Century Road Club AssociationThe CRCA Presents a Day with Chris Carmichael

The CRCA Presents a Day with Chris Carmichael


Resistance Training

Why resistance training?

  • Greater strength -- from weight training
  • More muscle mass
  • Increased power
  • Less muscle breakdown
  • Reduced chance of injury
  • Strength helps stabilize cycling power.

Carmichael doesn't prescribe weight training to gain power, only to gain strength. Power is then obtained through specific training -- i.e. training on the bike. That is why he uses the term "resistance training" rather than just "weight training".

On-the-Bike Resistance Training

A good warm-up and proper form are essential in on-the-bike resistance training (and work in the gym) to avoid injury. HR is irrelevant in all of these workouts. There are three types of on-the-bike resistance training workouts:

  • Power starts
  • Stomp intervals
  • Muscle tension workouts.

Power Starts

These increase peak power. The rider begins at a dead stop in a big gear (one of the largest gears on bike) and then, out of the saddle, pedals as hard as possible for about eight seconds (until he/she just barely begins to get on top of the gear). Form is critical in this exercise. The transfer of power must be from the hips and down. The rider is out of the saddle with the hips square to the direction of motion. The upper body should be relatively quiet.

This workout will produce some soreness. It can put severe stress on the back. It is not as dangerous to the knees as might be expected because being out of the saddle opens up the angle behind the knee, reducing patellar stress. This workout must be performed on a bike, not on a trainer, due to the dynamic motion required.

There should be no more than six or seven efforts per workout, with full recovery in between. If the rider is using a power meter, then he/she should definitely end the workout when peak power drops more than 5% from one effort to the next.

Tom Resh leads Andy Hampsten, Jeff Pierce and Chris Carmichael in a 1980s crit.

Richard Bryne photo

Stomp Intervals

These increase sustained power. They last from 15 to 20 seconds, and thus will produce some lactic acid build-up. They are painful, but the training helps the rider learn to better tolerate lactic acid.

The first stomp interval workout should begin with the rider rolling at about 15mph in a big gear on flat terrain, then he/she starts stomping while remaining in the saddle. As the rider becomes stronger, the efforts are lengthened from 15 to 20 seconds, and then the starting speed is reduced (which also makes the workout harder).

Stomp intervals can be done on a trainer. They can be quite stressful on the knees, so care must be taken. There should be no more than six repetitions, and generally three or four is sufficient. There must be full recovery between efforts.

Muscle Tension

This workout is for sustainable strength and recruits fast twitch muscle fibers while athlete works aerobically. The workout consists of pedalling at very low cadence (about 50rpm) in a big gear up a hill or on a trainer for five to 15 minutes at a time in the saddle, focusing on leg strength and power. The workout should remain aerobic in terms of heart rate. There should be a full rest between efforts -- generally the rest period should equal the length of the work period.

Muscle tensions workouts can be stressful on the knees and lower back.

Due to the low cadence at the start of each effort in power starts and stomp intervals and throughout muscle tension efforts, the rider can pay good attention to improving pedalling technique by applying more power as foot pulls across bottom of pedal stroke and kicks over the top.

Weight Training Movements

Upper body pulling exercises

  • Upright row
  • Bent-over row
  • Arm curl.

Upper body pushing exercises

  • Bench press
  • Triceps press
  • Triceps kick-back.

Generally athletes should only do one or two pulling and oneor two pushing exercises per workout. Carmichael often prescribesa little more upper body work for women.

Upper body work gives athletes a better sense of balance andreminds them how weak and over-specialized they are.

Lower back exercises

  • Back extension
  • Stiff-legged deadlift.

Abdominal exercises

  • Trunk curl
  • Sit-up.

Lower body exercises

  • Leg press
  • Squat
  • Calf raise
  • Hamstring curl.

Carmichael prefers leg presses to squats for safety. Squats can be done safely if the athlete is experienced enough but, given the short number of weeks the athlete is in the gym, it is generally better to play it safe with leg presses, which provide similar benefits. Both strengthen the quadriceps, which are prime movers for cycling, and also the important hamstrings and butt muscles.

Generally, squats and leg presses should be performed only through the same range of motion as in cycling. Too much knee flexion can over-stress the knees. Leg (knee) extensions should be avoided because they put a dangerous load on the patella.

These specific exercises Carmichael recommends are simple and give good results. If the athlete is experienced with other exercises that also provide results, they can be used instead. The key priority in the gym must be avoiding injury.


Carmichael used to not believe in stretching, but now views it as beneficial. Flexibility in the hamstrings, lower back and quadriceps is important. It can help the athlete ride in a more aerodynamic position and also avoid overuse injury.

Periodizing Resistance Training

Resistance Training Transition Phase

  • Prepares the body for the intensity of the next phase
  • Training should emphasize correct movement (form) in each exercise
  • Significant muscle soreness is undesirable
  • Work in weight room with no more than three sets of 12 to 15 repetitions of each exercise
  • Phase lasts four weeks with three days of weight lifting per week
  • Strength gains are mainly from adaption to the movements.

Resistance Training Foundation Phase

  • Increased resistance -- using more weight
  • Reduced number of reps -- only 10 to 12 -- with four to five sets
  • This period marks the beginning of building real strength
  • Phase lasts eight weeks, with weight lifting three days per week.

Strength Training Phase

  • Heavier weights required with reduced number of reps (six to eight) and increased number of sets (six)
  • Period lasts four weeks, with two weight workouts per week
  • Maximum strength gains

Power Phase

Gym work has ended; all resistance work is on the bike.

Training Phases and Resistance Workouts
Aerobic training period Resistance training phase Weight training On-the bike resistance training
Foundation Transition 3 times/week Power starts 2 times/week, or perhaps one power start and onemuscle tension
Foundation Foundation 3 times/week Begin stomp intervals and continue power starts, perhaps oneof each workout per week
Foundation Strength 2 times/week Stomp 2 times/week
Preparation Power None Some stomp, more muscle tension

While resistance training is very important, Carmichael will reduce or even drop resistance training if it is interfering with needed aerobic workouts. He assesses the overall training by constantly asking:
Are we increasing aerobically produced power?

Note that strength gains will deteriorate once resistance training stops; this is inevitable. To maintain or rebuild strength and power, on-the-bike resistance workouts can be cycled into training in-season. When this is done, the proper order -- power starts workouts, then stomp intervals, then muscle tension workouts -- is maintained.

Previous Next

Introduction | Carmichael Training System | Designing a Training Program
Resistance Training | Establishing Training Intensities Using Heart Rate

Notes hosted by Century-SBCG.