Off-Season Training Part 2

The Crusher!!I thought it might be time to post another follow up to my winter training.  I’m continuing to do mostly gym workouts.  Since my last post, we’ve shifted gears a bit with the circuits and have been working with weights more.  Tons of squats, kettle bells and hamstring curls.  I’ve also done a fair amount of “core” and upper body work. There are still a few of the original body weight exercises mixed in there, but the focus has been on building strength with the weights.

I started this whole plan because, in past years, I had always lost a lot of muscle on my legs over the winter months.  I would then get back on the bike in the spring only to spend the first several months building my strength back up.  The aerobic conditioning seems to rebound long before my leg strength would return.  My early season race results have always been poor as a result.

So far, I would call this effort a success.  Not only have I not lost any muscle mass, my legs are probably stronger than they were this past fall.  If I gain nothing else, this would be worth it.

One of the negative side effects has been that I’ve gained quite a bit of weight, by cycling standards.  I normally gain about 5lbs over the winter and lose that extra weight early in the season.  This year I’ve gained over 15lbs and not any more fat than in previous years.  My shirts have been getting tight around the chest too.  Only a cyclist would consider that a problem.  Hopefully, I will end up enough faster on the bike to justify the increased body weight.

I’ve been able to get out on the bike several times already thanks to the unusually warm weather we’ve been having.  It’s been a strange, short winter up here in Vermont.  Not as short as the non-winter they’ve had in southern New England, but still short by our standards.  From what little I’ve been able to ride, I’m clearly not having the leg soreness I normally experience during my first few weeks.  My commute times to work are about where I left off last fall even though my aerobic capacity is clearly less.  I’m really anxious to get the race bike out in the woods and do some real riding.

Off-season Training

The Crusher!

As I sit here with my legs a little sore, I thought I’d write a quick followup to my original post.  Several people have asked me about it, so I thought it was time to put something out there.  Since that initial testing and planning, I’ve had a chance to work with Jon on my workout plan several times.  I’m basically working with two separate routines of circuits which I have been alternating.  They consist of mostly of various body weight exercises, some of which are augmented with free weights.  A few of the exercises are ones that we used while I was in the Army many years ago.  Several I am familiar with from the book You Are Your Own Gym.  A few others are new to me.  There’s a pretty good balance of lower body and upper body exercises.

When I first looked at the plan, I questioned whether it was really going to be all that effective – especially the body weight exercises.  The upper body exercises in particular didn’t seem all that relevant.  I want to pedal faster, not gain upper body weight.  The first couple of times I worked through the routines, it even seemed a bit light.  The upper body stuff hurt, but I knew I was weak in that area.  I can see now that I was (am?) quite imbalanced and that this will very likely help my bike handling and give my arms and trunk some endurance in longer races.

One of the main things I’ve learned from this experience, so far, is that having the correct form when doing these exercises is critical.  Paying attention to my stance and where my body weight is loaded makes a huge difference in the effectiveness of the exercises.  I’m generally pretty aware of which muscles I’m using but found that I really have to keep my focus, especially when I start to fatigue.  When I get tired, I tend to shift so that I’m bearing the brunt of the work with my lower back – not a good thing.  It has taken a few weeks to feel like I’m able to load up on the resistance.

Starting over the past few weeks I feel like it is really going to make a difference.  My legs are finally getting really sore from the workouts.  The backs of my legs, in particular, have been taking a beating.  It’s amazing how much personal torture you can inflict with a simple exercise ball.  Painful, but in a good way.

Surprisingly, I’m finding the circuits to almost be an enjoyable workout.  It’s nowhere near as fun as being out on the bike, but it’s not too bad.  I don’t think I’m in any danger of becoming a “gym rat” yet.  I’m hoping to keep up my motivation for this through the winter.  I still plan on doing some time on the stationary bike to do some kind of interval training, but it will be a lesser part of my plan for this year.  There is something utterly mind-numbing about riding a trainer too much.  Even with some good music it is hard to not become bored beyond comprehension.  Many years ago, I spent quite a bit of time on the stationary over the winter.  It is effective, but the danger of burn-out is quite high.  I don’t recommend it.

I know that Jon already has some changes in mind for my plan which I’ll probably see soon.  I may post again later in the winter with an update on how things are progressing.  All in all, I’ll be happy if this only prevents the muscle loss I normally experience in the winter.  I suspect it is going to be better than that by the time spring hits.