Should Cyclists Strength Train?

Cyclists often fear that strength training will make them bigger and heavier which could decrease their efficiency on the bike. While it is true that weight training can cause an increase in muscle mass, it is extremely unlikely that the type of training recommended for cyclists would ever result in major weight gains. (You would have to spend a LOT of time in the gym to see big mass gains. Cyclists should be spending a little time in the gym and a LOT of time on the bike. )

Who should be strength training? Are you a twenty-something professional cyclist spending 40 hours per week in the saddle? If so, you may not find any immediate benefit from spending a significant amount of time lifting weights. For the rest of us, strength training is critical for our fitness and health and can even improve our performance on the bike. Strength training should be a part of your year-round training program.

Strength training decreases risk for injury. Multi-joint strengthening movements commonly prescribed for cyclists help to develop and maintain proprioception, coordination, balance, and stability. This is important on the bike, but also in daily life. When you have trained muscles and coordination, you are more likely to move your body to take advantage of this. Cyclists often have underdeveloped core and upper body strength. People who are untrained and have weaker muscles often get injured by lifting objects in a way that puts too much strain on weak muscles.

We are not getting any younger. As we age, the rate at which our bodies’ burn calories (metabolic rate) decreases. While some of this decrease is directly related to the aging process, more of the decrease is related to the loss of muscle mass and can be reversed with consistent strength training. Additionally, attaining or maintaining good strength in middle age, leads to the ability to retain that strength as you get older. Furthermore, lifting weights can counter balance the negative effects of non-weight bearing activities, such as cycling. This is imperative as bone density decreases with age.

Keep your metabolism high: Because muscle is more metabolically active than other tissues in the body, a leaner, more muscular, body will burn more calories throughout the day. This increase in metabolism can help maintain ideal body weight.

Will strength training make you faster on the bike? Maybe, but not in a direct sense. Your body responds to training in a very specific way, what makes you faster on the bike, is time spent on the bike – riding faster. Although lunges use the same muscles you use to pedal, the speed of the movement is much slower during a lunge than it is during a pedal stroke. However, strength training can make you a more well-rounded athlete. If you have a busy life, having the option to go for a run or hit the gym can mean the difference between working out or sitting on the couch. If your strength training program increases the range of activities you participate in thus directly increasing the frequency at which you exercise, then you’ll be more consistent in your training which can absolutely improve your speed on the bike.

General Strength Training program tips: If you are just getting into strength training, it’s a good idea to meet with an exercise physiologist or a certified personal trainer. An exercise professional can work with you to develop a plan to help you meet your individual needs and goals.

Here are some general tips for an effective program:

  • Use multi joint movements whenever possible- a seated leg curl works only your hamstrings. This movement does not mimic real life movements. Instead, choose squats or lunges to work the lower body.
  • Prevent muscle imbalances – If you’re only lifting 2-3 days per week, you’ll want to do a total body workout each time you visit the gym. You can hit your whole body with 6-8 well thought-out exercises.
  • Don’t forget the Core – Core strength is key to transferring power when climbing or standing.
    No need to live in the gym – Be strategies with your plan. You should be able to complete a total body workout of 6-8 exercises in less than 60 minutes.

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