by Dave McIntosh, pictures courtesy of Andy Potts Racing

Ed. Note—Durata Training rejoins us this week to talk about strength training and addressing weaknesses on the bike. Dave McIntosh is a USA Cycling Level 2 coach with Durata Training. He has 20 years experience coaching cyclists of all abilities across all disciplines. In addition, Dave is a Licensed Massage Therapist, practicing at the Colorado Sport and Spine Physical Therapy clinic in Colorado Springs, CO.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.“

As a massage therapist and cycling coach working in a physical therapy clinic, these words have always resonated with me. Whether it is just a little more attention to nutrition/hydration, getting to bed a little earlier, or for our purposes here, adopting a strength training routine to head off those little niggles that, when left unattended, turn into bigger problems that can take weeks and months from which to recover. For some endurance athletes Strength Training it is the Holy Grail; for others, the concept is a couple bad words that should never be uttered. Strength training has been a component of physical fitness that is often overlooked by endurance athletes simply because of the common notion of “bulking up“ and how that might adversely affect performance. I believe the benefits of strength training far outweigh the possibility of added bulk and weight. In a nutshell, strength training can actually help with weight control because as lean mass is gained, the body burns more calories, making it easier to control weight. Strength training increases bone density and reduces the possibility of fractures. From a purely muscular standpoint, strength training increases muscle strength, power, endurance, and potentially, size. This article will propose five cycling/triathlon related weaknesses and how they can be addressed through a rather basic strength training program. Let’s first examine these five potential problems:

  1. Low back pain
  2. Patellofemoral syndrome
  3. Achilles/Heel Pain
  4. Upper trap and neck pain
  5. Shoulder/wrist/elbow pain
Power on the bike is generated from the muscles in the lower back and glutes. This area is where it all begins—your "cottage of wattage." An athlete might consider it a successful competition if they are simply able to complete the competition with little to no pain in the back. Back pain can be related to position on the bike or weakness in this area, or a combination of the two.  

Patellofemoral pain, also known as runners knee, is characterized by knee pain in varying degrees. But it’s not only just for runners. Knee pain can result from a misalignment of the cleat, saddle, the repetitive nature of pedaling, or repeatedly mashing big gears.

Much like the knee joint, the ankle joint (and more specifically the Achilles tendon), can be adversely affected with an improper fit. Repetitive pointing of the toes while pedaling/having or using too high a saddle position can lead to Achilles tendinitis if not properly addressed.

Upper extremity pain in the shoulders, neck, elbows, and wrists can be all inclusive and, like the aforementioned, related to improper fit. Time spent in the pool can also result in overuse injury in these areas.

So, how can we as endurance athletes incorporate strength training in a safe and timely manner so that it enhances our abilities, while at the same time preventing injury?

Strength training, like training on the bike/run/swim, should be cyclical. Meaning, the work you do in the weight room should be periodized in a similar manner.

Athletes that I work with (provided that they WANT to incorporate strength training into their routine), typically start that routine in the September/October time frame, when the majority of summer goals and races are complete.

So let’s look at what a sample periodized lifting schedule might look like:

Foundation Lift: Six weeks

3 sets, 8-10 repetitions
Exercises:
Squats
bench press
Deadlift
shoulder press
seated rows
Leg press
Planks

Strength Phase Lift: six weeks

4 sets, 6-8 repetitions
Exercises:
Squats
bench press
Deadlift
One arm dumbbell rows
Leg press
Planks

Power Phase Lift: four-to-six weeks

4 sets, 4-6 repetitions
Exercises:
Squats
bench press
Deadlift
Lat pulldown OR seated row
Leg press
Planks

All of the phases include multiple lower extremity exercises as well as at least one push and one pull exercise. I also like to incorporate plyometrics in the strength and power phases, in the form of box jumps (jumping from the floor to a box) as well as depth jumps (stepping off a platform of 8-12 inches, and immediately jumping upon making contact with the floor).

In conclusion, for the purposes of endurance training, it’s not necessary to spend hours in the weight room. With the four phases of lifting, and the named exercises, a lot can be accomplished in a relatively short amount of time. As always, if you’re unsure, it’s best to consult with a professional to make certain that form is correct before attempting heavier lifts.