Updated: Aug 18, 2022
Your bicycle is properly fitted, the water bottle is filled and you’re donning your most comfortable (and hopefully safest) helmet. You start off on your daily 10-mile ride, hoping this will be the day that you can complete the outing in under 30 minutes. But yet again, it takes you well over your desired time to complete the cycling run. “What am I doing wrong? Why aren’t I improving at all?” you might be wondering.
That’s definitely a loaded question as there are many things that could be preventing you from improving on your cycling effort. But the usual culprit is lack of power. If you wish to increase your speed, increasing your power output will be the main driver.
Being an avid cyclist and triathlete myself, I’ve had to work on my technique to continually improve my pace, distance, and time. And as a trained Doctor of Physical Therapy, I’ve helped countless clients improve their regimen so they too can improve their power output while cycling. How so? Well, let’s read on to find out.
TRIED AND TRUE TIPS TO IMPROVING POWER OUTPUT
Before you beat yourself up for not improving, let me provide a few tips that are usually overlooked. Please keep in mind that there's no quick and fast way of increasing your power but by following one or all these pointers, you can upgrade your cycle performance in no time.
Make the hard sessions hard, and keep the easy sessions easy
I’ve seen many cyclists go hard, during each session or on every mile, thinking this will help them improve. This is a big no no. While you might think that spending big chunks of time intensely training will increase your power output, it’s been proven to have the opposite effect. So what’s the secret then? That, my friends, is this - keep the easy sessions easy to allow you to go hard when the time is right and greatly improve your power output whether for short bursts or for full workouts.
This is the main component of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) sessions, which I spoke about earlier this year (to read the full article, please click here). As a quick recap, your aim should be to keep the easy training sessions at a low intensity, allowing you to accumulate a greater amount of time at a high intensity rather than one continuous effort. The benefits of this are numerous, but can be especially impactful on improving power output.
I suggest incorporating HIIT 1-2 times per week into your training program whether in the weight room or on your bike itself. You may begin to see a significant boost to your power output in as little as 4-8 weeks as it does take some time to develop. You should aim to balance 10–20 % of your total training time at high intensity with the remaining spent at lower intensity activities.
Incorporate strength training into your regimen
Stronger cyclists are faster cyclists, plain and simple. Still, many avoid strength training, whether due to confusion about what it actually is or uncertainties about how to start. Luckily, strength training can easily fit into any cyclist’s routine and can dramatically improve their abilities as riders, with just a few simple exercises each week.
Whether you are a complete beginner or an endurance athlete, strength training can work in tandem with your time on the bike to make you faster and more resilient. Stronger riders are more efficient at transferring power and recruiting muscles in the pedal stroke. Weaknesses in strength commonly act as limiting factors on the bike and offer low-hanging fruit for improvement.
The primary goal of strength training for cyclists is functional- to facilitate better performance when riding. Leg and posterior chain exercises improve power transfer, especially during sprinting and climbing; upper body work assists in controlling/stabilizing the bike and in maintaining good riding position; core workouts help to reinforce all these abilities. In addition, strength training goes a long way towards making you a fitter, healthier, and more versatile athlete.
Add plyometrics (aka: jump activities) into your training
As if strength training wasn’t important enough, if you want to get your muscles into maximum shape in as short a time as possible, plyometrics are a great way to go. If you're new to them, plyometric exercises are basically explosive jumping and hopping moves that require short-but-intense bursts of energy. For cyclists, this really helps when it comes to long sprints and punching up climbs.
Another positive aspect about plyometric exercises is that they’re great at building bone density. Because cycling is not considered a weight bearing sport (meaning limited strain is placed on the bones), some cyclists suffer from low bone density. However, with plyometrics involving strong and fast muscle contractions as well as jumping maneuvers, they’re a great way to gain bone density. Seems like a win-win for me folks!
There are a number of exercises and ways you can introduce plyometrics into your training regime. Squat jumps, burpees, power skips, lateral line hops, and ski jumps are just a few that I recommend to clients.
Practice riding into headwinds and uphill
Riding uphill is a great way to increase muscular endurance. Think of the last time you had to ride your bike up a steep hill - when you were pushing harder on the pedal, though your cadence was slower, you were increasing the average pedal force. This is the exact goal for those wishing to increase their power output.
One way to significantly boost your power output is to progressively overload climbing distance. For instance, start by doing hilly rides with 300-500 feet of climbing and slowly add distance until you can complete 2,000 feet of climbing in a single outing depending on the type of races or events you plan on doing. Another way to enhance power is to do short, high-intensity spring intervals up steep hills. These sprints should last between 60 and 90 seconds. Simply ride downhill to recover and then sprint up again. Build up starting with a couple sprints and working up to 12 sprint intervals in a single workout.
Not everyone has the luxury of living in an area with suitable hills for power training. Need not fear though, as riding into headwinds can be just as effective. Of course, you can’t plan a headwind ride in advance, but you can take advantage of a windy day by riding a rectangular circuit about two miles in length. This will provide you with consistent periods of headwinds, tailwinds and crosswinds. Your objective is to accelerate into every headwind, and to recover when you have a tailwind and crosswinds.
Include regular performance tests
Goal-driven cyclists know the importance of tracking their progress as it provides a baseline for future comparison, offers feedback on the impact of a new training regimen, and helps them to understand their training zones (e.g., power, heart rate, etc.) Doing your sessions at the correct intensity is crucial if you wish to increase your power and performance. And by keeping track of your sessions, you can ensure your training is correct.
I suggest to my endurance athletes to conduct a valid and reliable performance test every 8–12 weeks, and to newer cyclists to conduct one every 4-8 weeks (newer athletes may and will experience gains faster than someone who is more experienced). A knowledgeable Doctor of Physical Therapy or coach can assist with performance monitoring and teach you the ways to correctly incorporate these tests into your training sessions.
If you’re a cyclist looking for the best tailored solution to your power output issues, please touch base with me using my website, www.ascentptny.com, give me a call at 516-387-4669, or reach out to me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also click the link HERE to fill out a webform to learn more about how we can help you.
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