Machines versus free weights

Whenever people talk about resistance training, there are debates about whether one mode of training is better than another. One of the more common debates is around whether to perform free weight exercises, such as those in this book, or machine-based exercises.
There are arguments for and against each mode of training. However, there are benefits to be had from performing both types of resistance training. Many people sit in one camp or the other when it comes to machines or free weights. We don’t really see why it has to be an either/or case.

Making the choice as to which modality to use comes down, as with most things, to what you want to achieve. Once you know what you are trying to achieve, you find the right tools for the purpose. You wouldn’t use a screwdriver to hammer in nails and, in the same way, for some training goals machines are more applicable, while for others free weights are the preferred option.

In the case of machines, we have used machine weight-training activities for specific reasons with elite athletes for a number of different purposes:

1. When an athlete is injured or is returning from an injury, machine-based weight training can be a useful modality to have a training effect without stressing the injured part (for example, the use of a unilateral leg press when an athlete has an injury in the other leg).

2. When an athlete needs to develop a certain muscle group or action. For example, if an athlete has a quad/hamstring ratio that is causing knee issues, there may be a need to programme specific hamstring work. Machines are a useful way to overload a muscle group.

However, machines also have their limitations, the key one being that they operate in fixed planes of movement. At the start of this book, we talked about cycling being a ‘narrow’ activity, so in this case we actually want to get away from fixed ranges of movement and challenge the body outside of one plane, to develop that wide conditioning base.

Plan to succeed

Once you’re at this stage of the programme, planning your year, weeks, days and individual sessions correctly is essential. Determine the demands of your chosen target events and the times of year when strength work is most appropriate. By planning well, you will minimise any negative interference between your strength work and cycling training, and maximise the gains you’ll achieve.

Taper into events

Part of this planning is tapering down to important events and this applies equally to both your off the bike training and your on the bike work. It shouldn’t be a sudden stop but a planned and progressive winding down. All athletes respond differently to tapering, so although we have given guidelines, you may need to experiment and adapt to find what’s optimal for you.

Don’t forget the basics

Just because you’ve reached this stage of the programme, don’t think you’re done with the assessment and corrective exercises. Still try to work daily on the TASMT and stretching exercises that you know apply to you and regularly work through the assessment to check you’re still fit to lift. For the majority of riders, progressing with loading and developing the exercises will provide a long-term challenge, so don’t rush trying to include the more advanced exercises or set/rep structures.

Schedule your strength sessions

Within your training week, schedule your strength work to allow a minimum of 48 hours between sessions and aim for minimal interference with your cycling. If you find that this is not the case, revisit your overall plan and maybe change the priority of the training block.

Prioritise your weaknesses

In each strength session, you should be looking to include a hinge, a squat/split squat, a push, a pull and ideally a trunk movement. You should work on the movement you find most difficult or challenging first, when you’re fresher both mentally and physically. It’s quite likely that you won’t be at the same level for all movements.

20 minute Cycling Workout for Beginners

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