After the warm-up complete 4 to 6 sets of one or two hip extension exercises. Most of the time, hip extension exercises are the only ones I have cyclists do in a maximum strength (MS) format. Begin with a light weight and 15 reps for set 1. Increase weight and complete 10 reps. Increase weight and complete 8 reps. Increase weight again and complete 1 to 3 sets of 3 to 6 reps -- most of the time I suggest cyclists aim for 6 reps.
If you are inexperienced at strength training or do not have access to a spotter, avoid heavy weights for a free-weight squat exercise and choose a machine-based exercise instead.
If you have a particular weakness you'd like to work on, you can follow the MS format covered in the previous paragraph for your target exercise. Otherwise, do 2 to 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps for all of your other exercises.
During this phase, it is best to strength train at least two days per week to get the most benefit. If you decide to add a third day, you can make it MS -- or -- go back to anatomical adaptation phase for one day, keeping the load lighter and emphasizing good form.
Because the MS phase makes legs feel heavy and tired, all MS sessions count as one of the stressful workouts for the week. With strength training taking up so much energy, most cyclists can only complete one more key workout each week. That session is either tempo intervals or a long ride with a range of intensities -- light on the high-end intensities.
Do this phase four to six weeks or some eight to 12 sessions.
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Power Endurance with Plyometrics
After the warm-up, complete the same exercises you have been doing in MS, but reduce the weight and do 3 to 4 sets of 8 to15 reps. The weight should feel moderate -- not heavy and not light.
There are a couple of ways to include power work in your strength training routine. One way is if your gym has a specially-designed hip sled machine that allows the athlete to jump while doing reclined leg press exercises.
If your gym does not have such a machine, a second way to include power work is to include plyometrics. This can include a simple floor routine or jumping onto boxes of various heights. Detailed plyometric exercises are not covered here. A good resource for designing your own routine is Donald A. Chu's Jumping into Plyometrics.
If you decide not to do this phase of strength training, go right from MS to strength maintenance.
If you have been strength training three days per week, cut it to two. By this time your riding schedule has picked up more intensity, including threshold intervals as well as high-paced group rides.
Do four weeks of this phase.
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After your warm-up, begin with one of your hip extension exercises. Complete 1 set of 20 reps at a light weight. Increase the weight and complete 1 to 2 sets of 12 reps with a moderate weight. Increase the weight one more time and do 1 to 2 sets of 6 to 8 reps that use a difficult, but not gut-busting-hard weight.
For all remaining exercises, complete 2 to 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps. Strength training should be complimentary to cycling and the weight you use should never cause soreness. Keep strength training sessions limited to between 30 and 45 minutes once per week.
A decent amount of strength can be maintained with only one weight session per week. Many cyclists have found that just one session per week can help keep trouble areas free from nagging pain. Most cyclists do only one session per week of this strength phase.
Do this phase for the remainder of the season. Decrease the sets and weights in heavy racing periods, completely eliminating weights the week of important races.
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Do Weights Really Make a Difference?
The research examining weight training and cycling performance is not straightforward. As you can imagine, attempting to control all the variables associated with a cyclist's training over more than just a few weeks is difficult, if not impossible.
Over 90-percent of the road and mountain cyclists I've worked with have had improved performance on the bike, following a winter plan that that included strength training. All of their plans were some variation of the strength training phases discussed in this column.
If you try a strength training plan for the first time, be conservative on weights and aggressive on great form. If you don't know how to lift weights, don't be afraid to schedule a session with a certified trainer at your gym. Be sure they know you're looking to learn good technique and not to become the Incredible Hulk.
What's the Best Technique for Squats?
Know there are several variations on squats and leg press exercises; specifically foot placement and depth of movement. While there isn't enough room to discuss those issues here, the safest place to begin is spacing your feet about pedal-width apart and lower yourself until your knee bend is roughly the same as your knee bend angle on the bike. You can progress from there.
Try it for a Season
The only way to know if strength training works for you is to include it in your training plan for a season. If you are training four to six days per week, most of them indoors, strength training may well be a better investment of your time than sitting on an indoor trainer...again.
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