Q&A: Getting strength training right
I've been following your Q&As over recent months, and a couple of themes are emerging. Firstly, most medical issues can be answered by "see a doctor". Secondly, most discomfort and efficiency issues should begin with "get a proper bike-fitting".
But your third ‘favourite' seems to be to advocate strength training to underpin pretty much all aspects of cycling. This might be of value to older riders, but I'm in my late-20s and race criteriums and short road races, and I'm trying to improve my explosive power.
I can see why strength training might help, but my main concern is putting on muscle bulk from excessive strength training. Won't improvements in power be offset by gains in weight and size?
Andy, the key is in your use of the term ‘excessive'. You're right that too much strength training could well have all sorts of negative implications for your on-bike training and racing. However, there is strength training for hypertrophy (increasing muscle bulk) and there is strength training more specific to your needs: increasing speed and power without the unwanted side-effects of gaining weight and increasing cross-sectional area, thus compromising aerodynamics.
If your main aim is riding crits, there is far less emphasis on power-to-weight ratio than in longer, hillier road races, and you see plenty of slightly bulkier ‘powerhouse' riders doing well in this classification of road racing.
To boost explosive power for this kind of racing, I'd include some ballistics. Ballistic training involves both rapid accelerations and high velocities and in doing so recruits high numbers of fast-twitch muscle fibres - the kind of response you're looking for to not just go fast but go fast quickly, accelerating out of corners or responding to attacks in short, fast races.
Also, the word ‘ballistic' refers to the fact that the body moves through space. In tests, this has proven to be a key factor in limiting muscle atrophy and weight gain.
So taking a standard squat, there is a deceleration phase following the initial lift just before you come to a stop in the standing position. In ballistic squats, at the top of the movement the athlete generates sufficient power to jump a few inches off the floor, before landing with ‘soft' knees and returning to the low position in the squat.
In studies this kind of ballistic squat not only increased peak power and the speed at which it could be applied, it also resulted in no significant hypertrophy compared to a control group using standard squats.
Huw Williams is a BC Level 3 coach