Start with the basics
If you have been racing, you likely have taken a small (or not so small) break from your strength program. Therefore, it’s best to start with a more endurance focused phase before jumping back into heavy strength. During this time, the focus should mainly be on technique and high repetition. Over time your body will become more efficient and will learn to use less muscle to complete certain exercises. This will “free up” more muscle to lift heavier weights in the next cycle. To do this, focus on using lower weight (40-60% of the max weight you could lift) and high reps (10-12).
…your body will learn to use less muscle to complete certain exercises [to]… “free up” more muscle to lift heavier weights
In addition, in order for your body to actually learn the new motor pattern (i.e. exercise) and become efficient enough to recruit less muscle fibres, it is important to actually repeat the same exercises for a period of time (generally 4 weeks), before moving on. This means that different random exercises in the gym will likely not give you the same neuromuscular adaptations. Although the exercises may stay the same, know that you are using less and less muscle to perform a given exercise. It is important to constantly be changing the load to achieve progressive adaptations. This can be done in a number of ways, and does not always have to be a steady (linear) increase in weight each day.
… it is important to actually repeat the same exercises for a period of time…[but] constantly be changing the load
When should you start?
In an ideal world, you would usually want to keep your strength program going up until the last week before your major race. As this may be impossible for some, I like to advise my athletes to commit to at least 12 weeks to see a significant impact on performance. These 12 weeks could be broken down in to an endurance phase (laying the foundations for heavy lifting), strength phase (increasing your running/ cycling economy and efficiency), strength/power phase (improving your ability to climb hills) and finally pure power and maintenance phase (allowing you to generate power FAST when you need to chase a group or a sprint to the finish). However the length of each phase will depend on the total amount of time before the focus race.
The sooner you start your strength program, the more time your coach can spend developing each adaptation and customize it depending on individual strengths and weaknesses. Although different phases will focus on different adaptations, each phase builds on one another and many adaptations overlap in other phases. Thus, to achieve optimal results, it is important to have a general outline of your coming season and leave room for constant adjustments throughout the season.
As the off season begins check out another great article for run warm ups.
Amanda Regnier, MSc. C.S.C.S.