The discussion of whether or not strength training should be applied to cyclists has been saturated with reasons why it doesn’t work for most cyclists. After all, they already have strong legs, and who needs the extra upper body weight when climbing a hill? Many cyclists will try applying strength training for a certain time of the year, and most make the claim that it only gave them dead legs and was like mixing oil and water.
Perhaps the first thought that should be addressed with strength training and cycling is what our interpretation of strength training is. There are a number of ways to go about training with weights whether it’s in the gym or in your own home, and not everyone is of the same thought process. Some think of it as body building, some as cross fit exercises, and some as power lifting, and so on. These are only a few applications in the weight room so it’s easy to understand why most would just decide that it’s not for them.
Another issue that may deter someone from adding strength training to their cycling program is finding a good starting point with each given exercise. The application of how much weight to use how many sets to do and how many reps can be confusing for someone that doesn’t necessarily know their way around in the gym. This too just adds to reasons of how cyclists may set themselves up for failure while trying to mix cycling and strength training.
At some point in our lives most of us are faced with an injury that puts us at the doorstep of rehab and we are sent home with a sheet of paper that has exercises for us to do when we get home. Most of us stop doing them and continue on with the activity where the injury originated. This is a common theme with a cycle that repeats itself if left without a proper strength routine that can bridge the gap of physical therapy and further strengthening for the injury or weakness. One of the first questions I will ask an athlete when I coach them is whether or not they have any injuries that we need to talk about. Most of them will give me at least one ongoing issue that used to be a problem and still shows up at some point. Some will talk about it as though it’s just part of the pain that they have to endure and have resolved it by accepting that it’s just a part of the ride.
Ultra racing introduces a new level of this cycle with many hours of training and racing involved. There’s a saying that states you are only as strong as your weakest link, and we all have one. This weak link could be the difference between finishing a race or not for many riders. Ultra-racing will test your limits in many ways, but if your weakest link is something that can be strengthened, putting an appropriate program in place could not only increase your likeliness of finishing, but could perhaps set you up for an even stronger finish. Often times when an athlete is committed to making changes due to an injury they find themselves stronger in other areas as well as gaining the benefit of a weight bearing exercise to help maintain good health. Since cycling isn’t a weight bearing exercise this makes strength training an even more necessary activity as each new decade of life arrives.
Strength training is often approached with an idea of working big muscles and then feared that it will make someone gain extra weight or give them dead legs for their cycling. Consideration needs to be given with the time of year that someone is going to make a start with any type of weight training, and doing it for just part of the year leaves room for error. Starting a program that will enhance your riding doesn’t always have to begin with the most complicated routines. If your approach is to stay healthy you will make a difference in time with your riding and will find that there’s a better balance for your overall riding routine. Whether it’s a routine that will help keep your back, ankles, knees or hips stronger you can help make your riding more productive and more enjoyable. Error on the side of caution but be consistent and make a plan that will allow you to build strength in a progressive fashion rather than a forced fashion that leaves you sore and tired on the bike. Be sure not to skip steps before you’re doing something more complicated if you are nursing an old injury. Save your competitive nature for the bike and do what makes sense in the gym. Consulting a strength training coach is always a good way to start if you don’t know your way around in the gym. Be specific about what you want to do when you talk to them and make sure you monitor along the way. Chances are you will find yourself not thinking about your nagging “old” injury anymore and are able to ride without holding back.
About the Author: About Kellie Moylan - Moylan Training Kellie works with athletes throughout the world with online training. She has been involved with cycling, triathlons, running and strength training for over 20 years. She is a Level 1 USA Cycling Coach, USA Track and Field Coach, is certified with the National Strength and Conditioning Association and USA Weightlifting. Her knowledge of how to apply a training program specific to the needs of an individual along with her understanding of keeping perspective of a healthy lifestyle are what make Kellie successful.