In order to get stronger on the bike, it seems like the obvious answer should be “ride more.” And while that is true, you do need to ride a lot to see gains in speed, power, and endurance, there are some specific areas you can focus on to be stronger when riding. When reading the phrase get stronger on the bike you may think of lifting weights at the gym. Gym workouts are a part of getting stronger but there are additional ways as well. These 4 ways to get stronger on the bike are a mix of bike, gym training and mechanics.
4 Ways To Get Stronger On The Bike
There is nothing fancy about it. Spending many hours in your aerobic zone on the bike will ultimately make you a stronger and faster rider. Much of this endurance work happens in the long winter months during your base training phase. The key is to be consistent. Ride a lot, not too hard and not too easy. You are building the foundation of your fitness “house.” Everything that comes after that (power and speed work) will be layered on top of this foundation. You can add in some intensity here and there during the endurance phase, but the bulk of your hours or miles should be in your aerobic zone. Without a strong foundation (base aerobic work), you won’t be able to sustain power and speed on the bike for very long.
Speed and Power
After you have spent 2-3 months building your aerobic base, you can add in speed and power sessions. This work is dependent on what types of races you are registered for. Sprint and Olympic athletes can train fewer hours on the bike, but should add more threshold and VO2 max work. Long course triathletes will add threshold and VO2 workouts into their week. They will still do a lot of their training in their aerobic zone. Also, you want to add in some low cadence/big gear work to build muscular endurance to increase your power (and therefore speed) on the bike.
The evidence is pretty clear that in order to get stronger on the bike, you have to do some strength training. Cardiovascular endurance will only get you so far; if your musculoskeletal system can’t handle the load, then that’s your limiter on the bike. The good news is that strength training does not have to be complicated. I like to think of strength training for triathletes in three phases :
- Off Season Strength- This is your “lift heavy / lift often” phase of training. Aim for 2-3 times a week and use a heavy enough weight that you max out between 5 to 8 repetitions per exercise. (Note: Do not go heavy unless you are ready. You need to have a solid foundation in strength training before lifting heavy.)
- Pre-Season Strength- This is where you can add a little bit of explosive movement, like plyometric movements. You can drop down to 2x a week. Also, you want to begin to add in more balance exercises on one-leg and also add in some band work to hit the glutes. Lighten the weight a little bit and move to 10-12 repetitions per exercise.
- In-Season Strength- The goal of in-season training is maintenance. You might only have time to strength train once a week, twice if you are less time-crunched. Stick to basic exercises like squats, one legged deadlifts, lunges, core work, and band work to keep the glutes strong. Add in a few upper body exercises like rows, pushups, and some shoulder work, and you will be good to go!
If you have gone through a season or two of triathlon and you have not had a proper bike fit, it’s time to schedule an appointment with a local bike fitter. When your bike fits you well, you can work smarter, not harder, to gain power and speed. (When I got my first bike fit, I realized that my cranks were WAY too long for my short legs, and making a switch to shorter cranks helped me work a higher cadence at the same gear and power. This worked wonders for me!) A good bike fitter will look at seat height, crank length, handlebar placement, and more. Bike fitters will help you figure out where aero bars need to be in order to maximize comfort and speed. If you are looking to upgrade your bike, get a bike fit first and the bike fitter will be able to tell you which brands will fit you best.
There is no magic wand for getting faster and stronger on the bike. It often takes years of work, seasons layered on top of one another, to see results. But consistency, focus, and a bit of hard (but fun!) work will bring results.