Sunday, May 13, 2007

Switching back to strength

So the cycling tripod is skills, VO2, and strength.

For me, skills work is the most difficult to improve because I don't enjoy doing cornering drills and one-leg intervals and because skills improvement is difficult to quantify, so I can't easily see improvement. Also, I think skills are determined for a large part by genetics. My brother-in-law was a much better athlete in high school than I was; but 20 years later, I can easily best him in any type of speed or endurance sport. However, I never have stood, still don't stand, and never will stand a chance against him in any skills test. He's better at golf, tennis, darts, horseshoes, skeet, bowling, Frisbee, basketball.... you get the picture. I think skills are inborn and you can only do so much to improve them.

Oxygen transfer can be greatly improved with training. Lots of that improvement comes from losing body fat and some of it comes from getting more efficient at processing oxygen. But after a decade of training, increasing oxygen transfer even a little bit gets very difficult. My oxygen transfer genetics are pretty good (VO2max=67 ml/kg/min - most people who like to ride bikes, swim, and run for fun have pretty good oxygen transfer, otherwise they'd be miserable and probably would spend more time golfing and writing). This is the leg that I lean on the most by far for my current cycling ability. If I had been born with a VO2max of 45, I likely wouldn't have become a cyclist.

Strength is the one leg of the tripod where I might have room for some significant gains. The next phase of my training will include lots of pedal force work such as low cadence intervals and more sprint work. I'll see if I can make improvements in FTP through muscle strength and increase maximum power output with neuromuscular training. The key is to add this additional training while still doing enough of the stuff I've already been doing so that my oxygen transfer doesn't suffer.

As a side note: There has been enough written on strength training (particularly on off-season weight training) for cycling to fill lots of books; but I tried weight training last winter and I'm not convinced that it was helpful for me - particularly if you consider that I could have spent that time doing low cadence work on the bike. I guess if I skip the squats this winter and suffer next spring I'll be changing my tune.