Don’t Resist Resistance Work
There’s way too much emphasis on doing more cardio to reduce lardio. Strength and conditioning training is the real secret weapon.
Most of you want to be lean, right? Being lean, healthy, looking good and performing well (in sport or in life) is generally our end goal. Add in the fact that we all want to be energetic, injury-free and able to do a variety of activities without limitation. These are all reasons to maintain a proper strength and conditioning program.
I see it all the time. Having strong lungs and legs is vital to being a good cyclist. If you have a balanced base of power, then you have a wealth of opportunity to realize a greater range of long-term capacity. I race and train with a lot of cyclists who are “cycling” strong. But very few can deadlift their body weight or do more than 10 pull-ups. There are also very few of these cycling-specific athletes who can run a 5K in under 21 minutes or do a box jump more than 30 inches high.
So, why strength train? It will give you more overall power. More power generally results in addressing some if not all of your personal fitness and athletic goals. You will also look better, feel better and perform better. You will be leaner, more defined and have an elevated metabolic activity. And a biggie for me is that you will maintain a high level of speed, strength and functionality into your 40s, 50s and beyond.
Let’s look at power for a moment. It’s simple: Focus on power and the rest of your fitness issues kind of fall into place. Power is generally defined as your ability to move a load (weight/resistance) over a set distance with time as a variable. Lift more in less time and you are more powerful.
I generally say that as you increase your power, you will enhance the four “ilities:”
1. Mobility—you will move faster.
2. Agility—you can move efficiently and fluidly with coordination and balance.
3. Utility—it has an everyday life application. Lifting a household appliance, moving a heavy object or counter-balancing an object will be done successfully with little risk of injury or extended muscular/skeletal soreness.
4. Ability—you will increase your work capacity for your sport/fitness-specific specialty (cycling, yoga, running, etc.).
I don’t believe one should overtrain, but I do believe many people don't spend enough time recovering. With a well-planned and targeted strength and conditioning program, you can get a lot done in less time. There are some common potholes to look out for:
1. Too many exercises/movements—less is more. Focus on fundamental compound movements (see below).
2. Too many reps—keep the reps low. If you are doing more than 15 reps, the intensity should be high.
3. Too light—if you want to be strong, lift more weight!
4. Too much fluff—stop thinking about isolating on “core” or “functional” movements. Core and functional movements should recruit muscles and patterns from ankle to shoulder.
Any key exercises or movements? Some fundamental, essential and base-level exercises are:
- Squats: You can’t do squat until you know how to squat. Make sure you keep your shoulders up and drive from the heels. Avoid excessive weight on your toes and be mindful of any forward (load) lean. Powerful squats will build strength in the major muscle groups essential for developing power on the bike.
- Deadlift: A fundamental, yet ignored movement that you’ll love to hate. The deadlift is practical. Keep your stance narrow and your rear end a tad higher than you would for a squat. Think of it as the "angry gorilla" position. Gaze forward and drive with the hamstrings, glutes and low back as stabilizers. An initial goal is to deadlift your body weight. One of my training partners is premiere endurance coach Carl Borg. His body weight is a solid 142 pounds, but he can easily do a workout with a deadlift of 300+ pounds. Think he’s strong on the bike? You bet.
- Push-Up: Don’t have a lot of time? Push-ups work as upper trunk strength gets kicked in (chest, shoulders, triceps, mid line). With a straight back, feet slightly apart and hands under shoulders, shoot for chest-to-deck push-ups. This will help reduce any upper body fatigue on the bike.
- Pull-Up: A movement that has application to cycling and true total body power. Pull-ups help you get out of the saddle with maximum speed. It’s not an easy move, but pull-ups are fantastic for the upper back, rear delts and grip strength. You can begin by doing jumping pull-ups (jump up to the bar from a box) or do an assisted pull-up (using a band). Then, progress to a dead-hang pull-up.
Think about all this when structuring your strength and conditioning program and do more compound movements in a time-based or rep-based structure. Some workouts can be incredibly difficult in only 10 minutes. I do a lot of workouts that incorporate running sprints, Olympic lifting and plyometric exercises. Combining these modalities with intensity is the key.
If you look at some of Lance Armstrong’s key exercises (hang cleans, step-ups, side lunges, rows, kettle bell movements), it supports this proven idea of how strength and conditioning can make a huge difference for all of us, whether you’re an athlete or not.
This way of thinking and training will shift your mindset from weight management into muscle management. This is not only a healthier way of living and existing, but it will reduce stress and unnecessary analysis.