by Jon-Erik Kawamoto
When you think of power in sports, often a big shot putter in track and field or a weight lifter comes to mind. Lean cyclists may not look all that powerful, but the ability to generate power is not just related to how big the muscles are.
Power, in relation to exercise and athletics, is the product of strength and speed. The more powerful an athlete is, the more force they can develop quickly. As a cyclist, the goal should be to improve absolute strength, which is maximum strength output while maintaining a low, but healthy, bodyweight. This is known as strength to mass ratio. The more you weigh, the more energy is required to make it up a hill or finish a race. Supplement cycling training with exercises that focus on improving maximal strength and that develop maximal speed, also known as explosive power.
The common myth with endurance sports is to perform exercises in the gym that focus on developing endurance. However, the term maximal strength training describes resistance training, or weightlifting with heavy loads performed for low repetitions – typically five or less. This type of resistance training focuses on neural adaptations to improve strength rather than body building-type resistance training which focuses on increasing muscle cross sectional area.
Maximal strength training will improve strength and the ability to develop power without the dreaded bulk. A recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that trained cyclists who supplemented their endurance training with maximal strength training (four sets of four repetitions) three times per week over an eight-week period saw improvements in strength, rate of force development, cycling economy (the steady-rate oxygen cost at a given cycling intensity) and increased time to exhaustion at maximal aerobic power. No change was found in body weight, aerobic capacity or cycling cadence.
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Another recent study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that supplementing cycling training with a strength program consisting of four lower body exercises (three sets of four to 10 repetitions) twice per week over a 12-week period resulted in improvements in strength and in determinants of cycling performance. Thigh cross-sectional area was increased over the 12-week study, but no change in body mass was found.
Add this short workout to weekly training to maximize strength and power producing potential. To help aid recovery between workouts, cyclists might have to back off endurance training by five to 10 per cent to accommodate for the maximal strength training sessions.
Warm-up: Start with a general warm-up on a bike for five minutes, followed by some foam rolling and dynamic stretches. Make sure not to hold stretches more than six seconds. Static stretching has been shown to reduce powerproducing potential and rate-of-force development. Ensure the hips and major leg muscles are thoroughly warmed up and ready for the workout.
Weighted Jump Squat
Focus: To improve maximal speed
How to: Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand. squat down and jump as high as you can. Land softly and repeat trying to jump higher with each subsequent repetition.
Parameters: Be as explosive as you can for each repetition. Hold moderate weights – if the weights are too heavy, optimal power output will not be developed. Perform four sets of five repetitions twice a week. Take three-minute breaks between sets.