Getting to the top, and then staying there, takes more than hard work. My Focus, presented by Milk Life, tells the stories of one area that 24 athletes are honing in on in their quest to stand atop the podium at the next Olympic or Paralympic Games.
Chris Murphy has had a lot of success in his short cycling career, but he always suspected he could be better.
Murphy, 33, won two gold medals and a bronze at the 2017 UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships in Los Angeles and competed at the Rio Games in 2016. Over his three years in Para-cycling, Murphy quickly climbed into the world’s elite ranks of athletes for both track and road in his MC5 classification.
Yet for a while now, Murphy has believed that adding muscle might yield even better results. So, for the past five months, Murphy — a California native who lives and trains in Colorado Springs, Colorado — took time out from the road cycling season to focus on getting stronger in the gym while working with a trainer.
His motivation was to gain power so he can be faster in his biggest races. The time he took off from road cycling was really the first extended period he’s had away from competition to be able to have time to build strength, he said.
And he’s already “seeing the fruits of my labor.”
“I feel like it’s really paid off because my times lately, and my power numbers, have all eclipsed everything I’ve ever done in the past,” he said.
In fact, in a recent training session at the velodrome in Colorado Springs he posted a time faster than his own national record in his best event on the track, the 1,000-meter time trial.
He said, too, that he’s improved his weakest aspect: his starts. Murphy has been timed almost a full second faster over his first half lap, a significant quantifiable improvement.
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“The explosive power is there,” he said.
The power he’s been able to produce on the bike has been 5 to 6 percent “more than what I’ve ever done.”
After the world championships in March, Murphy said he didn’t take much time off, moving quickly into road racing. At that point, he said, he needed to step back.
“My body just wasn’t responding how I knew it can, so at a certain point I just kind of pulled the plug and said I need a little rest,” he said.
His coaches agreed.
For three months he trained three times a week in the gym for 1½ to 2 hours at a time. The past two months he’s toned that down to twice a week, but spends another day every week devoted to mobility and stretching for maintenance and injury prevention.
He’s focused on squats for lower-body strength and cable pulls to build up his upper body, among a varied program.
“I just finished up a strength phase and I’m into a good power phase,” he said. “So it’s just getting more specific. Less reps, higher weights. A lot higher weights than I’ve ever used in the past. It’s good to challenge myself to what I’m physically capable of in the gym and then seeing it translate to the bike.”
Murphy sustained a brachial plexus injury at birth that resulted in permanent nerve damage from his neck down his left arm. That arm, too, has been the subject of attention in the gym. His trainer, he said, has been open-minded and creative, designing exercises — including rope pulls — that he says he didn’t even know he could do.
“I’m of the mindset that I want the strongest injured arm that I’m capable of having,” said Murphy.
Now Murphy says he’s more excited than ever to head into a new season — in which he’ll dedicate himself to track cycling rather than both track and road — with increased strength from months of work. He has faster starts and is able to maintain better speed longer.
“It was just what I needed,” he said.
Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.