Could You Be A More Powerful & Comfortable Cyclist By Riding Less?

This is not what cyclists want to hear…

But in all seriousness, riding your bike less could actually improve both your comfort and performance on the bike. 

Well, you’d be half right… It’s what you do with your time that counts. 

Unfortunately in the world of endurance sports (or life in general for that matter), there are no hacks or shortcuts. At the risk of stating the obvious, if you want to accomplish something you’ve never done before, you’re going to have to work for it.

Usually however, it’s not the “riding the bike” part that is the obstacle in the way of progress, it’s often other, seemingly peripheral details that often get missed. 

Training breaks the body down, recovery builds us back up:

Stress (training) + Recovery = Adaptation.

Focusing on the fundamentals of quality sleep, good nutrition and effectively managing training load around all of life’s other many stresses plays a hugely significant role in increasing athletic performance.

Poor sleep = poor performance

I want to talk about how perhaps spending a bit less time on your bike and more time dedicated to increasing the overall capacity of your chassis (ie, your musculoskeletal system) may well unlock a new level of comfort and performance to your cycling, and may even open up new possibilities for your bike fit in the process.

For those that follow along regularly, it’s no secret that we’re huge advocates of strength training for cyclists. But why?

What’s the point in spending a good portion of your already limited time to train away from the bike, throwing weights around in the gym? Let me explain…

Not the natural environment for a cyclist but could this be the key?

Comfort is the foundational pillar upon which everything to do with your cycling and bike fit is built. If you are comfortable on the bike, your efficiency increases, and the more efficient you are, the faster you’ll go relative to your effort.

A comfortable position for you however might not necessarily be the same as a comfortable position for your Nan who’s just popped down the road for a pint of milk on her 1970’s Raleigh Shopper. In performance cycling terms (whatever that means for you specifically), comfort can be defined as the position you can sustain, for the duration of your event, whilst maintaining the required output. 

The stronger and more capable your whole body becomes, the more possibilities you might have with your bike position. This involves training your upper body as well, not just your legs. The more muscle fibres you can recruit to provide stability and/or generate force, the longer you’ll be able to sustain your position and thus, effort. 

Do you use your arms when cycling?

When discussing strength training in a cycling context, we often think of just training the lower extremities, or “strengthening the core” (which is a very lazy and non-descript statement that gets thrown around far too much IMHO) to improve power, but there are also large muscle groups in your back and chest that play a major role in your ability to maintain good posture and create stability on the bike.

If these muscle groups are neglected, you’re likely leaving some valuable comfort and efficiency on the table. Now we’re not saying you need to be built like Arnold to ride a bike well… but having greater capacity and control through your upper body and trunk can pay dividends on the bike, especially when the power demands and/or distance increases.

Speaking of power, the more of this you can generate and apply through the pedals in a consistent and sustainable way, the more comfortable your bike will become. It’s time for a story…

Time trialists & triathletes place much more demand on the upper body & core to be able to hold their positions.

A long time client of ours, Ben, made an astute observation over the course of a few years of participating in the Ride London 100. In the beginning, Ben was getting to around 60-70 miles into the ride and would start to experience some pressure on the saddle, as well as some excessive weight on his hands.

During our initial bike fit, we confirmed that the saddle Ben uses is a good shape for him – he sits very centrally in the saddle, is stable through the hips and doesn’t experience any soft tissue pressure on his regular 3-4hr weekend rides. A few additional tweaks to the position over the coming months (more rearward cleat position, shorter cranks, narrower bars, longer stem) and although it would take longer for Ben to experience any excessive weight through the hands and pressure on the saddle, it would still be there 80 miles or so into the next time he did the 100 mile ride. 

Ben’s position was solid!

Another year on, and after a revisit of Ben’s bike position prior to the last edition of Ride London, we both concluded, after going through our comparative testing process, that the position was where it needed to be. The bike environment was good, so what was missing?

It was in this training cycle that Ben had started adding in some consistent, twice weekly full body S&C work into his training plan.

Post ride, we get an email from Ben saying that not only had he completed the course in his fastest time to date, but he’d also significantly increased his power output. The main difference he noticed however was that there was zero discomfort on the saddle or through the hands this time around. So, what changed? 

Ben’s fastest finishing time,  increase in power output and consequently, improvement in his comfort on the bike can not only be attributed to the excellent aerobic fitness he’d built, but also his ability to sustain this higher output over the entire duration of the ride. By increasing the capacity of his body to apply larger amounts of force through the pedals, he was able to redistribute his weight away from his hands and saddle, and stabilise himself primarily through his feet, better utilising the large muscle groups further up the chain. Think of how good squat mechanics work, and you’re on the right lines! 

To think of this concept another way, you wouldn’t strap the engine from an 8 litre, 16 cylinder Bugatti Veyron onto the chassis of a Citroen 2CV and not expect it to break down at some point, would you? The stronger your chassis is, the better consistent use you can make of your aerobic capacity and muscular power.

hmmm… not sure this is going to work…

The moral of the story?

By increasing your overall function (mobility)…

And capacity (the strength required to control aforementioned mobility, create stability and generate force) of your body…

…to deal with a given amount of postural stress (i.e., the energy required to maintain your posture on the bike)…

The more energy you will have available to apply force through the pedals over a longer period of time.

This results not only in an increase in power, but also improvements to your comfort on the bike as well. Improved strength, function and capacity can also open up the potential for a larger window of bike position possibilities, and in some cases, enable riders to consider bike geometries that were once out of reach in terms of the position they placed that rider into. What’s not to like?!

Words by Mat (one ‘t’) Walton

If this has got you thinking, and you’d like to explore what strength and conditioning could potentially do for your cycling, watch this replay of our live webinar on what strength actually looks like for a cyclist / triathlete.

Also check out our partners, Strength for Endurance and see how smart strength training could lead to improvements in both cycling comfort and performance.

Want more power and comfort on the bike?
Start by ensuring your fundamentals are in order:

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