Periodization of Strength Training

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The following is an update of information appearing in The Cyclist's Training Bible and The Triathlete's Training Bible.

Although research reports mixed results when it comes to weight training, my experience from coaching hundreds of athletes is that it improves the racing performances of those who have strength, power or muscular endurance as a limiter. I also believe it's more effective for cycling than for running or swimming probably because pedaling a bicycle is more of a gross motor skill than is running or swimming.

I sometimes hear comments from athletes and coaches that no benefits were seen, or even worse, that there was a performance drop associated with lifting. The cause of this may be a failure to periodize strength and instead relying on a program that remains essentially unchanged for weeks or months.

This article may serve as a brief introduction to periodization of weight training. For an in-depth description pick up a copy of one of my books: The Cyclist's Training Bible, Cycling Past 50, The Triathlete's Training Bible or The Mountain Biker's Training Bible. Another good resource for those who want a more detailed and scientific discussion is Serious Strength Training by Tudor Bompa, Ph.D.

It's important that the exercises match the muscular demands of the sport for which you are training. There is little reason for a swimmer to do leg press, but this is a quite valuable exercise for cyclists. Make the decision about what exercises to include by considering the movements of your sport and then closely replicating them in the weight room. It may also be necessary to include exercises that help correct muscular imbalances marked by frequent injury.

Make the exercises multi-joint whenever possible. By this I mean exercises that involve more than one joint in the movement. For example, a seated knee extension is a single-joint exercise as only one joint--the knee--is used. The squat, however, is a multi-joint exercise involving the hip, knee and ankle. Multi-joint exercises more closely mimic the movements of sport. I also recommend using free weights whenever possible.

The following are the strength phases I use with the athletes I coach.

Anatomical Adaptation (AA) Phase

This is the initial phase of strength training which usually occurs in the late fall or early winter during the Prep period. Its purpose is to prepare the muscles and tendons for the greater loads of the heavier Maximum Strength phase. More exercises are done at this time of year than at any other since improved general body strength is a goal, and other forms of training are minimal. If desired, circuit training can add an aerobic component to this phase--providing a double benefit at a time when days are often short and outdoor workouts are limited.

In this phase, as in most others, the athlete should find that loads are increased by about five percent every four or five workouts.

Anatomical Adaptation (AA) phase

Total sessions/Phase 8-12
Sessions/Week 2-3
Load Select loads that allow only 20-30 reps
Reps/Set 20-30
Speed of Lift Slow to moderate, emphasizing form
Recovery (in minutes) 1-1.5