What strength training do you do and why?

A few people have asked me about strength training lately, what kind of program I employ, and what I generally recommend. Rather than repeating myself in a few emails with much of the same content, I thought I’d write up some ideas and put them on the site so that maybe a few other people might find some of my ideas useful.

I think that strength training, among other cross training activities, can be a great addition to any endurance athlete’s routine. Whether you do it just during the off season, periodically throughout the season, or every week of the year will depend on your goals, time availability, and interest or motivation to do so. By all means, if you enjoy going to the gym, doing it once or twice a week will definitely not hurt you as an athlete, and probably will help, potentially quite a bit.

Unless you’re pursuing mutually exclusive training goals it should help you to mix up your training. E.g. lifting weights moderately during the winter months as you’re building strength, endurance, and general aerobic conditioning will be great. Lifting heavy weights and putting on muscle mass while you’re trying to get better at climbing will certainly set you back in the long run, unless you’re losing a similar amount of body fat or increasing your power more than your body weight increases, both of which are not uncommon! Still, you can’t become a thick-muscled gym regular without eventually having an adverse affect on your power to weight ratio, which will hurt you climbing and accelerating where power to weight matters. It could still help you for things like time-trialing, though, because body weight doesn’t matter so much for long, steady efforts on flat ground so much as absolute power. Looking around at some of the best time trialists in cycling or the best cyclists in triathlon, and you’ll see that they’re almost always notably bigger than the average athlete in their sport.

For most people, including at least 3-4 months of gym work during the off season 2-3 times per week will be great. It will help with their long term improvement in their sport and will likely help with injury prevention. Personally, I try to get in 2-3 core workouts each week and 2 days of whole body or lower body strength training each week during the off-season. I encourage any of my athletes who show interest and have some equipment and time available to adapt a similar program of kind of 2-3 days per week of strength, core work, and/or other cross training.

In an ideal world, my routine and the one I recommend would be as follows:
4-6 weeks of general conditioning:
>10-20m of light aerobic activity (e.g. running, rowing, or cycling) to warm up
3-4 sets of 12-20 reps at a moderate, but challenging weights
ideally, some light stretching and foam rolling afterwards

3-5 weeks of strength building:
>10-20m of light aerobic activity to warm up
1 set of light weight, 1 set of moderate weight to further warm-up
3-5 sets of 4-8 reps at a heavy weight
maybe 5-15m light aerobic activity to cool down
some light stretching and foam rolling afterwards

maybe 2-4 weeks of power building:
the same as the strength building routine, but focused on moderate to heavy weights lifted quickly, and even explosively, but always under control

3-5 weeks of strength endurance:
>10-20m of light aerobic activity (e.g. running, rowing, or cycling) to warm up
4-6 sets of 12-20 reps at a moderate, but challenging weights
or 3-4 sets of 16-30 at a moderate weight, that is challenging towards the end of each set
ideally, some light stretching and foam rolling

Why do it this way? Finishing a season and then taking time off or easy from a few weeks up to a month or so, you probably don’t want to jump right back into strenuous training that will likely leave you very sore and limit your foundational sport specific training (i.e. foundational miles training on the road or trails, cycling or running). You should start out moderately, so that you’re training hard enough to get your body to adapt and get stronger, but not so hard that you risk injury, psychological burnout, or experience unnecessary soreness. This need for moderation will be all the more important if you stop strength training during the season, in which case, you may be starting a gym routine in October or November when you haven’t seen a gym since March.

After getting a foundation of general conditioning, you’ll no doubt be stronger all around than before, but still may be far from your maximum strength and power to weight ratio. You may, and probably should, want to take a month or two to work specifically on enhancing strength. Just like it sounds, we will want to be able to lift, push, or pull more weight than we have in the past. This doesn’t mean that you need to lift weights to failure, in fact you might not want to, because that’s one of the surest ways to induce hypertrophy (i.e. to grow more muscle mass). Doing efforts lifting a weight that’s very challenging, we’ll be training our nervous system to recruit more and more muscle fibers, hence gaining strength. This is great, because if we increase raw strength, every time we’re pushing with submaximal force, that will be a smaller proportion of our maximal strength, and will thereby generally feel easier. Regardless of anything else, if something feels easier, then it is easier for you as an athlete.

If you’re an athlete that requires burst of speed and power, then you’ll almost certainly want to include a phase oriented specifically around power (i.e. lots of strength and control, but engaged at a high speed).

For runners, research increasingly shows that strength training with a high-weight, low-rep routine will increase running speed, economy, and VO2, whereas lifting moderate weights at high-reps will not help as much or at all. Likewise for power movements like plyometric drills and power-oriented lifting (quick, controlled weight lifting) to work on strength and speed simultaneously. For cycling, strength and power are invaluable as well, but there is probably also a good value in strength-endurance work as well because that is a major source of fatigue in endurance cycling.

After having built up your maximal strength, if you’re a cyclist or triathlete, you can then try to build up your strength endurance. If you’re a runner, then I don’t think this is necessary, and continuing with a general maintenance routine will be good, but focusing specifically on strength endurance will use up energy and probably not improve your performance. As far as it goes, part of the beauty of the gears on a bike is that they allow you to push harder and go faster, but in pushing harder, it helps to be strong and to be able to maintain that level of strength for long periods. Hence, there is a need for good strength endurance in cycling. In running on the other hand, you’re basically always operating at the same general resistance level. That is, you adjust your cadence to match your speed and the terrain you’re running on and you’re always just pushing your body weight into the air with each stride, so even though resistance varies with speed and gradient, it is a much narrower range of resistance you’re pushing against. You just can’t push twice as hard to go twice as far when you’re running, but you definitely can while you’re on a bike.

What actual workout routine do you follow? Well, I’ll usually try to fit in these workouts whenever my schedule allows. Sometimes that means that I’ll fit in a 30-45m workout before work, or sometimes on my day off before going out for a long ride. Either way, I try to work it out so that it has minimal impact in my sport specific workouts when they require any intensity. General endurance and high-aerobic work (tempo and low-threshold) can usually be done just fine after strength training, but hard threshold, VO2, or anaerobic capacity workouts are pretty much out of the question immediately before or after a gym workout.

Anyway, I don’t claim to have the perfect routine or anything like that, but I find that it seems to work for me, and I think it should address a lot of the main muscle groups you’d want to strengthen… I’ll usually do the following exercises:

curls
push-ups
crunches
back extensions
shrugs or upright rows
planks

calve raises
quad extensions
hamstring curls
squats
squat jumps
lunges

I will never do the upper-body exercises very hard, because I’m trying to avoid weakness in my upper body, not to build muscle. Usually 2-3 sets of a moderately easy weight for 15-20 reps seems good. I’ll usually do the upper body exercises in a circuit format, just cycling through different exercises in sequence with just enough rest to catch my breath and keep good form. That way I never get too much opportunity to work those muscles enough to grow much extra muscle, or any at all, for that matter. Still, after a few weeks or a month of just moderate lifting, I always get much stronger without adding an ounce of body mass, which indicates to me that my nervous system is recruiting more muscle to do the work I want, which is just what I want, not extra muscle mass.

After doing a few sets of upper body exercises, I find that I’m a little more warmed up than when I started, and feel comfortable getting to the legs, which I will work harder. I’ll often do 1-2 sets easy to warm up and then go at it for 3-4 sets. The leg exercises are usually done with about 1m rest between sets, and I’ll usually cycle through 2-4 exercises at a time to give alternating muscle groups rest between sets. I don’t go so quickly that it would qualify as circuit training. Most recently I’ve been doing calve raises, quad extensions, hamstring curls, some sort of ab exercise, and then repeat it. I will frequently do dumbbell squats and lunges as well, always keeping a sequence that doesn’t work out the same muscle group multiple times in a row so it gets a rest between sets.

Getting enough rest between sets is key for building strength. I already get plenty of aerobic, sport-specific work in outside the gym, so I don’t need to try to get any aerobic work inside the gym. The aerobic workout you’d get from doing circuit training will be so far beneath your capabilities as an endurance athlete that I would regard it as not worth your time, and because there would be inadequate recovery between exercises if you engage in circuit training, it will detract from the main purpose of gym work, getting stronger and more powerful. Still, as an athlete concerned with efficiency, I would point out that there is no reason to sit or stand around for 3, 4, or even 5 minutes between sets of a given exercise as you may see many people doing at most gyms. Try to get enough rest, but get back to work as soon as you feel that you’re ready (likely 1-1.5 minutes will do). Having adequate rest to work out hard, but not taking a lot of extra rest between exercises should also help encourage your body to produce more testosterone and growth hormone which will help with your adaptation to training, and can help improve body composition by burning fat and maybe growing muscle.

I’ll work out in the gym harder when I’m not doing hard bike workouts, and ease up a bit when I’m doing hard interval training or long threshold efforts and the like. Likewise, even when I’m working on strength or power, I’ll usually do just one workout each week focused on that goal, while maintaining one general conditioning workout the other day I do gym work.

Really, that’s about all I do, but it makes a big difference for me. Even though many of us may consider ourselves endurance athletes and don’t instinctively consider raw strength and power to be all that essential to our performance, it is certainly the case that for most athletes, gym work will greatly enhance their total training program.

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Training with power, HR, and RPE.

Recently, I’ve been spending a good bit of my time reading and thinking about foundational training, how to optimize endurance training, and things related. There are various reasons for this recent interest, but among them is the relevance to most people’s training at this time of year… usually, the off-season is a time for moderate to heavy endurance training (relative to our fitness/competitive goals). In any case, what follows are some of my recent thoughts on the subject.

Boiled down, without any commentary:

Use power and HR to set upper and lower limits for most of your endurance workouts, but generally focus more on HR.

Use power to set most guidelines for higher intensity efforts and workouts, but pay some attention to HR and RPE.

Use both RPE and power for efforts and workouts above aerobic capacity/VO2 max intensities.

Should I use power, HR, or RPE to gauge my endurance workouts or training pace? What do each of those metrics have to offer me in evaluating my training?

Well, that’s tough. Power is the only way to actually measure work being done on a bike and the rate of work being done. Or, if you’re running, your pace is clearly the measure of how quickly you’re covering a given distance. In some sense, this is all that matters. Heart rate will tell us how challenging our workout is for our aerobic systems, which is clearly key. If we’re trying to enhance endurance, then we’re ultimately trying to enhance how much we can get out of each unit of aerobic effort. In some sense, we’re trying to squeeze the most out of each heartbeat. Then again, perceived exertion (rate of perceived exertion = RPE) increasingly appears to be the bottom line for measuring fatigue and effort relative to our current fitness or potential. If you’re fresh or tired, fed or fasted, hot or cold, etc. etc. your sensations of perceived exertion is directly tied to your ability to keep exercising. More and more scientists these days would go so far as to say that the feeling of fatigue is fatigue.

So what now? Power will tell me how much work I’m doing, but nothing about how hard that is for me at my current fitness level, nor will it tell me whether I’m getting fitter in any direct fashion. HR will tell me only how hard I’m working relative to my current aerobic fitness level, with some feedback from things like heat, dietary status, fatigue, etc. but won’t tell me anything about how that level is progressing or how I compare now to last month or last year. RPE will tell me the end result of my body’s internal integration of all of the factors that affect fatigue, including HR, but will include other things like dietary status, motivation, mental fatigue, etc. into those biological equations, and again, won’t tell me anything about actual work being done and fitness level without outside feedback.

After spending some time thinking about these ideas, reading what other people have to say, and recalling my experiences in my own training, I think it’s really ideal to pay attention to all three and use each of the three metrics to create guidelines or constraints for your training, and to use the relation of the three metrics to each other to gauge your progress. Namely, consider doing the following:

HR – Since HR is the best direct gauge of aerobic effort relative to your current fitness level, I would probably say that if you’re only going to pay attention to one thing during endurance oriented workouts, then I would say you should pay attention to HR. Create a HR range that you’ll strive for the duration of your endurance workouts, high enough that it’s actually a workout, but low enough that you can keep it in that range almost the whole time you’re out, with the exception of warm-up, possible harder efforts, and a cool-down.

Power (or running pace) – Create a range, again, so that the workout requires a lot of work, but easy enough that you can keep it going. Aim for a high-aerobic power output if you’re cycling, below your tempo pace but high enough that it’s going to tire you out over the 3, 4, or 5 hours that you’re out on your bike. Likewise for running, except that we can use pace very effectively as a substitute for power, usually going a little slower than your marathon race pace.

RPE – With both HR and power guidelines in place, pay attention to how easy or hard things feel. If it’s easy from start to finish, increase the HR and power you’re shooting for by a small margin, but if it’s difficult or impossible to finish your goal workouts in those HR and power  ranges, then reduce  your goal power and HR until you find a sweet spot that’s achievable but challenging.

With these ideas in mind, I’ve found that some of my best endurance training on the bike occurs when I aim to keep my HR in the 120-130 bpm range, power in the 250-300w range, and my effort steady but not hard. For me, it’s very difficult to have an average HR above 125-130 for a ride of any duration, but if I can keep my HR mostly in the 120s with occasional spikes above that on hills where I ride tempo/threshold type efforts, then I can complete a very productive endurance ride and not slow significantly at the end. If I ride much under that, then I know it wasn’t much of a workout or the workout was geared towards other goals, in which case my HR may or may not have been relevant. If I try to keep my HR above 130 for long periods of time, then unless I’m highly caffeinated, I know from experience that I can’t keep that average up for more than a few hours on a steady endurance ride, so there’s no point in blowing my effort in the first half of a 5 hour ride when it would be more productive to keep it steady most of the time. Likewise with power. Cruising around in the low 200w range is very easy for me, whereas keeping my power above 300w is quite challenging for the duration of a long ride, but sometimes do-able for up to 4 hours or so. In either case, though, if I’m doing a ride at a very low power or HR, I’ll know from the feel of it that I’m really not challenging my body’s endurance fitness much at all. Likewise, if I try to go out and hammer for 4-5 hours straight on my bike, but crumble as soon as I get to the top of the last hill at 4:30 into my ride, then I know that I’ve overshot and significantly increased the stress on my body while minimally increasing the fitness boost I might get from that ride. Especially when you’re trying to slowly but surely build your endurance, it’s better to have workouts that are moderately challenging. You should do workouts that take focus to complete, but don’t leave you in a hormonal or metabolic dump after the fact.

Along similar lines, I think that if you have a long progression of workouts that you want to use to gauge your aerobic fitness, I would be very curious to look at the ratio of power to average HR over those months or years of training. This is not something that I’ve yet done in any significant fashion yet, but I was planning to start experimenting with and looking into this. I would wager that one of the best indicators of aerobic fitness would be that for rides of a similar structure and conducted with similar RPE, would be to see your power/HR ratio go up. Namely, you can do more watts at a given HR or a fixed wattage at a lower HR. Ultimately, I would expect this to be maybe the best measure of aerobic fitness, or even just by definition what aerobic fitness means to us in real world measurements.

Should I use power, HR, or RPE for my threshold or interval workouts?

For higher intensity workouts, power or pace will matter much more than HR and RPE, because we’re specifically trying to increase the rate at which we can do work and go faster. Threshold or higher intensity efforts will be most effectively measured by power; HR and RPE will vary much more with respect to these efforts and won’t be a reliable indicator that we’re doing the kinds of efforts or the kind of intensity that we’re really aiming for. Unlike endurance workouts, power will often act to provide motivation and a lower limit of performance for a lot of higher intensity efforts.

Basically, if you’re trying to work on your threshold, you should have an intensity range equal to or just below your 30-45m peak power that you use to conduct your workout/efforts. Or if you’re doing aerobic capacity/VO2 max efforts, aim to be 10-25% above your threshold power. In both cases, ignore your HR unless you see it getting so high that you know it will become a limiting factor. For example, if you’re doing a threshold climbing effort in the heat of summer, a high HR will almost certainly indicate that even though the power you’re doing is well within your capabilities, probably at the HR required to deliver oxygen to your muscles and blood to your skin you won’t be able to maintain the effort for the goal length of the effort in question. Often, for anaerobic capacity efforts, I would say that you should have a good idea from past experience what power you should be capable of for various durations, but for these high-intensity efforts, the power you’re actually able to do for a given effort during a given workout will vary, so I would encourage you to pay about equal attention to power and RPE (i.e. how hard you’re pushing), and defer to RPE if there’s some decoupling of the two metrics relative to the norm. That is, both shoot for a goal power and aim for an effort level that you know will be appropriately challenging for the type of effort you’re doing and its timing in your training, both within the workout and within your training season.

As an example, let’s say that John has a 40 minute PR on a climb near him when he did a hill-climb there last year. During that effort, he averaged 300w and had good pacing so that his power was fairly consistently between 280 and 330 the whole time without a drop off towards the end (i.e. he had about a 300w average for any given quarter of the effort). If John’s doing a threshold workout, he should probably make an effort to average 280-300w for his 15 or 20 or 30m threshold efforts. If his HR is 5-10 beats high because it’s a hot day, then he should consider lowering his power so that his HR falls at or just below his highest average TT/hill-climb HR. If John’s doing mid-season 5x3m VO2 efforts with 10-12m recovery one day, then he should aim for probably 340-360w average for those efforts. Because the efforts are too short to have overheating and elevated HR be a serious issue, as long as he keeps track of drinking enough if it’s hot, then John can go crazy trying to keep his power at a challenging, but achievable level without paying much or any attention to his HR. Or, when John dials in his maximal 30s efforts by doing, say, 8x30s max effort with 3m recovery, he probably knows ahead of time what power he’ll see for each of those efforts, but depending on whether he had a tough workout a day or two beforehand, whether he’s doing these efforts uphill or on flat ground, whether he’s doing them 1h into his 2h ride, or 4h into his 5h ride, the power may well vary notably. But should he shoot for a power that he can’t actually do unless he’s totally fresh or be content with a power that’s well below what he’s capable of because his fitness is coming along and he’s well recovered from last weekend’s racing? Not by a long shot. If he’s doing maximal 30s efforts to improve his high-end power and tolerance to the stress of those efforts (neurological, chemical, and cardiovascular), then he should just go as hard as he can for those efforts, regardless of the power or HR numbers he sees on his computer. In all likelihood, since he’s done similar efforts recently in training and in races, he could probably guess within a very small margin of error ahead of time what power and HR numbers he’ll see, but again, they aren’t necessarily what matter. The stress to his body relative to what his body is capable of at the moment is what matters, so if anything RPE or perceived effort are really what matter for this workout.

Things not to do in the off-season.

Don’t keep the same workout routine, volume, and intensity. If you kept doing a similar routine of hard workouts and recovery days, similar loads of volume and intensity, then you could probably stay reasonably fit all of the time. Again, as mentioned above, if you did that, you might open yourself up to increased long-term risk of injury by overworking some muscles, joints, and connective tissue while under-utilizing others. But there’s more than that. If you’re always keeping a moderate stress on your body, you can adapt and progress for a while, but eventually you’ll plateau and see the same fitness achieved on an ongoing basis. If you want to see higher peaks in your fitness, then you need to consider toning things down, giving your body a little extra rest, and then have a stretch of progressive training that will hopefully culminate in a higher level of fitness than what you’d otherwise achieve. So, most athletes find good success taking the off-season months to slowly build up a bigger, broader foundation of strength, endurance, and aerobic efficiency, so that they can add on an extra bit of maximal aerobic capacity and anaerobic capacity work, finally reaching their best potential for that point in time.

Don’t keep the same dietary habits or put on too much extra body weight. Inevitably, if you’re engaged in heavy training and abruptly stop, then it may take days or even a few weeks for your appetite to adjust to the lower energy demands placed on your body. That’s fine; don’t worry about it. But, try to do what you can to mitigate the damage. Don’t shut down your training but keep eating 3000 or 4000 calories a day like you might have been doing when engaged in heavy training. Try to establish good eating habits that will provide a lot of nutrition without encouraging your body to put on extra weight. If you’re not doing high-intensity workouts and races, then you don’t need high-octane fuel sources (i.e. refined carbohydrates and sugars). If you’re not engaged in a high volume of training, then you don’t need nearly as many calories to keep your body happy and healthy. You don’t need to worry about digesting food quickly before your next workout or race, so you don’t need to ever worry about avoiding lower density foods with higher fiber content. So, consider cutting back on the refined carbohydrates you might want for intense workouts and races, in favor of fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, legumes, some meat, and maybe some dairy. Definitely look for ways to eat as many vegetables as you can, while also keeping additives to a minimum. It’s one thing to have a great salad, it’s another one to have an extra 500 calories of croutons and salad dressing on top. Always remember, you’re never going to put on extra weight by eating too many vegetables, but they are generally the ones most universally associated with increased longevity and reduction in risk for various health problems, so you might as well spend most of your time grocery shopping in the produce section.

Don’t worry. Don’t worry about losing fitness when you tone things down or take a break. Don’t worry if you put on a couple of pounds. Don’t worry if you get busy and take more days off than you planned or expected. 6 months from now, in all likelihood, it won’t matter. It will matter if you get worried and keep training straight through the off-season, never take it easy, and never shy away from high-intensity workouts, because you might end up stale physically or mentally, perhaps burnt out or even hurt. Try not to focus on things that you might consider negative, and instead try to be positive and look for ways that you can move towards your goals even if you’re not actively pursuing a hard training routine. When you’re not out training as much and you’re taking extra days off, consider doing a few minutes of core work to strengthen the part of your body you might neglect a little bit when you’re competing more regularly. Look for areas of your diet where you could improve things. Do a bit of cross training to get a mental break from your sport and to enjoy playing around with others. Or engage in other hobbies you have. After all, the athletic adventures we seek out are supposed to be fun, provide an outlet for our drives to be competitive and to better ourselves, and they should be rewarding, so as much as we want to do well, succeed at achieving our goals, and maybe beat some of our competition, we don’t ever need it to add stress or concern to our mental lives.

Don’t do too much LSD. Doing higher volume training sessions and keeping those sessions at a steady, moderate intensity can be great for building up aerobic endurance and efficiency preserving glycogen stores and increasing your fat-burning capacity. But doing long training sessions at a really low intensity, or doing long stretches of training only at a steady pace will not help you out. You should never do only long-slow distance training. For one thing, for a competitive athlete who’s been engaged in an endurance sport for more than a year or two, there is little fitness to be gained from doing truly slow training in any volume. This is a little less of a concern for runners, because running tends to encourage athletes to operate at intensities closer to their threshold pace most of the time (say, 80-100% of their threshold pace). If you’re a runner whose half-marathon pace is 7 min/mile (about 1:32 pacing), then it’s likely that a lot of your general endurance running is done somewhere around 7:40-8:20 min/mile pace (80-90% of half-marathon pace). For cycling there is much more of a propensity for athletes to have a much bigger range of intensity at different times. For a lot of cyclists, their average wattage for one of their long rides might be as low as 50-65% of their threshold wattage, which is relatively low. But at the same time, during that ride, they may have a few dozen relatively modest efforts of 30s to 2-3m up to or above their threshold wattage. Such is the nature of cycling, where it’s very natural for a lot of cyclists to ease into an easy pace and then kick a little bit harder on every little rise or headwind section without paying much attention to the big differences in intensity. And even more extreme, cyclists necessarily coast into stop signs, traffic lights, and down hills, so it’s not uncommon for a rider to coast 10, 15, even 20% of the time. In general, these two phenomena can be viewed as a good thing, because it naturally helps cyclists to develop strength and anaerobic fitness if they’re routinely doing short hard efforts up hills and after stops, but it also means that they may have to focus more if they’re trying to get in an efficient endurance boosting ride.

Don’t do only your sport of choice. Whatever your chosen sport is, you don’t want to train by only ever doing that singular activity. Of course, if you’re a cyclist, cycling will be the most specific activity that you can do to improve your race-readiness. Likewise, if you’re a runner, running will get your fitness dialed in for the events you’re getting ready for. But, when you’re months away from competing, you need to make sure that you’re building your overall fitness, strength, and working to keep a balanced, flexible body and prevent injury. If you only do one sport all of the time, then you’ll almost certainly be developing some muscles while neglecting others, creating imbalances that may or may not create functional inefficiencies down the line or even injury. Consider mixing it up, building a better balanced musculature, increasing flexibility, and stressing your body in ways that you don’t normally, keeping it stronger all-around.

Don’t do too much intensity. Even though hard efforts are a necessary and integral part of developing race-readiness, and improving fitness generally, it’s good to cycle through periods of higher and lower intensity training. That’s definitely not to say that hard efforts will be absent from off-season training, it just shouldn’t be the focus. Presumably, for most endurance athletes, leading into and during a competitive season, training will include heavy doses of high-end aerobic and anaerobic workouts. These stress your body a lot and push it to maximize the potential that you’ve built up over the previous months that you’ve been building up foundational fitness. All of those miles of steady and high-endurance training, all of those tempo and threshold efforts, the strength training and cross training you may have done during the pre-season and early-season months, will all culminate after a few months of hard training in your best race-ready fitness and performances. If you spend your off-season skipping strength, endurance, and aerobic workouts in favor of maximal aerobic-capacity workouts, anaerobic workouts, hard race-rides, etc. then you’re not getting the most long term benefit to your fitness that you could. Basically, there’s only so much time that you have to train and a finite capacity that your body has to absorb workouts and grow stronger from them, so you want to build the biggest foundation of strength, endurance, and aerobic efficiency that you can during the off-season, so that when you pile on top end fitness later, you’ll reach a higher peak. If you do too much high intensity work instead of foundational work, then you may see more fitness early on, but only see it deteriorate or stay flat throughout the season rather than reach a new high-point for you.