As winter is on its way out and throwing its last few fits of inclement weather, many of us are anxiously awaiting more consistent outdoor riding....and maybe waiting for the first excuse to drop strength training. Stopping strength training is a huge mistake, however, because not only does it cost us the very rewards we wanted to gain from hitting the weights, it also dials down our performance on the bike.
I get it, though. Living in Pittsburgh for pretty much my entire life until age 28, I too couldn't wait for those spring rides outside, and there were so many excuses to justify quitting strength training: "I need the time to clean my bike," "It takes me too long to change clothes and then shower and eat," or the oldie but goodie, "You only need to strength train during the winter anyhow!"
I'm here to remind you that it's a huge mistake to flush your last few months of hard work down the drain. Strength training, just like aerobic (riding) fitness, requires regular, consistent training to maintain it. Sure, strength itself will hang around for four to six weeks, but the adaptations to our nervous system, bones, tendons, and fascia will all begin to peter out as soon as fourteen days after we've last lifted some stuff.
In fact, for all those over the age of forty who say they want to increase their bone mass or improve their overall muscle mass and tendon strength, strength training must be a year-round endeavor, hard stop. This is especially true in the spring, when we're just starting to ramp up on-bike intensities. Strength training offers not only compounding results for our on-bike efforts, but also a "cheat code" to faster recovery and adaptations to on-bike training.
This does not mean that the strength training gets easier, however; au contraire! Spring is the time of year when strength training (when done right) helps us build concurrent strength in our movement patterns (notice I did not say heavier weight lifted!), improving our nervous system's ability to work more efficiently and economically and even helping us recover faster and adapt better to our riding.
If you follow three simple (but not easy) rules and double down on your efforts to maintain a strength training regime two days a week, you'll stack the odds extremely in your favor for 10+ x returns this summer.
Train strictly based on RPE
Most days this time of year, we feel "meh" or "so-so" as we head into strength training sessions. Show up anyway. Adjust your efforts to maintain the appropriate RPE (if you're unsure, an RPE of 6 or 7 out of 10 is a safe place to be).
Technique, technique, technique
Along with RPE, our main focus is how we do the exercise. Some days we'll need a lighter weight to keep great technique at an RPE 6 or 7, while other days we may find that we can go up in weight each set. Fuh-get-abaht the weight used and focus on the technique, being as pristine as you can and sticking to the RPE.
Stay on top of nutrition, sleep, and hydration
Eating enough is absolutely paramount to our success. Failure to fuel properly, drink enough, and get regular, high-quality sleep (with a bedtime routine) on a day-to-day basis can quickly derail our training and leave us feeling burned, sore, and unmotivated.
If you're looking to improve your performance on the bike; to look, feel, and move better; and to progress toward all-time power outputs and/or more enjoyment of your riding this season, keeping up your strength training is a non-negotiable. Don't let your season get derailed this month by falling into old habits and routines. Be born into a whole new world of health, strength, and enjoyment in your riding lifestyle by recommitting to and sticking with your strength training these coming weeks. It may not be easy, but if you follow these three simple rules and stay the path, you'll be handsomely rewarded though your riding season.