Off-Season Training Secrets

By Shelley Marenka | 12/06/11
Off-Season Training Secrets

Photo © Cynthia Lou/

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The following tip is a reprint of a December 2009 question submitted by another one of our USA Cycling certified contributing coaches Shelley Marenka. Don't let the cold weather stop you in your tracks!

Off-Season Training Secrets

The winter months often bring cold, windy, rainy weather – the kind of weather most cyclists don’t like to ride in.  Unless you have a ride partner to help get you out the door for your next training ride, it’s likely you won’t go out and brave it on your own.  So what’s a cyclist to do?

Staying in good shape during the off-season is critical to getting off to a strong start come early spring.  If you maintain a conditioning program during winter and avoid putting on those “winter pounds”, you won’t have to work nearly as hard for your comeback! Year round conditioning is a logical step aimed at improving performance, maintaining sports conditioning and preventing injuries.

So what does an off-season conditioning program look like for cyclists?

Keep it simple.  When coaching my clients thru the off-season, I incorporate core strength training, aerobic conditioning and flexibility exercises in their weekly training regime.  The goal is to achieve a solid balance of strength and flexibility within all muscle groups to prevent injuries and improve athletic performance. Training the core muscles can correct postural imbalances that occur from the “unnatural” position of the cyclist on the bike.  The aerobic component for endurance work will establish the base foundation needed and allow for continuance of “sport skill” whether the plan is for racing or doing century rides.

Flexibility is an important component of fitness that is often overlooked by athletes.  Stretching exercises should be done year round on a daily basis.  Risk of injury can be significantly reduced and muscular balance will be much improved.

One of the biggest reasons I like core training is because it develops functional strength – a fitness component that is essential to both “daily living routines” and regular activities you may engage in. You’ll be stronger on the bike and more efficient when doing your daily activities if you incorporate some aspect of core strength training.

Athletic Performance Improves with Core Strength Training

The core muscles of the trunk and torso act to stabilize the spine from the pelvis all the way up to the shoulders.  These muscles allow the transfer of powerful movements to the arms and legs. So the stronger and more stable your core is, the more power to your extremities.

So what are the core muscles?

In anatomy, the core refers to the body minus the legs and arms. Functional movements are highly dependent on the core, and lack of core development can result in a predisposition to injury. The major muscles of the core reside in the area of the belly and the mid and lower back (not the shoulders), and peripherally include the hips, the shoulders and the neck.  This group of muscles encases our organs and supports our upper extremities and spine.

The muscles of the core make it possible to stand upright and move on two feet. These muscles help control movements, transfer energy, shift body weight and move in any direction. When these muscles are balanced and strong, the body is much more efficient at transferring energy and power.

Strengthening the Core Muscles

There are a variety of training protocols that will effectively train the core muscles.  You can use regular strength training equipment, (i.e. free weights and machines), training tools and/or your own body weight to get a complete workout and develop core body strength.

Some of the training tools can include kettle bells, medicine balls, stability balls, Bosc balls, balance boards and dumbbells.

Exercises that involve body weight and no equipment are also very effective.  Many coaches and athletes use these types of exercises to develop core strength because of their simplicity and the fact that they can be done anywhere. These body weight exercises can include:

  • Plank
  • Side Plank
  • Push-Ups
  • Sit-ups
  • Yoga positions
  • Lunges
  • Squats
  • Back Extensions
  • V-Sits
  • Pelvic exercises


Strength Training Machines:

You can try some of these machines to help maintain or develop your strength. High reps of 20 to 30 are good.  You can estimate your weight load at first, and then adjust accordingly. Be cautious at first; you can always increase the weight.

Perfect form is the most important factor here.

  • Hip extension (squat, step-up, or leg press)
  • Seated row
  • Abdominal (vary exercises; can add weight for increased load)
  • Hamstring curls (one leg at a time) light load
  • Knee extension (one leg at a time) 30 degrees-light load
  • Seated lat pull (to chest vs. behind neck)

For a simple core-strengthening program you can begin with push-ups and crunches, but I recommend working with a coach to find which exercises are best for you and your goals.

If you are interested in a sample core workout, flexibility routine or coaching, contact Coach Shelley at

Please make a comment or post a question on my blog at

Ride On, Ride Strong!
Coach Shelley Marenka

Shelley Marenka owns Get On Your Mark CycleFit Biking Adventures
Coaching, Cycling Camps & Tours, Group Clinics, and 
Wine Bike Tours 
(209) 890-6244 or (530) 864-7891

To find out more about her services visit:
For current articles and training tips visit her blog at:

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