I Don’t Skip Leg Day—Putting the WATTS in Watts/kg

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Jacqueline Godbe, MD Ph.D

The personal strength training program of elite eracer Jacqueline Godbe. Did I mention that she's also a doctor? And a scientist? And finished 9th in the Esports World Champs!

Hi all! Your friendly neighborhood cyclist and physician, Dr. Jacqueline Godbe, Ph.D., here!

 

While the winter virtual racing season was an absolute blast, I’m also enjoying my off-season right now. While that “off-season” still includes a lot of cycling (100% my fault for marrying someone who thinks the ideal brunch date is a metric century down the PCH), it also includes spending some quality time with other athletic equipment. My running shoes, my squat rack…

 

Wait, what? Squat rack?  

 

Yeah. That place I go to pick up heavy things and put them down again. Because, as cyclists, we love leg day! Right?

 

What? No! That’ll…

 

And, more importantly, as a female cyclist…

🤨 Face With Raised Eyebrow Emoji | Skeptic Emoji

 

You’ll…

 

What, bulk up?  

 

…add kilos.

 

Yes. That is the point of a regular lifting routine. Self-improvement and adding weight are part of the goal.  

 

No. Like, add kilos and REDUCE your watts per kilo. You know, that all-important Zwift metric.

 

Ahhhh! Ok, I see now. Let me take off my helmet, put on my physician hat (scrub cap?), and explain the benefits of lifting heavy. Let’s start with the elephant in the room: watts/kg.

Zwift indoor bike race standings

Recently, there’s been a lot of focus on the pressure of having the lowest weight possible to race and the resulting health consequences. For me, my training, and my body, I know that I will always be one of the heaviest professional riders on Zwift. However, if I train right, I can also be one of the most powerful women out there. That’s how I managed to finish in the top-10 despite having one of the highest BMI/weights in the field.

scatter graph of BMI

And let’s be honest, as cyclists – whether we’re doing it for fitness or racing – it feels good to see high numbers in our power summaries. Really good. Like QOM, good! So we are motivated to work on our strength and power from that aspect alone.

 

But beyond the PR aspect, there are also outstanding data showing that lifting (SPECIFICALLY QUAD STRENGTH – c’mon guys, this is made for us) benefits us on multiple levels:

So back to the squat rack. Here’s my leg day routine. I’ve optimized it over the years to combine strength, explosive power, and muscular endurance into a time-efficient workout. It also adds in a bit of shoulder TLC to undo the strain of riding in TT position and sitting at a computer all day.

Leg Day Routine

Warm-up

(superset—performing multiple exercises back-to-back with little rest in between)
1. 3x20 Arm swing sequence

Warm up the shoulders and elevate HR.

2. 3x10 Heel elevated squats

Warm up the hips and find that gorgeous full ROM of the knee. Elevating the heels helps me get to full quadricep extension early. And more ROM means more gains!

3. 3x10 Good mornings

My hamstrings are usually super angry at me early in the morning. This is my gentle way of saying “Good morning” before I work them hard in the next set.              

Deadlift Circuit

(superset)
1. 5x6 Deadlift

I used to do 3-4 rounds of 8-12 but my form would deteriorate quickly. To keep volume (and protect my back), I lowered the reps so I don’t lose focus on my form!

To see this exercise performed, click here!

2. 5x12 Kettlebell swings

These are done immediately after the deadlifts to add plyometric/explosive power AND endurance. What muscular endurance I “lose” by doing fewer deadlifts in the first set gets offset here.

3. 4x10 Single leg calf raises

This is basically a rest set except I’m being productive. Calf raises let my big muscle groups (and heart) recover while giving me a chance to rehab my ankles.

Squat Circuit

(superset)
1. 5x6 Squat

Full ROM. The good stuff. Cyclists don’t skip leg days.

To see this exercise, click here!

2. 5x10 Squat jump

More plyo/endurance work. Just like the posterior chain superset! It’s like…there’s a pattern here or something.

3. 4x10 Front shoulder raises
4. 4x10 Lateral shoulder raises

Single Leg RDL

(superset)
1. 4x8 Single-Leg RDL

Like the Good mornings in the warm-up but with only one leg. Amazing hip/back stabilization for climbing out of the saddle.

To see this exercise performed, click here!

2. 4x10 Pushups

More plyo/endurance work. Just like the posterior chain superset! It’s like…there’s a pattern here or something.

3. 4x10 Rows

Get out of TT position. It’s worth it.

Single-Leg Squats

(superset– what, you think this one was going to be any different????)
1. 4x8 Single Leg Squats (or lunges if I’m just not feeling it)

***BONUS: turn them into jumps because we love plyos!***

2. 4x8 external rotation w/ bands

Rotator cuff injuries suuuuuuuuck. And while we’re not overhead throwing athletes, a really common way to injure the rotator cuff is reaching back for a water bottle. Which we, as cyclists, definitely do.

3. Abs

Dealer’s choice. Whatever seems fun because you’re at the end and you deserve it.

Refuel, Refresh, and Reward

1x Chocolate

Dark chocolate, chocolate milk, smoothie—Mix it up. Have fun. Don’t skip this step because your body needs it just as much as it requires the workout. How are you supposed to go on that ride if you don’t replenish your glycogen stores tomorrow?

 

What will you build your new, incredible muscles out of if you don’t give yourself enough protein?

 

If you find yourself worrying about this step, take a step back. Don’t let a fear of gains get in the way of your overall health and performance. Watts/kilo is important for Zwift, but overall strength is essential IRL and in ZRL. And you just did a killer workout to improve your watts!

1x Shower

I hope I don’t need to explain this one.

1x Feel good about yourself and your progress!
Strength training improves endurance for cyclists image

For a deeper dive into periodization for cyclists, evidence-based benefits of strength training for endurance, and a host of other informative articles featuring the identification, prevention, and treatment of cycling-related injuries, check out the Strength & Conditioning page of The ZOM!

Check out this and other great insights from Dr. Godbe at The ZOM!

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