Thursday, 7 March 2013

So You Entered Your First Sportive Part 2 - Building Power & Strength

This post is intended as a follow up to my last post which contained the Pixies thoughts on lessons learnt over the the last 12 months or so in respect of training for that first sportive, long charity ride or maybe the first attempt at riding a century (whether that is 100 kilometers or 100 miles). You probably don't need to read that post for this one to make sense, however in case you haven't read it, it can be found here HERE 

In my last post I said that I believed that the introduction of strength training into my training programme had made a significant difference on my ability to ride longer distances, climb hills without having to walk or take a rest at the top and it has probably increased my average speed over a given distance. (Actually the introduction of a formalised and documented training plan, did this as well) So convinced am I of the positive contribution strength training makes to sportive performance, it is now an ongoing fixture in my weekly training programme, that rarely gets missed.

I think i should also probably point out that I am no expert, indeed I still consider myself to be a "newbie" in the world of sportives. What follows is really just me reflecting on what works for me in the hope that it might encourage other "newbies" to think about how they are going to prepare themselves for their first sportive or properly long ride?  

What I am not talking about is the type of weight training that is practiced by body builders, their goal is strength and bulky muscle. Our goal is strength and no unnecessary bulky muscle.

Not convinced about whether strength training is worth it or beneficial?

Strength training seems to work for Chris Hoy 
OK, so Chris Hoy is a track cyclist and needs thighs like tree trunks for sprinting, but in any sportive, the same muscles that are used for sprinting will be used for climbing those pesky hills.

"Road cyclists need to be light and avoid the bulk that weight training produces!" I hear you say. This article about Bradley Wiggins' winter training regime seems to indicate that he can see some benefit from strength training Bradley Wiggins's TDF preperation article - Cycling Weekly       

Doesn't look like the gym work added any unwanted muscle bulk to Wiggo

Completing the type of distances we are talking about, over the types of terrain typically encountered on an average UK sportive requires strength. Strength is principally required (in my own experience) to avoid a situation where those steep hills that organisers always include don't completely drain the rider of the ability to finish the route. When the hill gets steep, the muscles in the leg and core of the body are making a significant contribution to our ability to get up and over the hill - If the leg muscles aren't strong enough to turn the pedals, forward motion is lost and guess what? Its time for the "oh my god, I can't get unclipped from my pedal" and kissing the tarmac moment - Yep, been there, done that, got the T shirt.

Sportive organisers have a habit of including these on their routes

I guess I should stop labouring this point and simply say that I have come to the conclusion that performing select upper body exercises gives me greater power in sprints and on short, steep climbs where pulling on the handlebars increases the force applied to the pedals. I'm sure I use less energy (for a given speed and gradient) on climbs now than previously and that can only be contributing to an increased ability to go further and faster than before.

Strength training will help you get up hills like this one

I have also found that doing training exercises that work my lower body strength in addition to performing upper body, abdominal and lower-back training exercises has resulted in better comfort on the bicycle, which again must be contributing to less wasted energy and increased potential for going further and faster. 

After some experimentation with different exercises I have found that the best strength and resistance exercises for me are the following:
  1. leg press and squats, multi-muscle group exercises which focus on the quads and hip flexors,
  2. calf press or raises,
  3. back extension to develop lower back strength,
  4. stiff-legged deadlifts or leg curls to strengthen the hamstrings and gluteus maximus,
  5. abdominal curls, and
  6. seated or bent rows to develop the middle and upper back and the posterior surface of the shoulders.
In addition to the above exercises I also have a number of core conditioning  exercises that I complete, however I'll save talking about those for another blog post.

Extreme core conditioning exercise
My own research (Thanks Google) and conversations with Simon at Total Cycling Performance and the trainers at my local gym have confirmed the need for developing a strength training programme that works all of the muscle groups that work with and against each other e.g. Hamstring exercises are important because over-development of the quadriceps, typical in most serious cyclists, must be balanced with development of the hamstrings to avoid hamstring tears. Also, hamstrings are used in the bottom part of the pedal stroke where a slightly backward force is applied. Squats offer many benefits. I have found them to be very effective at strengthening the large quadriceps muscle in the inside/front of the thigh. Performing leg press and squats will also strengthen the hip flexors potentially preventing hip pain after battling up those long and/or steep hills.

Always useful to be able to identify specific muscles

If you have never used weights for strength training before, I would recommend that you consult a cycling coach or physical trainer to help you devise a weight training program that addresses your own development areas. They will also teach you the proper way to do of all exercises included in that program. 

If you suffer from any form of joint pain, like me, always start off with a light weight after any break from your strength training programme as this will help to avoid instigating back, hip or knee pain. (Yep, I've got that T shirt as well) 

Now that we are starting to get into the Sportive season I am starting to reduce weights I am lifting and placing greater focus on the workouts I am performing on the bike and Wattbike. My reason for doing this is to reduce the risk of injury in the weight room which could force me to skip sportives and lose valuable training time as I get ready for the Dragon Ride, l'etape and Newcastle to London. 

If you do decide to include some strength training in your sportive preparations, be guided by a professional trainer about volume of exercise until you are comfortable with making that decision yourself. 

So you've entered your first sportive and you want to do everything possible to maximise the chances of having an enjoyable and successful day? 

I'm pretty confident that if you visit the gym at least once or twice a week during the build up to the event, you will notice a significant increase in your power on the bike. Try it you might like it! 

Oh, and before I forget to mention it. It's perfectly normal to feel a little nervous about going into the strength training section of the gym, thinking everyone will be looking at you and asking what steroids and supplements you are taking. The reality is likely to be that you will be left to your own devices and nobody will be that bothered about the fact that you are there - Most of the people that you will encounter will be focused on their own training programme and will be friendly if you want them to be.

As always thanks for taking the time to visit this blog and read the ramblings of the Pixie as he documents his own journey to l'etape and Newcastle to London. I hope you have found some of this post interesting, and maybe even useful? 

Pop back again some time and find out whether I am on track to get up that big French Mountain and whether it looks like I will be able to ride from Newcastle to London in under 24 hours in August.    

Dha weles diwettha



No comments:

Post a Comment