While I am a huge proponent of learning to stand powerfully and effectively on the bike, most cyclists need to spend a lot of time seated. Since most of your cycling time is seated, the question of boosting seated power is at least partially addressed by improving your threshold power or just boosting your cycling power. However, during bicycle rides and races, there are specific moments that make us question our seated power. If you have spun out on a loose mountain bike climb, felt your body shut down on a steep climb, stood up into a face full of wind or caused chaos by standing up randomly (or erratically) during a group ride, then you have felt the need for more seated power.
Here is how you go about boosting this specific skill:
Your “defining moment” is the point in time when you lose the leaders, the group, the pace, you start walking or you crash, etc. We all have a critical moment we need to train for. These change as we get better, learn new things and as our goals change.
If your critical moment is a seated-power issue, then you want to think about ways to simulate that in training. If those extremely steep moments are where you struggle, do one or two sessions a week that push you to similar high exertions at low cadences. For the high rpm, high power moments on flat roads, you want to get aero and push your ability in these very specific ranges.
For many busy adults with limited training time, a lack of volume (and variety) can play a major role in your progress or lack thereof. Try to plan a few days each month for going long (more than 3 hours) to see improvements.
As cyclists, we often forget cadence provides us many more options than our gearing. If we can operate happily at a range of cadences, then we have options to get through the situations the road and trail present. If you find you are always caught between gears (especially during your defining moment) it is likely you could benefit by pushing yourself above and below your preferred cadence range. Riding a single speed can be a fun way to experience more cadences and loads, but on your normal bike you can simply shift to an easier gear and do 1–10 minute periods where you pedal over 100 rpm (1–2 gears easier than usual with a bit harder effort is a good place to start). Warmups and cooldowns are great places to practice spinning.
If you are a spinner who rarely goes under 90 rpm, who perhaps hates climbing or low rpm periods, then do climbs in 1–2 gears harder once or twice a week. Low-cadence and high-force efforts carry a bit more risk, but if you expose yourself gradually, as you do with strength training, you experience a great benefit. Start by sprinkling 3 x 8–12-second efforts into warmups. These are like squats where you are using a big gear, a hill, a slower start speed and cadence to pedal at a low-to-moderate range at a high force. If these short, seated, low-cadence efforts go well, then progress to 1–5 minute efforts at a high output on a moderate climb.
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It is wise to include some kind of off-bike core, strength, yoga or other movement training to maintain and improve your range of motion and control and provide variety and recovery to your muscles. Learning to plank and lift your arms/legs individually and together and also do single-leg exercises, like lunges, helps to improve and overcome any issues with power transfer, stability or discomfort on the bike. I like doing a short routine in the morning or around rides to get it done regularly.
Finding your limitation, or defining moment, and including some targeted cadence and seated power work will have you feeling powerful in the saddle and ready to attack the final hill or clear that loose climb.