Three good reasons to get off your bike!

You don’t need fancy gym equipment….almost anyone has the facilities available to do good off the bike training with a bit of imagination!

I have been thinking a lot about this topic recently and thought it might be interesting to write down some thoughts. First, to nail my colours to the mast at the outset, I want to state that I absolutely believe that the vast majority of endurance riders could benefit by switching one of their bike sessions for an off the bike session (that might be a gym session – but it doesn’t necessarily have to be).

What started me thinking about this was reading a few articles about strength training for endurance athletes in other sports combined with having re-started coaching a few endurance riders after a bit of time away from working with them. Whenever I start to coach a rider I ask them for some basic information and try to get a sense of what training they have done in the past so that I can analyse what worked and what didn’t work for them-when I have coached them before this is a great way to look at my own training prescription with a fresh set of eyes!

For the last 2.5 years or so my focus has been on Sprint athletes and this has meant that I spent a lot of time in the gym with them and thinking about programming gym sessions for them. However, I also worked with a small number of endurance riders and saw some great progress with them as a result of training including regular gym sessions. What I came to realise from programming training for the two groups at the same time was that the endurance riders effectively needed to improve in the same way as the Sprint athletes! This might sound strange at first but think about it for a second: if I said that endurance athletes need to become stronger, more powerful and more robust in order to improve their performance level I’m fairly sure that most of you would agree? In effect, this is also what we are aiming to do with Sprint athletes, it’s just the degree of adaptation and the emphasis on each of the characteristics that makes the difference between the two groups (you could argue the same with a lot of training in my opinion).

To give a bit more detail to those benefits……

Stronger athletes:

Robert Forstermann is probably strong enough….and maybe too big, even for a sprinter!

Who doesn’t want a stronger athlete? Maybe Robert Forstermann’s coach doesn’t need to worry too much but otherwise I think we’d all be pretty happy with that adaptation. In the track in particular, the speed of races is increasing all the time and riders are using bigger gears all the time-when I was racing a 93inch gear would be about as big as we would use unless we were behind a derny, now the junior riders are using the same gearing or bigger and you’ll struggle to find many senior riders on smaller, even on outdoor tracks. On the road, the same thing applies-for most riders the quality of races has increased in the last decade and so the speeds have increased. Very simply that means that riders need to either pedal faster (which is probably inefficient for most) or use bigger gears, in which case they need to be strong enough to push them.

More powerful athletes:

Again, who doesn’t want their athletes to be more powerful? As an endurance rider there will always be a key point in a race (an attack, a sprint, a hill or an acceleration out of a corner perhaps) that you need to be able to cope with one way or another. If you can increase your peak power it will always be easier for you to react to, or even instigate, these key moments, either you will be able to save some power and get the same effect or use more power and get a bigger effect (open a bigger gap when you attack or make other riders work harder to follow you). Nicholas is a powerful athlete. Click here to see him jump

More robust athletes:

Unfortunately we can’t always avoid crashing…..but we can make athletes less likely to injure themselves when they hit the deck!

Firstly on this point, let me say that consistency of training is at least as important as volume and intensity in determining how an athlete progresses. As a full time coach for the last 15 years or so I have personal experience of this. I have been able to train pretty well for a few weeks, or maybe even a month, at times but those times have invariably been followed by the same sort of period of very little exercise and I can confirm that this is not a good strategy for improving, or even maintaining fitness. Similarly we probably all know friends who get the motivation to train hard, do a few days of really good training as a result but then are on their knees, the motivation goes and they do nothing for the next week-unsurprisingly they don’t normally improve much no matter how good those first few days of motivation-filled training were. Our bodies adapt really well to regular stimulus and that is what allows us to gradually increase training loads. In turn this means that our performance improves. If we have to have a break in training because of illness or injury we lose ground and, at least to some extent, miss an opportunity to improve.

Off the bike training not only has the capacity to decrease the chance of injury but it also brings variety to training (which could even decrease the chances of picking up illness) and makes athletes more healthy and more able to cope with the tasks of everday life outside of sport. As cyclists we often fit the stereotype of not being very co-ordinated, not being able to throw, catch, jump, hop and so on and this is a pretty sad situation in my opinion. Any athlete, no matter what the sport, should be able to perform these basic movements with decent movement patterns and, as a general rule, shouldn’t worry about getting injured or being sore after everyday activities like carrying heavy shopping or running for a short distance-it’s no exaggeration that I have heard cyclists complaining that they have injured themselves carrying a few heavy bags of shopping!

Lastly, there is the reality to face that if you ride a bike for long enough you will fall off at some point! Unfortunately there is nothing that we can do to avoid crashes altogether but if we train in a more wholistic way we can definitely reduce the chances of injury when we do hit the floor…..again, surely this has to be a good thing?

So.…….

There are three good reasons to think about regularly getting off your bike for a training session. I’m sure that there will be some opposition to this idea-some of you will be thinking “There’s nothing better than riding a bike for training to ride a bike.” Others will be worrying about putting on weight if you go into the gym……..if you are an endurance rider and you are training like an endurance rider don’t worry, you won’t magically turn into a bodybuilder-they train for years to get that level of muscle development and almost certainly have a different body type to you. Others still might be worrying about the injury risk of lifting weights-while that is a valid concern if you focus on maintaining good technique, start with low weight and progress at a sensible rate the chances of you getting injured are probably no higher than the chance if you go out for your normal training ride on your bike!

Get in Touch

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts or comments on any of this so find me on twitter @fitinnotimeUK and let’s start the debate. If people are interested I will try to follow up on this article with some ideas about how you can train off the bike to get the most benefit from your sessions-again, let me know!