After undergoing an off-season strength training program for the past couple months, I was able to test it out up in the mountains on some mammoth climbs. While I had not been off the bike completely, I was certainly not in peak riding form, so most of what got me by was from what I achieved in the gym.
To my surprise, I was a lot stronger on the bike. That didn’t necessarily mean I was faster. I wasn’t and shouldn’t have been, but I could tell when climbing that I had more power. It did not take as much work to move myself up the mountain.
When stopped, I have surprised myself by how fast I can get back to my desired pace. Before I would accelerate slowly. Now I stand up and push the pedals a couple times until the speed returns.
Another benefit, which I did not expect, was in the upper body. When I came into the gym, I was a weakling from the waist up. I still am to a degree, but thanks to lat pulls and upright rows, my forearms are quite a bit stronger. This gave me the ability to use my arms to help balance and power my pedal stroke even more. It also helped when I needed to stand up on the bike and apply more power. I was able to hold the bike tighter and apply offsetting pressure that pushed the bike harder.
The biggest benefit has to do with recovery, both on and off the bike. These last few climbs were among the most intense I have ever attempted, yet I hardly ever felt sore. I was unquestionably tired and out of gas from the cardio work, but my muscles bounced back. When they were weak, it was more of a product of inadequate fueling rather than muscle condition.
Recovery off the bike has been even better. I was a little sore the day after Pinnacle Mountain and did not exercise, although an easy 40 to 50 mile ride would have been no problem. I felt good enough. After the other rides, I was hardly sore at all. This means that the muscles are stronger and they can endure more damage. When I get back into regular training, this will pay off immensely. Last year I had trouble riding three days in a row. That shouldn’t be the case this year.
There have been a couple of shortfalls as well. For starters, my biggest weakness is in cardio ability. My heart is not anywhere close to as strong as it was even a few months ago. That is the key reason why I am slower now on the climbs. Fortunately, this is a problem that can be remedied with more riding.
Another drawback is that I have a tendency to try and mash a big gear simply because I can. I also am in the habit of standing up on moderate hills to power myself up. This is not as efficient as the way I rode in the past with a higher cadence and less power. This is not a big deal, as I can work on focusing on my cadence in the training season.
The reason I didn’t get to finish the strength routine was mostly due to free time. There wasn’t enough, as is often the case during the holidays. I really needed three serious workouts every week and mostly could only manage two, which cut my progress in half. Either way, it has already made a difference and I expect that to continue into the Spring.