Author: Matt Russ
Your body type was primarily determined before you were born. When it comes to racing, lamenting your body type is futile and counter-productive. Cyclists can be particularly hard on themselves. Small bodied climbers wish they were faster in the flats, and the larger more powerful cyclists hate being dropped in the hills. It is the natural order of cycling. When it comes to training and racing, your body type is an important consideration, and the smart athlete will identify their strengths to exploit and weaknesses to develop.
Power to weight ratio is the “golden” ratio of cycling. Ignoring tactics, the raw number of watts per kilogram that an athlete can generate for the duration of a race will be a key determinant of the outcome. It is, however, important to note that a small climber and a large sprinter can have an equal power to weight ratio. So why is the smaller cyclist faster in the hills, whereas the larger cyclist can motor in the flats? Well, the answers to this question are varied and complex.
One theory is that smaller riders tend to have higher VO2 values, which will serve them well in the hills. A cyclist with more muscle cross section gives them the power needed to push through the increased air resistance associated with high speeds. Muscle fiber predominance (fast twitch vs. slow twitch) is another determining factor of ability and strength, as is limb length and muscle origin / insertion points. Of course there are numerous exceptions to these generalizations that should be noted, but it is well known that body type affects cycling performance. You have in all likelihood observed this phenomenon on your own. The best all-around cyclists tend to fall in the middle of the spectrum (Lance) and are of a more medium build. Climbers tend to be small and light, whereas sprinters are larger and thick muscled.
Training and racing with your body type mostly means a more analytical approach to both. Here are a few ways you tip the genetic scale:
Train Your Weakness
Athletes often make the mistake of training their strengths and not their weaknesses. If you are a good climber, you will likely spend your time training in the hills where you receive the most satisfaction. But if your weakness is maintaining sustained speeds on flat terrain, this is the area you should be devoting training time to. Remember, the strongest all-around cyclists are usually the best on a varied course.
Choose the Right Course
If you have the option of choosing your races, you can strategically gravitate towards courses that play to your body type and strengths. This may seem elementary, but I often hear from athletes who are frustrated by their lack of performance on a course that really does not favor their body type.
Race the Right Event
Consider your event type and sport. There is a big difference between road cyclists and track cyclists, the latter being very fast twitch. If you are slow twitch, have great endurance, and can go all day, choose a cycling sport that requires these skills. It can take some time to figure out, but you should get a feel for the event that suits you best.
Race Your Body Type
You can also use race tactics that are favourable to your body type. A climber can make up more time in the hills over their larger competitors. Conversely a larger athlete will hold their own in the hills and save their energy for the flats. Remember, race your strengths and know when to pour it on and when to maintain.
Strength Train Your Limiter
Strength training is another way to address your limiter and body type. Depending on your body type and race format, you may design a plan that addresses maximal strength, strength endurance, power, or a mix of these elements. Cyclists can make considerable gains in the gym but it is important to have a good plan before starting a program. Packing considerable muscle mass on an already largely muscled cyclist can, in fact, be a detriment.
Accept your body type and the inherent weaknesses that may go along with it. You can not control your genetics, but you can improve upon them.