Strength Training on the Bike : Making the wind easier to overcome!

Strength Training on the Bike

There is always much discussion about what cyclists and triathletes should do on the bike during to gain "strength." In this article, I want to present a particular cycling workout that can benefit your fitness for GFNY Cozumel and the challenge you will have due to potentially windy conditions. 

Known as SFR’s (Slow Frequency Repetitions), this on-bike strength workout is meant to complement your gym workouts by offering a cycling specific benefit that focuses on high torque, low cadence, AND low cardiovascular intensity.

    • Intensity level – Probably the most important aspect of doing SFR’s is the intensity level. You can utilize heart rate, power or rate of perceived exertion (RPE) as your guide. The key here is to keep the intensity from a cardiovascular perspective relatively low, with the goal of keeping the workout mostly aerobic (versus anaerobic.) If you already know your threshold heart rate, (e.g. 160) the SFR’s will be performed at approximately 80-90% of that heart rate (128-144.) Power zones will usually be a bit higher at 84-94% and RPE is usually kept about 3-5 out of 10 or “moderately easy” to “somewhat hard.” From a muscular fatigue perspective, RPE is generally around 6-8 out of 10, depending on your current level of fitness.

    • Cadence – Cadence should be low (remember that torque is high) and usually depends on the strength and fitness of the athlete. Cadence will also depend on whether or not the rider has any potential injury issues they need to monitor. We prescribe optimal cadences of about 35-45 rpm, but again, take into account your history. If you are a bit nervous about lower rpm’s, start higher and over time, work at lowering rpm’s as you gain more strength and comfort doing the workout.

    • Terrain – Try to find a hill (or part of a hill) that has a steady grade between 3-6% and greater than 3+ minutes in length. You don’t want too steep a hill or else the result is “climbing.” The 3-6% grade offers the proper resistance, while allowing the upper body to relax. If you don’t have any hills, the workout can be done into a headwind at a higher rpm (e.g. 60) on flat roads.

    • Gearing – The gearing you choose will depend upon the grade of the hill while combining the correct training zone and rpms. Most riders will find themselves using the big chain ring in the front if the grade of the hill is not too steep.

    • Recovery – Recovery is generally fairly short at 2-3 minutes between reps, however, the recovery period can be lengthened to 4-5 minutes if lack of fitness requires it. Since you are not raising your heart rate very high, the repetitions are not “hard” and recovery can happen quickly.

    • How many and how frequent – Like most new workouts you try, limit yourself initially to an amount that is relatively easier and then increase the length and number of repetitions slowly over time (see sample program below.) Since this workout is high torque, it is possible to have some adverse effects on knees, ankles or the lower back. If this happens, increase the cadence by lowering the gear until you find a stress level that feels more comfortable 

    • Inside or outside – SFR’s can be done inside on a trainer also. It’s best to have a unit with some type of handlebar mount that allows different levels of tension while riding. Another suggestion would be to prop the front wheel up a couple inches to simulate climbing.

Additional workout notes:

    • Concentrate on smooth pedal strokes; relax the upper body, keeping it “quiet”. Relax the hands and neck. Really focus on the lower body.

    • Focus on the working muscles: quads, hip flexors, glutes and hamstrings. Your heel usually drops down when doing them properly as you try to utilize the complete pedal stroke.

    • Speed is not an issue, only heart rate and cadence. Try to think like your body is in slow motion.

    • We always warn athletes that if you have any type of knee or back pain, back off and increase the cadence along with decreasing the force. In other words, an easier gear.

Successful athletes try new approaches to training and experiment to see what benefits them most. Mastering SFR’s takes time, so give yourself a couple weeks to get the “hang” of it and find the optimal hill to do your workouts.

Ride safe, comfortable and ride strong!

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