Strength efforts (SE) are vital because, as the name suggests, they build on-the-bike strength, albeit once an aerobic foundation’s been laid during the general conditioning phase, which takes around six to eight weeks.
SE intervals stimulate the development of type-I slow-twitch muscle fibres but, because most of the session is relatively low intensity the intervals continue to build on the aerobic adaptations gained from your base training. These adaptations include mitochondrial proliferation, muscle capilliarisation and cardiac hypertrophy. In short, you’re more efficient at breathing in oxygen and delivering it to working muscles. SE intervals will continue this aerobic development while laying a base of strength for harder, more intense work in a few months’ time. In this sense SE are an intermediate step in your development as a road cyclist.
Essential SE Session
Here’s a 2hr SE session to boost strength and stamina…
30-35mins 1 x 5mins SE @ Z2/Z3 @ 50rpm
35-50mins 15mins easy
50-55mins 1 x 5mins SE @ Z2/Z3 @ 50rpm
55-70mins 15mins easy recovery
70-75mins 1 x 5mins SE @ Z2/Z3 @ 50rpm
75-90mins 15mins easy recovery
90mins 1 x 5mins SE @Z2/Z3@50rpm
95-120mins Easy riding
TAKE IT TO THE NEXT LEVEL
SE can be anywhere from 5 to 30mins depending upon your goals and experience.
PERFECT YOUR PEDAL TECHNIQUE
Focus is key with SE work. Each revolution of the crank must be completed with the utmost concentration while your postural muscles remain fully engaged for the duration of each interval. Here’s how professional riders maximise SE intervals with the focus on the right leg…
- Find a hill that’s not too steep and has minimal distractions.
- Select a gear that’s big enough to force you into 50-60rpm. If you’re new to SE intervals or are in the early phase of your training programme, don’t be too over-geared. Also, stop if you experience knee pain.
- At the top of the pedal stroke, where your right thigh is closest to your chest, activate (squeeze) the muscles of your right buttock. Then push down on the right pedal.
- As you move through the pedal stroke, consciously feel the transfer of work from your right buttock to the right thigh.
- At the bottom of the pedal stroke, drop your heel and squeeze your right calf muscle. The action you’re looking to replicate is similar to wiping mud off your shoe. This is not a ‘flick’ of the right calf muscle, more a controlled and forceful contraction. It’s this phase that most riders neglect so pay close attention to the force you’re transferring from calf muscle to pedal.
- After passing the bottom of the pedal stroke and with the work of the right calf almost done, it’s time to activate your hamstrings and pull up on the pedal.
- As you once again near the top of the pedal stroke, your right buttock will reactivate and the next revolution will commence.
Obviously, the opposite is happening with the left leg at all points of crank rotation. To synchronise such fine motor control in both limbs, under load, requires practice. This is part of the reason why the example training session prescribes 5min SE intervals.
PERFECT YOUR POSTURE AND GRIP
Your posture, handlebar grip and upper body position are also important to maximising SE work, though the key coaching point is simple: maintain the lightest grip possible on the handlebar at all times. Professional riders can do SE for 20-30mins with an open palm. All they do is rest the very base of their palm (just above the wrist) on top of the hoods. For the rest of us it’s good enough, and safer, to open the fingers and form a cage around the handlebar, touching the bar intermittently.
This action will force the abdominal muscles to contract because you’ve created a cantilever-type position where the weight of the upper body isn’t being supported by the bars. The challenge now is to hold this position for the duration of the interval. Strong core activation will keep your hips stable and assist in the direct transfer of power to the pedals. A good way to maintain core activation is to simulate a sneeze. Every time you sneeze, all of the abdominal muscles are activated and it’s this ‘locked-on’ feeling you’re looking to hold.