sprinters have to do those exercises, but endurance cyclists don’t really need to so I wouldn’t advise they do."
Instead, he uses climbing sessions to build lower body strength: “I give my riders specific power climbs. Ideally, I’d suggest riding a climb of about 4-5%, for repetitions of 5-6 minutes in the gear that you can just about sustain whilst still sitting in the saddle – gripping the handlebars in the centre. Strengthening your legs on the bike is the best thing you can do because it trains the right muscles, in the way they’ll be used when cycling."
He said this sort of training was best done outside, because it’s more lifelike and allows you to use your upper body strength, but that many athletes did these sessions on a turbo trainer as well.
Cyclists tend to focus on their legs - a lot – but when we spoke to Lloyd he told us we needed to be focusing on upper body strength too.
“I have my athletes do gym based strength work twice a week, over winter, and once a week over summer – but it’s all focused on the upper body", he explained.
“The strength session I prescribe for all my athletes has them working their arms, back, chest and core. These exercises give them the strength to hold and control the bike, and to climb strong out of the saddle."
Most of the upper body exercised Lloyd prescribes are weights that can be done in the gym – such as Bench Presses, Barbell Curls, Tricep dips, Lat Pull Downs, and some exercises that can be done easily at home, such as Tricep dips and Press Ups. He has his athletes do 3 rounds of 9 exercises, with 12 repetitions of each move.
Here is an example of what Dave would suggest:
These exercises, he said, are great for any athlete, from those planning 2015 sportives to professional athletes. However, he added: “Technique is really important, it’s best to go to the gym and ask someone there to show you proper technique, and to start practicing that with little or no weight, first."
Lloyd did add that some of his athletes in the past have worried about “putting on" excess muscle, but he explained: “It takes ages, and a lot of work to gain muscle – and most cyclists don’t need muscle, but strength – which these exercises promote."
Alongside power climbs and upper body weights, Lloyd is also a big fan of the Concept 2 Rowing Machines often found in gyms – he said: “Many expert cyclists have crossed over from rowing – such as Rebecca Romero (Elite rower turned cyclist and 2008 Olympic Individual Pursuit Gold Medalist) – it’s a fantastic all body exercise that really makes your muscles work. Unlike weights alone, it offers resistance, but with a cardiovascular work-out."
He added: “I would use the Concept 2 as a warm up tool before an upper body weights session – say 10 minutes beforehand, alternatively I’d ask them to do a specific interval session on there – for example a warm up, before sets of 1,000 meters at their best effort, with 5 minute recoveries."
Whether you decide to hit the weights or not, adding some resistance to your routine will certainly build up some strength and provide some variety to your winter - so enjoy!