No Plan? No Problem. How to Incorporate The Sufferfest Strength Training for Cyclists Into Your Riding.
The Sufferfest Strength Training for Cyclists programme is designed to integrate seamlessly with strength-optimised versions of our training plans for road, triathlon, cyclocross, and mountain biking. You can also apply just the Strength Training sessions under the Cross Training section of the Training Plans library.
That said, if you're not on one of our plans (Grunter von Agony will have a chat with you about that later) and really don't want to be, then you can still use the Beginner or Intermediate Strength Training for Cyclists progressions with your own plan or riding schedule.
Here are a few key points to keep in mind when combining strength training and cycling on your own. We've included a recommended schedule at the end of this article.
Go Slow to Go Fast: Adapt, Build, Then Maximise
The full 24-week Sufferfest Strength Training for Cyclists programme is based on three progressive phases:
The Adaptation Phase:
If you're new to strength training or if it's been a while since you did anything other than turn a pedal, you need to allow your body time to properly adapt to the stresses of strength training. While you probably have the muscular strength to breeze through the first few sessions, that doesn't mean your ligaments and tendons are up to the task. Do too much too soon and you're risking an injury that could keep you off the bike. That's not the kind of Suffering we're after.
So, the first 7 (Intermediate) to 12 (Beginner) weeks need to be about adaptation. Only after you've laid that foundation can you begin the build and maximisation phases. And, yes, it takes that long. There are no shortcuts here.
During the initial adaptation phase you might feel that your strength work is negatively impacting your performance on the bike. That's completely normal. You're asking your body to do something different, and that can cause some growing pains. Here are some tips for dealing with those painful weeks:
- Pay more attention to your Relative Perceived Exertion (RPE) than your power meter. You likely won't be hitting the same numbers as you would when fresh, so don't get hung up on the data.
- Not feeling it during a workout? Use these techniques to modify your efforts and maximise your Return on Suffering.
- Do fewer high-intensity cycling sessions per week. Strength training adds training stress. During the adaptation phase you'll need to modify your regular cycling workout schedule to compensate.
- Don't do more than two strength training sessions per week. Both our Beginner and Intermediate 24-week progressions use two sessions per week. Resist the temptation to add more strength sessions, even if you think you can handle it. Follow the schedule we suggest at the bottom of this page.
The Build Phase:
This 6 (Beginner) to 8 (Intermediate) week period is all about solidifying tendon/ligament strength and single leg stability (stabilizer-muscles). While the end of the adaptation phase is the point at which you should no longer see a negative impact to on-bike performance, completing the build phase should result in no longer seeing any “negative” side effects of strength sessions.
The Maximise Phase:
Your body is finally ready to get maximum gains. This period is similar to getting into a full-blown, high-level training plan for cycling. Your fitness is at the point that you need significant stimulus to continue improving and your tendon/ligament/muscle integrity is at a high enough level that you won’t do unintended damage when completing a session.
Rest is Best
Well-designed training plans are built around the idea of periodization: Multiple challenging weeks of training (blocks) are followed by a full recovery week. Rest and recovery are how you get stronger. For this reason, we created 2 “recovery” strength sessions in both the Beginner and Intermediate progressions. Swap in these recovery sessions for your regular strength sessions when you have a rest week scheduled, ideally every 3 or 4 weeks.
Scheduling & Matchmaking
Generally, you should do two strength sessions a week, with two days in between sessions. With our strength-optimised training plans, starting the plan on a Monday has a strength session every Tuesday and Friday.
Although it's perfectly fine to only do the strength session alone, you may feel you can handle some riding as well. If that is the case, then it's important to know (without getting too science-y here) that strength training and endurance training trigger different hormonal and physiological responses in your body. To maximize the fitness gains from both you need to be smart about how your pair them up on any given day. Here are some general guidelines:
- Pair your strength workouts with a “Neuromuscular” bike session. That would be something like Cadence Builds, Standing Starts, Cadence Drills, and short sprint workouts. Strength sessions prime your nervous system. With a primed nervous system, hitting maximal efforts—whether it's max cadence or a full-out sprint—helps strengthen the neurological connections between your central nervous system and your muscles. This helps your body take all of the fitness benefits from strength training and apply it to the specific motion of pedaling a bike.
- Complete these cycling workouts after your strength sessions. Doing them before your strength training sessions can leave you too fatigued to hold proper form, which in turn can increase your chance of injury.
- Don't pair strength sessions with longer, sustained efforts near threshold (we're looking at you, Hell Hath No Fury). These types of sessions will negate some of the positive adaptations you are trying to gain from your strength work, and will most likely just add more fatigue to your system without adding much in the way of a positive training stimulus. If you're doing something like Cadence Builds or Violator before your strength sessions, use the time in between intervals to ride at a low, recovery intensity (RPE of 2 or 3)
What do you do the day after you do a strength session? During the adaptation phase, stick with tempo sessions (something like Getting Away With It), maybe the occasional threshold session like Defender if you're feeling really good.
When dealing with Maximal Aerobic Power and Anaerobic efforts, you really need to hit as close to your power targets as possible to get the intended training benefits. That's hard to do until you're past the adaptation phase of the strength training progression. You should view the strength training sessions as your high-intensity workout for the week (even if it's only 12 minutes long).
Once you get past the adaptation phase you can start doing more HITT sessions the day after strength training, but only once you are no longer sore from the strength session the day after.
Patience, Young Skywalker
The 24-week progression we lay out below is the safest, most effective way to implement strength training and become a faster cyclist. If you insist on going rogue, our advice is that you don't move onto the next level until you have mastered all of the moves in the current level with perfect form. The key here is patience. Just as you most likely didn’t go from the couch to riding 100 miles in a couple weeks, you shouldn't expect to go from Level 1 to Level 4 in the space of a month. Rush strength training and you're just asking to get injured and frustrated. Be smart, be patient, and get strong.
The Sufferfest Strength Training for Cyclists Schedule
Based on what you've learned above, here is our recommended schedule. Again, you'll get the most benefit if you do one of our strength-optimised cycling plans with the Strength Training added.
You can find the Strength Training videos in the app by clicking on the Workouts tab (Videos tab on iOS), clicking on the dumbbell icon, and selecting "Strength". Sessions are organised by the progression (Beginner or Intermediate), Level (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.) and Session (A or B). The RA and RB sessions are designed to be used during rest weeks.