Building Strength Off the Bike
Strength training has been a part of my training program since I first started working with a coach in 2003. It is an important component for injury prevention, increasing overall athleticism, all-round strength and bone density, while also enabling more training variety and load over the winter.
I was curious if strength and conditioning (S and C) was where I could find more gains on the bike in 2017, so I decided to reach out to Todd Schumlick (PerformX), arguably the go-to guy when it comes to strength training for MTB. Schumlick works with many of the world’s best in gravity racing, such as Aaron Gwin and Richie Rude, but he had never worked with a cross-country racer. It was going to be a learning curve for both me and Schumlick and my coach, Dan Proulx, who creates and oversees my seasonal and day-today training program.
Our strength training started with a four-week program identifying and addressing imbalances and weaknesses and then moved onto three-week build stages, hitting the gym more frequently and with much routine variation. As opposed to previous years, there’s now a much greater emphasis on upper-body strength and shoulder stability, something I think is particularly important for female racers, and I will be curious to see how this translates when I get outside on the bike. There is also now a wider range of movements included to improve my overall athleticism, movement patterns and stability for injury prevention – exercises such as adduction and abduction to maintain pelvic stability, something often overlooked by us cyclists, who tend to think only in linear terms. I’m excited to see how the program evolves throughout the spring and summer, with non-gym workouts being used on the road while racing.
To further discussion on this topic, I spoke with some of Canada’s top experts in Endurance sports and/or strength training to discover their thoughts on strength training for Endurance athletes including Schumlick, Proulx and Trent Stellingwerff (lead physiologist at CSIP).
When it came down to what exercises they thought were the most important for cyclists, they all agreed that squats and deadlifts are key – the caveat being that they must be done properly to be beneficial. When asked what role they saw S and C playing, they had this to say:
Schumlick: “I see a proper strength and conditioning program playing a role in developing an athlete’s bio-mechanics, or, more specifically, ‘weakest links.’ This includes giving athletes variation in their routines.” His advice: “Endurance athletes . . . do not need to be consumed by weight-to-power ratios alone! Instead, focus on what’s holding you back from increasing your performance. If you are unsure, seek professional help [from a strength specialist].”
Stellingwerff, physiologist and husband of Olympic 1,800-metre runner Hillary Stellingwerff: “I’m a huge believer in S and C, as there are lots of studies to show increased peak strength/power/ speed, as well as improving economy (at least in running), and for minimizing injury risks. However, for Endurance athletes, who are already training many, many hours per week, the philosophy in the weight room needs to be ‘less is more’ – or . . . what is the minimal effective dose?” He finds 90-120 minutes/week sufficient for pure Endurance athletes in the off-season, and by race season, he says, “I’m a fan of continuing S and C, but minimal effective dose – literally might be three to five exercises, and less than 20 total lifts across three to five muscle groups, or even less!”
Proulx: “There is no doubt that a well-planned strength-training program improves performance in MTB. The strength training has to be well sequenced and integrated into the athlete’s overall training plan. Even though it’s important, strength training should be viewed as supplemental to an athlete’s on-bike program. The primary goal is athleticism, injury prevention, speed of recruitment, coordination and, lastly, strength gains.” He also believes, “It’s also critical that strength gains are achieved without adding excess muscle mass. We’re after functional strength . . . . We’re not bodybuilders. Strength relative to body weight is key.”
As always, there are many variables that determine the success of a training plan, but I am excited to see how an increased strength and conditioning focus translates to results on the bike.
There are many exercises you can do at home to strengthen and stabilize your legs, arms, shoulders core and back.