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Does weight training make you slower on the bike?

Spring is here. Many amateur cyclists are getting excited for the upcoming racing season or those Saturday morning hit outs with their mates. Where at the end of either hit out, bragging rights over a coffee at the local cafe are a must. Calories burned; coffee earned. LOLIt’s no secret, to get better at cycling one needs to bank quality km’s. Getting a great base of km’s under your legs and building a strong efficient engine are paramount to your cycling success and fitness. This means spending a large proportion of your training on your bike, and making sure your bike and set up are personalized to your shape and ability by a professional at your local bike shop like Omara Cycles.

Winter is a great time for banking km’s. However, one area of fitness many cyclists turn a blind eye to is strength training. Now, late winter / early spring is the best time to really start building some muscle / strength.  Many endurance athletes think that building muscle will slow them down. This is far from truth. Strength and power are required to produce speed. Speed wins the sprint at the end of a race. Strength is required to grind against a head wind or climb that rise we all hate. Strength endurance is also required to be able to fire those leg muscles for long periods of time. Now, we are not saying spend most of your time in the gym pumping iron, far from it. About 80% of your training should be on your bike, the other 20% working on strength and mobility.


Studies by businesses like Strength Matters show many amateur competitive cyclists lack in the below areas:

  1. Need to lose body fat;
  2. Need to improve hip and thoracic spine mobility;
  3. Need to get stronger.

We are going to concentrate on the building of strength for this article.

Strength is not about building big muscles, it’s about improving your bodies capacity to recruit maximum amounts of muscle fibres for the activity being undertaken via your nervous system. That is, your brain tells your muscle to recruit more muscle fibres to produce a higher force. The brain sends a message via the nervous system to activate a muscle or group of muscles to produce the force required to perform the activity at hand. In this instance, press down on your pedal as well as pull back and up on the other pedal, or engage your core and use upper body to hang on to the bars. However, yes you will build some muscle along the way. Not a bad thing if you ask me 🙂

Sounds simple? There are a lot of muscles and groups of muscles actioning at once to produce this pattern. For most amateur cyclists that are club racers or Saturday morning bunch ride warriors, we need to focus on what’s called General Strength. Elite and high-level athletes also need to consider sports specific strength. Missing the general phase is like trying to run before we walk.

Cyclists require some basic levels of fitness in the following area’s

  1. Balance. Can they balance on one foot for 30sec or more? Both sides.
  2. Core / glute strength. Can they hold a strong plank and glute bride for at least 1.5min each?
  3. Lower body stability and control. Can they perform a squat with good form and can they hinge at the hips while maintaining a neutral spine?
  4. Grip strength. Can they hang onto a bar with their body weight for 60sec?

These are very simple standards. By improving the above movement patterns, improvements in their cycling performance will follow.

Now, let’s consider some more specific strength standards.

  1. Farmer or loaded carry. 90sec at about 75% body weight
  2. Push ups. Perform tempo (3sec rep) push ups, full depth. Male 25 reps Female 10 reps;
  3. Pull up or chin up. Can they perform any? 3-6 would be a good start;
  4. Hip hinge. Deadlift 1.25-1.5 x their body weight for 5 reps;
  5. Squat. Single leg split squat 75% body weight or bar bell back squat 75% 6-8 reps;
  6. Turkish get ups. Be able to perform 5 reps each side with a 12-20kg DB (female / Male).

Based on the above, a weight training session designed for an endurance cyclist or the summer crit racers will include some upper body push and pull moves and lower body push and pull moves targeting the large major muscles of the body. These exercises would include but not be limited to, Deal lifts, Squats, Bench press and pull ups or any form of row. As well as a healthy mix of core work including Turkish get ups. Now these moves are all excellent and safe moves, as long as they are performed correctly and under control. Engaging with a Personal Trainer in Bentleigh East like MoveWell Health and Fitness or finding a small personal training group would be a great benefit.

Now, if you could dedicate 2 one-hour sessions per week to improving strength, here is a sample program you could adopt. As you progress and the weights / resistance get heavier, you would reduce the rep count and increase the sets. Also, as the weights get heavier, incorporate longer rest periods. With this in mind, the below 2-month training plan is a great starting point. Follow the set / rep scheme as described below for the first 4 weeks, then modify by increasing the weights and adding 1 or 2 sets and dropping the reps to a range of 6-8 for the second month.

Day 1. Hinge focus. Posterior chain including glutes, hamstrings and the core muscles along your spine.

Start with activation and mobility of lower body and thoracic spine.

Work out. Rest about 45-60sec between sets.

  1. Dead lift 3-4 sets of 10 reps
  2. Seated, (straight leg) single side shoulder press 3-4 sets 10-12 reps each side
  3. Turkish get ups. Build in weight to 5 each side
  4. Renegade or sumo stance dead stop bent over row 3-4 sets 8-10 reps each side
  5. Split stance squat, either level of raised back foot. 3-4 sets 10-12 reps each side
  6. Finish with a 6min wall sit, every minute on the minute perform 4 push ups.

Day 2. Squat focus. Thighs, glutes and all core muscles.

Start with activation and mobility of lower body and thoracic spine.

Work out. Rest about 45-60sec between sets.

  1. Barbell back squat 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps
  2. Pull ups or lat pull down 3-4 sets 8-10 reps. Super set with Weighted box step overs 12
  3. Turkish sit ups, or any core activity that requires movement in multiple directions 3 sets 8 each side
  4. Single side DB chest press 3-4 sets 8-10 reps each side
  5. DB Romanian dead lift 3-4 sets 10-12 reps. Super set with 10 Russian KB swings.
  6. Finish with 3 rounds. 45-60sec rest between rounds.

30sec plank

30sec side plank each side

30sec Dead bugs.

The above two workouts will provide a great overall strength base for most cyclists with a focus on the two big moves being hip hinge with the dead lifts and leg strength with the squats. There are many variations of strength workouts that can be adopted for cyclists, the above workouts are a simple format that covers all bases. Of course, we would not suggest anyone perform these sessions without having the coordination, mobility and knowledge to perform all the moves safely with great form.

So, does weight training slow you down? No way, it makes you go faster!

I hope you found this article interesting and it has given you some food for thought on how you can improve your cycling performance by incorporating some regular strength training.

Your health in focus,

Jase.

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