This time of year is often characterized by the long, steady distance rides found in the classic periodization model often used in training for cycling.
It is normal for leg speed to decrease by the very nature of the training involved. Cadence often becomes much slower with rides being more endurance-oriented. This alone can lead to a decrease in leg speed.
However, throw in weight training at the gym and on-bike strength work on top of that, and your legs really start to get sluggish. Compare the six to 30 repetitions per set to the thousands you put out each time you ride your bike.
Sixty repetitions per minute on the bike are slow. However, in weight training, that would be quite fast, or at the least, very fatiguing. For the more highly trained athlete, this type of approach is an inherent necessity for them to continually progress to the next level in their fitness.
Many riders really struggle with this part of the process when it comes time to start picking up the pace again--when the focus of their training shifts after just a few weeks or months of this type of training. They often cite having "slow, heavy legs," and really suffer in their first attempts at events or training requiring leg speed or speed endurance.
This is an unfortunate part of the process unless the athlete is purposely trying to peak for the early season, in which case their training would be structured differently.
Some athletes, on the other hand, who have naturally high cadences due to a highly trained or naturally gifted neuromuscular system, do not have as much trouble getting that leg speed back. Regardless, it pays to include some leg-speed work in your training to limit the damage and improve your mechanics and overall neuromuscular fitness.
This is why fast-pedaling drills are often included in training programs: to maintain and train the neuromuscular system and counteract all of that slow stuff. Remember, when you get into the power, and eventually the speed, phases of your training, that precious leg speed will come back.
Hopefully, by doing some specific speed work, it will come back quicker and you won't have as far to go in order to recover that speed from earlier in the season. Maybe this time, it will be even faster when a peak is reached this year!
What can you do in the meantime? For starters, easy high-cadence spinning in the small ring during shorter training rides or between big-gear efforts is a really simple way to combat this problem.
All you big-gear mashers, get out of that big ring every once in a while, and do some neuromuscular work in the small ring by really spinning that gear with good from when you are out there on those long easy rides.
Another suggestion is to teach the body to do what you want it to do. This is what exercise physiologists call "motor programming." The body tends to remember its last effort and looks back to that "map" for instructions on what it should do the next time you call on it. So let's take advantage of this phenomenon, by tricking it and training it.
That is why we recommend five minutes of high-cadence pedaling in the small ring before and after big-gear/low-cadence stuff. This primes the neuromuscular system before the effort and reprograms it afterwards, helping it to remember "fast." It also serves to help clear the legs of any metabolic waste.
To really take this to the next level, let's do the same thing in the gym, where it may have an even greater impact. Try working in?three to five?minutes of 100 to 110+ rpm pedaling on the stationary bike before your weight-training sessions to wake up the neuromuscular system, and especially after your workout to retrain it after you lift.
This will help retard the decay of your leg speed over the course of the off-season. Don't forget to really stretch out well after your warmup and?before lifting to increase performance and decrease the chance of injury.
Now, hopefully, you will not have any excuses for not crushing the competition come the spring!
Jeb Stewart, M.S., C.S.C.S., is a USA Cycling Elite and USA Triathlon Level 1 coach and is certified by the ACSM, NSCA and NASM. He has a master's in exercise science and health promotion and is co-owner and head coach of Endurofit, LLC. For more information, visit www.endurofit.com or contact Jeb at email@example.com or 813-230-2900.
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