Hello and welcome to the ADAM COPLEY: PERSONAL TRAINING blog. Here you will find weekly updates designed to educate you on strength and conditioning for cycling. Over the coming weeks I will be covering all aspects of conditioning your body for cycling and how it can benefit you in terms of comfort, speed, and improving your riding. So, without further delay. Let’s get right into this week’s entry!
Week 3: How can gaining strength make your climbing faster?
Strength training and climbing go hand in hand, climbing burns your legs as the level of strength needed to generate the wattage required to move your body, and your bike up the hill increases. If you don’t have the strength in the legs, but you have the endurance you will still get to the top. But you will have worked harder and may be slower up the hill. This article is all about improving your climbing times. So, don’t think of it as. Well I can getup any hill I need too. Think of it as, I want to be quicker than my last time. Or than my mates.
So why do we train in the gym instead of doing hill sprints?
Hill sprints are without a doubt fantastic for training leg strength, as it is technically resistance training. However. Gym work comes with three distinct advantages over hill sprints.
1: Variety; Yes you can climb different hills, but you are technically still doing the same thing. Getting out of the saddle, pedalling like crazy to turn around, rest on your way back down and do it again. Training in the gym opens up your legs to a variety of different ways you can build strength in your body Squatting, pressing and deadlifting are all ways to develop your body in the gym that will benefit your cycling and climbing.
2: Muscles trained; Cycling is great training for cycling (obviously). But it only trains the muscles you use while you are cycling. Working on the muscles that you don’t use on the bike in the gym makes you a more efficient athlete. While you don’t realise it, because they don’t hurt while your pedalling. Your hamstrings and glutes are an extremely effective way to keep your body moving efficiently and with power.
When you’re out the saddle, powering up a hill your FULL lower body will be doing the work. Take into account the benefits around limiting injury training all of your body has this is a no brainer in my eyes. Get in the gym, work on the muscles that DON’T work while you’re on the bike. This ties into last weeks blog about back health.
3: No cars, we all hate them. Especially when we are gasping for air and struggling on the last few reps of our hills prints. Cars passing too close, getting in the way and distracting you from what you should be doing on the bike. Training! Training indoors has one benefit over road riding. NO CARS. All the focus is on your training.
Three reason’s why some proper S&C work is a great addition to your training, but why? What is the science behind strength work and how do we show that it is beneficial in producing hill power? Here are two reasons why building your body into a stronger platform can improve your riding.
1: Increasing your wattage.
Strengthening up your body WILL increase your average wattage per ride. It will also increase the MAX amount of power you can put down. What happens when the elevation changes? We drop the gears to keep the cadence. What happens when we run out of gears? We get out the saddle.
When we get out of the saddle, we are putting more effort in, when the elevation changes, we have to put more effort in to keep the cadence quick. When your body can produce more power, it can get up steeper hills, or get up hills without you having to drop as many gears or go through your gears as fast.
Developing stronger legs WILL increase the max amount of power your body can produce. But we need to look at how we transfer this power over to cycling, specifically uphill. While it is true that cycling is very much an endurance sport and your max wattage isn’t as important on the flat, when you are going up hill and are digging in deep. This is when it counts. And when it counts, developing your body to produce more power is a good thing.
2: Increasing your bodies movement and ability on the bike.
Climbing on a road bike can be quite a violent movement when it gets steep, sitting down and maintaining a high cadence isn’t always possible and you will move around quite a lot when climbing due to fatigue of the body, aerobic and muscularly.
Going back to what we said last week in terms of your lower back on the bike, climbing is usually where you will feel this start to come into effect, so if you do suffer, give that blog a read (week 2).
But let’s talk about getting out the saddle and putting the power down. This is a powerful movement on the bike and one that if you condition your body properly. You will be able to maintain for longer, and to your advantage.
Let me give you an example of this:
I race XC MTB and am currently 170lbs. This is a weight I am happy with in terms of how I look, and how I perform on the bike. Most XC racers weigh about 132-150lbs (Nino Schurter is 132). Meaning while I am not overly heavy. I am heavy withing the confines of my sport. Using my weight to my advantage is something I have learned I can do as I generally have quite a powerful body due to years of training in gyms. I can use my weight and power to an advantage getting out the saddle up the hills and digging in deep. When fitness is increased this is a great way to overcome the speed that the top-level riders can achieve on their lightweight bikes with their lightweight bodies.
Training in the gym to develop full body power and strength has allowed me to climb up shorter, steeper climbs faster than most because I have both the stability and strength in my body to get out the saddle and power the bike up the hill. This has come from training in gyms and making my body both stable, and strong.
So enough about the benefits of S&C for your climbing. Let’s get into how you can build up your strength in the gym. Here are my top 5 exercises for building strength in your body:
1: BOX SQUAT.
Like a regular squat but more cycling specific. Why?
The angle your leg is at while your sat down is as close as you can get to replicating the top of a pedal stroke. It also takes away the elasticity of your muscle fibres allowing you to use your pure strength In pushing the barbell up.
Basically, you are taking the bar off of the rack, sitting it on your shoulders (across your back), sitting down onto a bench and standing up. Use your legs and glutes to stand up and put the power through your heels (pictures below).
If I was to pick only one exercise to do for the rest of my life, it would be the deadlift. The deadlift works everything on the posterior (rear) of your body, upper back, lower back, bum, hamstrings (back of the legs). It’s a great exercise if you struggle with your lower back, it’s also a great exercise if you need to work on your posture.
The deadlift is essentially picking a barbell up from the floor. Set the bar up as pictured.
Get your feet underneath the barbell and stand tall, using your hips. Push them backwards and lower yourself down to the bar (as pictured). Once this is done, get your grip set up. Keep your head forwards, pull your shoulders back and push your chest out. Stand up using your legs, then your back as the bar passes your knees. Stand up tall, tense your bum and return the bar back down the reverse of how you picked it up.
TOP TIP: Don’t over stretch your back during this exercise, I see a lot of people really curving their backs during this movement and it’s a sure way to get injured, stand tall. That’s it all you need.
3: BENCH PRESS:
Developing a strong chest can keep you stable when you are out of the saddle and putting the power down. As the position is similar, it also works the same movements.
This is a very simple exercise that you can do with dumbbells or a barbell, personally I would use a barbell for this.
Simply lift the bench off the rack, lower it to your chest and then press it back up again. Look after your shoulders by lowering it so your elbows are at 90 degrees and no more. This will strengthen the connective tissue and muscle in your shoulders and reduce the risk of injury.
4: WALKING LUNGES:
Lunging is a great way to develop quad strength, it is also a great way to develop the glutes. Making us very powerful with our pedal stroke. This exercise is relitivley simple. Take a set of dumbbells and keep them by your side, don’t let them swing around while you do the movement. Step forward and lower your body down. After this use your leading leg to lift yourself up and swap legs into the same position.
Do this walking down a track or for reps. 10 on each leg is a good way to start.
And there you go. 4 basic exercises that will increase your power output when it comes to climbing. Ultimately making you a faster rider up hill along with the reasons how and why you should be.
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