Last weekend I was at the Manchester Institute of Health and Performance for a two day a foundation workshop run by the UK Strength & Conditioning Association aimed at people looking to become accredited as an S&C coach or those, like me, wishing to add best practice to their existing sport specific coaching.
The English Institute of Sport define Strength & Conditioning broadly as ‘the physical and physiological development of athletes for elite sport performance’. In practice, for a sports specific coach like me, this means using a none cycling environment to improve the performance of a rider on the bike.
The conditioning part is relatively straight forward, this is preparation of an athlete to perform to their best ability. That’s what I do on a day to day basis with cyclists by prescribing a training plan that tells you how hard, how long and how often you should ride to achieve your cycling goals.
Aligning the strength bit to make it cycling specific is a little more challenging although pretty much any athlete is going to benefit from being stronger. In theory, stronger muscles mean more power, better recovery and less susceptibility to injury but in practice does lifting heavy weights in a gym correlate well to knocking out a personal best for a 10 mile time trial or completing a 100 mile sportive in one piece?
A few years ago, cyclists of any flavour wouldn’t be found dead near a gym, more recently, cyclists who specialise in track sprinting wont be found anywhere else. They now spend more time back squatting, dead lifting and SLDLing huge weights in small repetitions than they do on the track. The worlds best sprint cyclists can’t be wrong and the case for well-structured gym time is now made and evidenced by the number of gold medals won by the GB sprinters over the last few Olympics.
For endurance cyclists (in practical terms, anybody who isn’t involved in BMX or track sprinting) the case is less clear cut. Speaking to the tutors on the course, they said they have struggled to convince elite endurance cyclists that getting off the bike and in the gym is time well spent. Further, and understandably given their discipline, they tend to be obsessed with ‘volume’ as their route to success. Your guess is as good as mine as to how much of this is psychological but certainly the case for gym based physiological adaption to help endurance riders go faster or further is less well developed.
From my own practice, from the riders I have coached and from the knowledge I gained from the weekend, I feel there is a good case to be made that in real world non-professional cycling an element of thoughtfully prescribed S&C training in your program is going to make you faster. Here’s why I think it makes sense to get in the gym.
If you think some Strength & Conditioning training might be for you, please don’t read this and fire off to the gym to do 12 million bicep curls, the amount of bad practice in gyms is scary; at best it’s wasting effort and at worst it’s an injury waiting to happen. Just like a training prescription for cycling sessions, you really do need to know what exercises to do when, how to perform them correctly and how they fit in to the rest of your training before launching in to it.
I’d be really interested to hear people’s views and experiences and if I can help you, please let me know.
The ramblings of a cycling coach...