The days get shorter and colder, trails and roads are wet or even closed, and our focus turns to looking back to our past season, but also forward to what's next in 2019. What goals have you set? What do you want to do differently? What has worked from this year's training?
Off-season or the period between seasons has traditionally been a timeframe where regardless of your discipline or sport, you take things easy(er). High intensity sessions are almost stopped, barely any competitions, and the focus has drifted to long distance (or time) sessions, at low or moderate intensity, commonly known as base mileage.
This reduction in intensity allows a great window for bringing in strength training. The stress that your legs or overall body is been put is at an aerobic level, putting less strain on muscle fibres (compared to high intensity sessions) and leaving the ATP-CP and anaerobic energy pathways untapped. A good strength program is then able to utilise these pathways, without causing a too much additional stress to the body.
How do I get started?
In my experience and also noted by researchers, 2 strength sessions per week are enough to generate results. Each session lasting up to an hour and focusing on a few exercises only.
For both cyclists and runners, the basic strength exercises in off season are quite similar - single leg focused, with added stabilisers strengthening. I like to give the hamstrings a lot of attention as these (broadly speaking) tend to be underdeveloped with regards to strong quads (especially in cyclists).
My go to exercises (for weights) are:
- Split squats
- Deadlifts (both single leg and standard)
- Walking lunges
Starting at 3-4 sets of 10 reps, trough 8-12 weeks (depending on time, season start and training age of athlete) I'd like to finish this strength block at 4-5 sets of 3-5 reps. The weight? Should be heavy enough to require you to focus 100% on the lift, feel hard but have 1-2 reps "left in the tank" - in other words if you are meant to do 10 reps, you stop at 10 but have the feeling that you could have done 2 more. Remember - your will do this 3-4 times (sets)!
Cycling and running are both quite linear sports, there is little sideways displacement and not much twisting. As human though, we need to be able to move well in all directions. This is why I add a short circuit or series of exercises that challenge my athletes to wist, bend, jump, go sideways, but also adding lots of core exercises, as well as upper body and back strengthening routines.
Some exercises you'd see in my circuits are:
- TRX rows
- Pushup variations
- Plank variations
- Russian twists
- Box jumps
- Jumping lunges
- Bear crawls
What about Stretching and Foam Rolling?
Both stretching and foam rolling are of great benefit, not only in the context of strength training. Muscles get tight from over-use and repetitive movemets or long static holds. The fascia (a web-like tissue surrounding muscles and connecting trough our body) gets stuck. Both these result in limiting our range of movement, and this can be uncomfortable, painful and even lead to injuries.
Stretching works on reducing the tightness of a muscle (it doesn't lengthen them!) by acting on the reflex tightening mechanism. Foam rolling works on loosening up that web-like structure (fascia), allowing the muscles to move to their natural capacity.
My favourite, go to stretches and "rolls" are:
- Hip flexor stretch followed by quad roll
- Calf stretch (soleus and gastoc) followed by calf roll
- Pec stretch followed by thoracic roll and extension