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Strength Training for Cyclocross Masters: What are the “Best” Exercises?

Strength training for masters cyclocross can make or break your season. Read this article to learn some of the best and most effective exercises you can try!

Are you a cyclist over 50 who's ready to take your cyclocross game to the next level? 

Or perhaps you're a seasoned master of the sport or a veteran of gravel racing, looking for ways to enhance your performance on those challenging muddy tracks. 

In this blog post, we'll delve into the world of strength training for cyclists and specifically focus on how it can benefit masters (over 40 years old, male and female) in cyclocross. 

Whether you're aiming to build power, improve endurance, or prevent injuries, incorporating targeted exercises into your training routine is key. 

Read to the end of the article to get some of the best exercises I can come up with as a personal trainer and a cycling coach.

Why is strength training important for cyclists?

Why is strength training important for cyclists?

Strength training can play a crucial role in enhancing your cycling abilities.

First and foremost, incorporating strength training into your routine helps to build overall muscle strength and power. 

Strong muscles provide a solid foundation for generating more force with each pedal stroke, allowing you to propel yourself forward faster and with greater efficiency. 

Additionally, improved muscular endurance means you'll be able to maintain a higher level of intensity throughout longer rides or races.

But it's not just about raw power – strength training also helps to prevent injuries by strengthening the supporting structures around your joints. 

As cyclists, we put our bodies through repetitive motions that can lead to imbalances or weaknesses in certain areas. 

By targeting these areas through specific exercises, such as squats or lunges for leg stability or rows for upper body strength, we can reduce the risk of overuse injuries.

Furthermore, engaging in regular strength training sessions can have positive effects on your bone density and joint health — factors that become increasingly important as we age. 

Plus, feeling stronger gives you an added sense of confidence in tackling both racing and increased training.

Why is strength training for cyclocross important specifically?

Cyclocross is a demanding sport that requires a unique set of skills and physical attributes.

While cardio endurance and bike handling skills are crucial, strength training is critical for cyclocross athletes.

One key reason why strength training is important for cyclocross specifically is the need for power and explosiveness. 

During a race, riders often encounter steep inclines, challenging terrain, and obstacles that require quick bursts of power to overcome. 

By incorporating strength training exercises into their routine, cyclists can develop the explosive strength needed to tackle typical cyclocross obstacles with confidence.

Additionally, cyclocross races are typically shorter in duration compared to road cycling events. This means that every second counts during a race, and having strong muscles can give riders an edge when it comes to accelerating out of corners or sprinting towards the finish line.

Strength training also plays a role in injury prevention for cyclocross athletes. 

The repetitive movements involved in cycling can lead to muscle imbalances and overuse injuries. 

By strengthening the muscles used during cycling through targeted exercises like squats and lunges, riders can reduce their risk of injury on the bike.

What should I eat before and after strength training?

One of the most common questions among athletes is what they should eat before and after strength training sessions. 

Fueling your body properly can greatly enhance your performance and recovery. 

So let's dive into some key tips for optimal pre-and post-workout nutrition.

Before hitting the weights, it's important to consume a balanced meal or snack that includes carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats. 

Carbs provide energy for intense workouts while protein helps repair and build muscle tissue. 

Some great options include oatmeal with berries and a scoop of Greek yogurt or a banana with almond butter.

After your strength training session, replenishing your body is crucial for proper recovery. 

Aim to consume a combination of carbs and protein within 30 minutes to an hour post-workout. Consume a protein shake with added fruits or veggies, grilled chicken with quinoa salad, or even chocolate milk.

In addition to macronutrients, don't forget about hydration! 

Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your workout to stay properly hydrated.

By focusing on nourishing foods before and after strength training sessions specifically tailored to meet your individual needs as both a cyclist over 50 years old AND someone participating in cyclocross races, you'll give yourself the best chance at maximizing performance gains while minimizing muscle soreness and fatigue.

What does the research say about strength training for cyclocross cycling?

Research on strength training for cycling has shown numerous benefits for cyclists of all levels.

One study conducted by researchers at the University of Colorado found that incorporating strength training into a cyclist's routine can improve their power output and overall performance on the bike.

Another research study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research discovered that cyclists who included strength training exercises in their training regimen experienced increased muscle endurance, reduced fatigue, and improved sprinting ability.

Furthermore, a meta-analysis published in Sports Medicine reviewed several studies on strength training for cyclists and concluded that it can enhance cycling economy, which refers to how efficiently an individual uses oxygen while riding. 

This means that through regular strength training, cyclists can potentially ride faster or longer with less effort.

Additionally, research suggests that including specific resistance exercises like squats, lunges, deadlifts, and core strengthening exercises can help improve stability and prevent injuries commonly associated with cycling.

Research consistently supports the inclusion of strength training in a cyclist's routine as it offers a range of benefits such as increased power output, improved endurance, and sprinting ability.

Women can benefit more from strength training for cycling

Research has shown that strength training is just as important for women cyclists as it is for men. 

In fact, many studies have found that women can benefit even more from incorporating strength training into their cycling routine.

One reason why strength training is particularly important for women cyclists is the physiological differences between men and women. 

Women generally have less muscle mass and lower bone density than men, which puts them at a higher risk of injury. 

By including strength training exercises in their workouts, women can increase muscle mass and improve bone density, ultimately reducing their risk of injury.

That’s why lifting heavy shit is so important for women! 

Research suggests that regular strength training may offer additional benefits specific to female athletes. 

For example, it has been found to help regulate hormone levels and reduce symptoms associated with menstrual cycle irregularities or hormonal imbalances.

Incorporating regular strength training exercises into a cycling routine can not only enhance performance but also help prevent injuries and promote overall well-being in female riders.

When should I strength train during a week of training?

When it comes to strength training for cyclists over 50, timing is key. 

Incorporating strength training into your weekly training schedule can greatly enhance your performance and help prevent injuries. 

But when should you fit it into your already-packed week of cycling?

One option is to dedicate specific days solely to strength training. 

This allows you to focus on building muscle and improving overall strength without the fatigue from cycling interfering with your workouts. 

Aim for two or three dedicated strength training sessions per week, with at least one day of rest in between.

Or you can strength train the same day as your ride

Alternatively, you can integrate shorter strength workouts into your cycling days. 

For example, before or after a ride, incorporate exercises that target different muscle groups used in cyclocross such as squats, lunges, and planks. 

This way, you're still getting the benefits of both forms of exercise without sacrificing recovery time.

Typically, in the winter I tell my athletes to lift before easy rides.

In the race season, I tell them to lift after intervals. 

It's important to listen to your body and adjust as needed. 

If you find that too much volume is hindering your recovery or affecting the quality of your rides, consider reducing the frequency or intensity of your strength sessions.

Remember that consistency is key in any training program! So find a schedule that works best for you and stick with it throughout the season to see optimal results on race day!

Should I keep strength training during the race season?

If you are someone who thrives on a structured training plan and enjoys incorporating strength exercises into your routine, then there is no reason why you shouldn't continue with it during the race season. 

In fact, maintaining your strength can help prevent injuries and improve performance on race day.

On the other hand, if you find that adding in regular strength workouts becomes too taxing on your body or takes away from valuable recovery time between races, then it may be worth scaling back or even temporarily stopping your strength training during this period. 

It's important to listen to your body and prioritize rest and recovery when needed.

The decision of whether to continue with strength training during the race season should be based on what works best for you as an individual athlete, and this is the challenge of scheduling a cyclocross season. 

Remember that every cyclist is unique, so what may work for one person may not necessarily work for another.

Generally, though, masters’ riders should keep strength training at least once throughout the season, keeping the weights heavy and the reps few.

Seven of the most important strength exercises for masters cyclocross racers

For masters cyclists looking to improve their cyclocross performance through strength training, here are some specific exercises to consider:

  1. Deadlifts: Deadlifts are a compound exercise that primarily work your posterior chain: hamstrings, glutes, and back. They help improve overall lower body strength, stability, and power transfer. Begin with lighter weights and focus on proper form before increasing the load. I typically recommend sumo deadlifts because there is less stress on your back as you bend to pick up the weights. 
  2. Squats: Squats target your quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings, which are essential for generating power during pedaling and navigating challenging terrain. Start with bodyweight squats and gradually progress to weighted squats as you build strength. I would do front squats or hold two dumbbells at shoulder height. 
  3. Lunges: Lunges are excellent for developing unilateral leg strength and stability, which is crucial for maintaining balance during cyclocross. I especially like both side/lateral lunges to build your side butt muscles and walking lunges. Walking lunges creates instability that forces your core to work harder! Plus if you carry weight at your shoulders, you create more instability. 
  4. Plyometric Exercises: Plyometric exercises like box jumps, squat jumps, and lateral bounds help to develop explosive power and reactive strength. These exercises mimic the dynamic movements required during cyclocross races, such as navigating obstacles or sprinting out of corners. The key to plyos, though, are to start slowly and not do too many, AND to land softly, like a ninja. 
  5. Kettlebell Swings - If you haven’t learned how to do these yet, they are great for building strength in your hips. The motion is pushing your butt back and then popping it forward. 
  6. Core Exercises: A strong core is essential for stability and bike handling in cyclocross. Planks, side planks, and Hollows are effective exercises for developing core strength. Include exercises targeting the lower back, such as supermans or back extensions, to maintain balance. If you haven’t signed up for the blog yet, sign up here to get the free core strength video. 
  7. Upper body push and pull. Do pushups, pullups, chest presses, rows, and other push and pull movements to build upper body strength to maintain stability on the bike.

Yoga is also great strength training

Yoga can also be a great tool for building strength and mobility for masters cyclocross racers. 

Read this article to find out more.

Three things to remember about strength training for masters cyclocross racers

  1. Masters cyclocross racers need to strength train all year to build strength, stability, and durability, as well as prevent injury. 
  2. Work on building full-body strength with some explosive movements like plyometrics and kettlebell swings. 
  3. Female masters cyclocross racers, in particular, should work on lifting heavy weights to build lean muscle mass and overall strength.

Need more?

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Paul Warloski is a:

  • USA Cycling Level 3 Coach
  • RRCA Running Coach
  • Training Peaks Level 2 Coach
  • RYT-200 Yoga Instructor
  • Certified Personal Trainer
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