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Off Season Training Tips for Cyclists

A man and woman performing a strength training lunge with weights

Fall time weather is pushing its way into most regions, with falling leaves, windy days and eventually, snow! For the mud loving, cold weather cyclists who love to race late season cyclo-cross events, it’s the best time of year but for most, cycling racing events are winding down, bringing the season to an end. It’s a time to transition, letting the body recover from all the miles pedaled through hard race efforts and whatever bumps and bruises that have been acquired. Transitioning doesn’t mean that you should completely rest, as de-training happens within weeks’ time and can leave you struggling to get moving again. Instead, a transition should incorporate a different style of workouts, letting you recover from cycling while building overall strength to prepare you for another season on the bike.

Strength Training

Off season strength training should start with a transition into lifting heavier weights. Lifting heavy weights for endurance training has always been a heated topic and while we don’t recommend it through the race season, we do recommend it to start the off season. Lifting heavier weights strengthens ligaments, tendons, and assistance muscles for cycling. The more weight you lift, the more muscle fibers that are called upon to perform the exercise. Heavier lifts, such as Olympic lifts also stress your trunk or core more than what you can on the bike. Overhead lifts will put stress on the spine and bones, making them stronger, along with all the muscles from your abdomen, chest, shoulders and back. Your core is what links your arms and handling skills to your legs. A weak core that fatigues fast will lead to reduced power and a loss of cycling form.

Exercises to incorporate through the transition – off season phase -

Front and back Squat

Overhead press

Weighted lunges

Deadlifts (Start with few reps and build with these)

Kettlebell swings

Start with 3-4 weeks of moderate reps in the 3x15 repetitions per set, using 50-70% of your 1repitition max. Then transition into 4-8 weeks of heavier lifting, with 3x 5 repetitions per set, using 80-90% of your 1 repetition max.

Cross Training

Cross training with other sports is a given for any off season program. It allows a break mentally from one sport, such as cycling, trains different muscle groups and if done properly, can help maintain aerobic fitness. Hiking, running, and cross-country skiing are the most common cross-training activities for cyclists. These activities provide good stress for the bones and ligaments, while training aerobically. A long hike or run in the woods will strengthen your hips while also conditioning your lungs and heart. While cross training it is important to keep in mind that cycling is still important, especially if cycling is your main sport focus. If you normally ride five days a week, then during the cross-training time of year, spend two days off the bike doing other activities. The other three days on the bike should be used for base training, training mainly in zones 2 and 3.

Cycling Focus

With a typical season for those focused-on racing into October and then taking a break, November should be the start of a transition. November is a good time to prepare for the heavier lifting phase through December, along with the start of cross training. Cycling through November should be sprinkled with plenty of zone 2 days, along with casual fartlek focused days while combining cross training activities. An approach like this will allow you to maintain cycling fitness through the month. As you move into December, an increased focus on cycling workouts is important. The addition of more zones 2 and 3 work, along with force/high tension efforts on the bike helps build cycling specific strength. December is a good time to drop one cross training day for another cycling day. This approach will prepare you for more cycling load in January, when it is time to kick off another season of cycling training.

Everyone’s cycling seasons are different. They may end with more events or start with slower training through January and February but as a rule of thumb, taking two months to cut back, focus on different things, and recharge the battery is important. Fitness takes a long time to build and unfortunately, it goes away fast. So, it’s important to balance the right type of training through the fall to maintain what you have built through the year. Its also important to take the time to prepare your body and mind for the next upcoming season.

Mike Schultz, CSCS

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