Cycling strength training advice from a World Champion

cycling strength trainingLong-distance racing is a battle of attrition, with the win often going to the one who slows down the least, rather than the one who focuses on going the fastest. According to four-time triathlon World Champion and Thanyapura’s Executive Chairman Chris McCormack, cycling strength training, rather than pure speed, is key to success in triathlon.

“Triathlon is a sport of strength and endurance. For this reason alone the importance of this key element of the sport is critical. Doing it right and getting this blend correct within your training plan is what’s important,” he added.

When you are strong, you can hold a pace or effort for a longer period of time which can result in more success in both races and training.

Macca does strength work in each of the three disciplines – swim, bike and run.

He said: “In running I add a component of hill work to my running programs to add strength to my foundation. I do big gear, gradient climbs for long periods of time to add some solid foundation strength and power to my bike legs. The same can be achieved in the pool using paddles, pullbuoys and bands.”

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The bike leg gets longer in proportion to the other disciplines as you move up in distance from Olympic to Ironman. What you do on the bike will impact your run to some degree, so when you want to improve your run you may want to assess your bike fitness.

Cycling strength training on the bike builds leg power and makes you a better climber. A lot of people don’t have the strength to get over hills and still have enough left for the run. This cycling strength training work also toughens your tendons and ligaments, reducing the chance of injury.

Macca focuses on strength-orientated sessions when he is training on the bike. 

“You can get a lot of strength on the turbo trainer and you can get a lot of strength doing hill work but to improve that bike strength you need to do volume, you’ve got to climb, you’ve got to get your position right, and you’ve got to do structured sets over a long period of time,” he added. 

You can do cycling strength training work all year round — the offseason is a great time to start working on this because it takes months to build leg strength. Macca recommends hill repeats as the biggest bang for your training buck.

He said: “Find a one-mile hill with about a five-percent gradient — not steeper because you want to be able to climb it seated. Then do repeats, pushing the biggest gear you can — it should be one gear bigger gear than what feels comfortable.”

Five-time world champion Terenzo Bozzone also said that hill efforts, and cycling strength training, helped him power to his first win on the legendary, and hilly, Wildflower Triathlon course in 2006.

Terenzo added: “One of the hills where I choose to do my hill efforts is a hill called ‘Stunt’. I was first introduced to this hill by Macca and [Paul] Ambrose. I’d just finished racing the weekend before, so they took off up the hill and I slogged all the way up.”

He eventually built up to doing 6 to 8 reps of 15- to 20-minute hill climbs done within a long ride once a week or once every two weeks.

“My bike hill efforts along with the running hill effort workout that I did which was quite similar — those were the key workouts I did leading into Wildflower,” Terenzo finished. Not only did he win Wildflower, but he also broke the course record with a strong bike AND run.

Try Terenzo’s training video here, and more on cycling strength training, for FREE:


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