Using Early Season Force to build Greater Endurance

How to focus early season training has been a hot topic for endurance athletes and coaches for decades. To gain more endurance is the goal, but what is the best combination of methods to use? On the bike, long slow distance spinning along with moderate to fast tempo training days are a staple of most early season programs but forceful efforts and intensity also play an important role. Combining force work, along with steady endurance training in the early season will help lead to better form on the bike and overall endurance.

Recent studies show many benefits from combining cycling specific strength training off the bike (The half squat/ Parallel Squat), with on the bike endurance training 1-2. The results of these studies indicate gains from strength training lead to gains in cycling efficiency and endurance. The more efficient you are on the bike, the less energy it will take to pedal at a specific power output, which will lead to greater endurance. Studies also show no negative change in VO2 max after an eight-week period of combined strength and endurance training2 - Which further supports the combination of strength and endurance training for cyclists.

Force efforts on the bike are similar in motion to a half squat except while on the bike your knee is slightly more flexed at the top of the pedal stroke, compared to the flexion of the knee at the lowest position of the half squat, and it happens one leg at a time compared to both feet on the floor when performing a squat. On the bike, you are placing increased force on a small pedal beneath your metatarsals, targeting a specific motion and group of muscles in the legs and core needed for cycling. This makes the cycling motion very unique to any other form of strengthening. I am not suggesting that it is wise to replace strength training in the gym with strength training on the bike, but incorporating more force work on the bike can lead to greater gains in strength and endurance since it is as sport specific to cycling as you can get.

Strength training off the bike is important and provides a way to work greater amounts of force than what you can experience on a bike, leading to stronger bones, tendons and ligaments. Strength training also allows you to work a different range of motion, working the muscles in a slightly different way, creating balance within the muscle to help prevent injury and create a stronger muscle as a whole. So, during the off season, while a majority of the focus on the bike is spinning aerobically, incorporate a variety of cycling specific strength exercises, such as squats and lunges, to gain strength to your core and prepare your muscles for more strength work on the bike in the early season. Then, once you start to log longer hours in the early season, focus on less strength work to your legs in the gym, and incorporate more force work on the bike to make very specific gains to cycling strength.

   

Listen to your limits when working with greater force. Working with more force will provide additional fatigue to your quads and strain on your knees. So while it is important to work with more force to fatigue the muscles, it is also important to not over train the legs with too much force work, or intensity.

In the early season, combining ride days focused on short and long forceful efforts, along with days focused on steady endurance spinning in zones 1-3, will help target many different systems. This will lead to greater gains in strength and overall aerobic endurance. The following is an example of an early season force workout -

   

Long Duration early Season Force efforts – Shift into a gear ratio that allows you to work more force while maintaining a cadence in the 65-75rpm range and while targeting heart rate intensity in zones 3-4 for 3–7-minute periods of time. Follow each effort with easier or steady spinning in zones 1-2 for 5-10 minute periods before performing another effort.

These efforts can be done for the duration of a short or long workout, and are best done on steady road or trail grades of 6-8%. If the terrain is steeper, use a slightly easier gear to achieve proper intensity and cadence. Efforts can be focused either entirely seated, standing or with a mix of both. Maintain a deep breath and moderate perceived exertion when working these efforts to ensure you are working aerobically, an important focus in the early season. Incorporating force work into the program one or two days a week would be a good guideline for most. Higher intensity efforts into the 4-5a plus ranges can be added to the early season training mix at times, but the majority of training in the early season should be focused on gaining aerobic endurance.

Another way to add force work into your early season workouts is by using a single speed. Choosing the proper gear ratio and terrain is important and will allow you to target the proper amount of force, intensity and leg speed.

    

As you work into your race season towards your peak races for the year, incorporating shorter, more intense forceful efforts into the zone 4-5a plus ranges, along with the addition of speed work will lead to additional gains in upper end strength. The more endurance you build in the early season with longer forceful efforts, the more intense forceful efforts you will be able to handle during race season.

So in conclusion, force work plays an important role while training on the bike, especially early in the season. Working force with proper intensity at the right times will allow you to increase your strength, which will lead to increased efficiency, and endurance. Working with more force is also fun and allows variety in the program, which will help keep training interesting throughout the year.

Mike Schultz CSCS

 

  1. Sunde, A., & Storen, O., & Bjerkaas, M., & Larsen, M., & Hoff, J., & Helgerud, J. (2010). Maximal Strength Training Improves Cycling Economy in Competitive Cyclists. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, volume 24(8),2157-2165.

 

  1. Yamamoto, L.M., & Klau, J. F., & Casa, D. J., & Kraemer, W. J., & Armstrong, L. E., & Maresh, C. M. (2010). The Effects of Resistance Training on Road Cycling Performance Among Highly Trained Cyclists: A Systematic Review. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, volume 24(2), 560-566.