6 Reasons Cyclists Need Strength Training (Updated)
This is the time of year when a lot of athletes ask about strength training. Should they? Shouldn’t they? Should they lift heavy or light? Free weights or machines? And what about Crossfit? Coaches have been debating the effectiveness and necessity of strength training for endurance athletes for many years, and even my own view has evolved considerably. Ten years ago I would have told you that if you’re a cyclist, strength training is a waste of time and effort. Not anymore.
We’re Not Getting Any Younger
Any conversation about strength training for endurance athletes requires some parameters of who you’re talking about. It is still difficult to make a compelling case for elite and professional road cyclists or even 30-something high-level Masters to spend significant periods of time lifting weights. The vast majority of the athletes working with CTS Coaches and reading this blog are 35-65 years old, have full-time jobs or are retired, and have athletic aspirations that do not include National Championships or a pro contract. For this population – and I am one of you – strength training should be a component of your year-round training. That’s one of the reasons strength training plans are included in the Trainright Membership, and incorporated into personal training plans for people working directly with CTS Coaches.
Strength training preserves muscle mass
Athletes over 40 always complain about their slower metabolism, and while age plays a role, the amount of muscle you’re carrying on your frame plays a bigger one. As we get older we tend to be less active, and as a result we lose muscle mass. You may be more active than others in that you’re a cyclist, but look at your overall lifestyle. Are you more or less active now than you were in your twenties? You most likely sit more, do less manual labor, less lifting and chasing of children, etc.
Resistance Training and Weight Training Enhance Coordination
Whether you are doing bodyweight resistance exercises, lifting free weights, or using rubber tubing, there are balance and coordination components to your movements. This develops and maintains neural pathways for proprioception and balance, and it develops small muscles that help your stability. Why is that important? When your balance and coordination are not well trained during middle age you end up lifting objects or moving your body in ways that place inappropriate stress on weak muscles. This is part of the reason moving furniture or hiking with a heavy pack leads to significant soreness or injury.
For the people who are already past middle age, falling and breaking a hip is a real concern, even for aerobically fit older athletes. Breaking a hip can take years off your life expectancy, mostly because it often hastens the decline in overall activity level. While a broken hip may not be an immediate concern for most of the athletes reading this blog, an established routine of resistance or strength training, even yoga, can keep your balance and proprioception at a higher level for many years to come. The higher your overall fitness and coordination is in middle age, the more of that fitness and coordination you can retain as you get older.
Strength Training makes you smarter
It’s well established that exercise improves cognitive performance, and in recent years research has delved into how different types of exercise affect the brain. In a review in Frontiers in Medicine, Yael Netz explains that physical training (aerobic or strength training) and motor training (complex movements with lower metabolic cost, like Tai Chi and balance challenges) both improve neuroplasticity, which increases our ability to take in and retain new information. Improved physical fitness also improves oxygenation and blood flow to the brain.
It turns out intensity is a key factor when it comes to physical training activities improving cognitive performance, and movement complexity is key when it comes to motor training activities. Dual activities (activities with physical and motor components) are even more effective (and time efficient). Strength training often falls into this category because the movements can be complex and physically strenuous.
In elderly populations, there is a lot of interest in strength training’s potential for reducing cognitive decline. Not only does strength training keep older adults more mobile, stable, and physically capable; aspects of strength training can be executed by people with low mobility or balance issues. The duration and physical footprint necessary for strength training are smaller than with aerobic training, perhaps making it more practical for elderly populations. You and I may not be elderly (yet), but the principles are consistent: improved physical fitness from high (relative) intensity, complex movements has a positive impact on cognitive performance and executive function.
Strength training increases your options
This is crucially important for lifelong cyclists. I have long described something I refer to as “the cyclist’s paradox”. Cyclists have extremely well developed aerobic engines, yet very underdeveloped musculoskeletal systems for any sport other than cycling. You have the aerobic engine to run pretty fast for a prolonged period of time, but because cycling is weight-supported many cyclists can “outrun” their skeletal system’s ability to handle the stress of either the speed or duration their aerobic engines can support. Similarly, lifelong cyclist frequently have severely underdeveloped upper body strength. This limits the exercise and activity options cyclists feel prepared to participate in. When you are a time-crunched athlete, having the option to go for a run or hit the hotel gym during a business trip can mean the difference between doing something and doing nothing.
Strength training keeps you in the game
Even if you see yourself as primarily a cyclist I encourage you to expand your vision and aspire to be a well-rounded athlete who happens to focus on cycling. This distinction touches on all the points raised in the sections above, but perhaps the greatest advantage of being a well-rounded athlete who cycles is that your activities off the bike help you to be more effective on the bike. Note, I didn’t say that your off-bike activities made you faster on the bike, but rather, more effective. In my experience, well-rounded athletes are able to be more consistent in their sport-specific cycling training because they spend less time sidelined by soreness and injury caused by being unprepared for activities of daily living. Yes, silly things like moving furniture and heaving luggage knock cyclist out of sport-specific training frequently enough to disrupt training programs.
But, does Strength Training Make you Faster?
So, does strength training make you faster on the bike? Probably not in a direct sense. Even though squats, for instance, use the same muscles you use to push on the pedals, the rate of force production is far slower during a squat than it is during a pedal stroke. You don’t squat at the leg speed of a 90rpm cadence. However, in an indirect sense, the fact that strength training makes you a more well-rounded athlete, increases the range of activities you can participate in, and increases your chances of exercising on a more consistent basis, means you can apply a greater training stimulus more frequently than you could otherwise. And that can definitely make you a faster cyclist.
There are a lot more topics to cover on the subject of resistance and weight training, including what equipment and movements to use, how frequently to incorporate strength training, and how to balance strength training with endurance training. We have some additional articles on the subject, here:
5 Things Cyclists Don’t Understand About Strength Training
Getting Started Strength Training Workout for Endurance Athletes
How Strength Training Can Save Your Bones
CEO/Head Coach of CTS
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As a 50 year old who is currently doing a twice weekly barbell session (squats / deadlifts / military press / bent over rows) I do find it then difficult to also fit in 3 cycling sessions. I appreciate that as we age, strength training is probably more important than just cycling. Lifting weights is fun, but I think it does take it out of you, without you realising the associated fatigue.
Thanks so much so all your informative blogs. As an aging triathlete and busy primary teacher, I have found my strength training has helped me over the years. However, as I have started to decline in my speed and possibly effectiveness in my three sports, I believe I may need to ‘shake up’ my routines.
Stratfit is the world’s first scientifically designed and developed fitness platform. It allows elite strength coaches to design and construct strength training programs and publish them to the world in the form of an easy to use app for Android and Iphone users.
Love this! Thank you for sharing!
What about rowing? Some studies conclude it’s as good as weight lifting for bone mass https://www.concept2.com/files/pdf/us/training/training_indoor_rowing_and_osteoporosis.pdf
great article.mix it up…..swim four days a week, ride 3-4 days a week and hit the gym for some weight training. been doing this since I came back from Nam in 1969. I’m 72…..thank God.
It’s nice reading such an article on this topic. Only a few recognizes the importance and benefits of Strength Training. Even if your not an athlete or into any sports, just for fitness purposes, strength training is good.
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For what it is worth:
Thru out the year I do weights. In the summer one day a week that includes lower body and in multiple planes of movement, laterally included. Two days per week I do upper body and always core with all.
Then in the winter the off season, 4 days per week in the gym with both upper and lower body strengthening, weights, core fitness, a real mix up of work outs, including some yoga and core specific every day. For joints, I have found that starting really light and high reps (painful shoulder from an old injury) has worked well. The results of this have been really good with increased muscle strength and mass and reduction in shoulder pain and good ROM (range of motion).
On the good days during the winter, I will get outside either on a mountain, road, or fat bike, to get some aerobic activity so that when early spring arrives I can start pushing the pedals harder, longer, faster. Even just going snowshoeing is a great workout for the lower body and aerobically. Overall, feel excellent with my approach for me. Be curious and experiment with what will work for you and doing something is better than doing nothing.
Ok – great advice. My question for cyclists which method is better for cyclists? I am 70 and I want strength not bulk.
Should I do 3 sets: 10 reps, 1 min RBI, 5 reps, 1 min RBI, 2 reps. Each set weight increases until I can only do 2 reps for final set.
3 sets of 10 reps at a constant weight that only allows for completion of 10 reps on final set? 1 min RBI
Also, as I get stronger do I just add weight or do more reps or both?
While it is theoretically possible to build substantial bulk after 60, I think its incredibly unlikely that the vast majority of athletes over 60 is going to be able to get back to the muscle mass that they had when they were 25. I think that concern about building too much bulk by strength training is misplaced for anyone over 50. Young people really have to train pretty hard to build muscle mass. Building muscle is much harder to do after 50. Even body builders lose muscle mass between the ages of 60 and 80, despite continued training.
Why not try all of your proposed workouts? The first for a couple of weeks then the second and third for a like amount of time. I think you will find that the variation in reps, weights, and sets will do you more good than doing only one workout for a long period of time. If you have done nothing lately you will get a little stronger, but you can’t outlift Father Time. At 70 just be glad you can do any workout at all. Best advice is to not do too much. Stay healthy and listen to your body when it talks to you about recovery time. I am 70 and and I do a variety of strength workouts. At our age, I think that is best.
I fully agree with this article.
However the picture you use to illustrate it is I am afraid a very bad example of what NOT to do.
>> In any case deadlifting a barbell from the floor is a specialist weight lifting maneuver and should not be part of a cyclist’s routine. Developing the posterior chain is vital but she (and most everyone) would be much better advised to use a hex bar, ideally raised slightly for this purpose . Alternatively many alternative exercises that require less weight are equally satisfactory and even preferred (e.g. single leg deadlifts which not only develop leg strength but also improve core stability and balance)
>> The athlete in the foreground is showing terrible form and will injure her back. The one to the rear is a better example
Funny you should mention this fact on form as I thought the same. I perform deadlifts as well as back extensions to relieve my sciatic nerve disturbances and was instructed early on about the prevention of injury in performing these exercises. Thanks for the “heads up”!
This narrative regarding form and increased risk of injury is repeated so much that it has become fact in most people’s eyes even though there is little evidence to actually support this. I understand that you are giving this message to be helpful, but in reality not only does the evidence not support this idea, it also has the potential to be harmful. It creates and supports this idea that human beings are fragile and if we’re not careful we easily break. The reality is that our bodies are quite adaptable and if we approach any type exercise with a sensible approach, ie, manageable loads and efforts, trying not set a PR every time, our bodies will adapt to the stresses asked of it and get stronger. Competitors in strongman type competitions do stone lifts all the time with significantly curved backs and their backs do not regularly disintegrate. That said you can live a full and complete life, and get a strong back and posterior chain without doing deadlifts. However, deadlifts are not a specialty lift the needs any fear mongering directed at it. It’s a very similar movement to picking up a box or a child off of the floor.
Please better define, “going to failure” or near failure. In the past I have gone to near failure with squats, leg press or deadlift and the result was muscles shredded and I am unable to do anything for up to a week while muscles recover. I have had seasons where I have gotten stronger in the gym, but significantly slower on the bike. I have also noticed that moderate weight lifting yields incremental gains on the bike. But never has lifting to near failure helped.
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Thanks for your reply!
Did the studies have specifics of exercises, reps, sets?
I’ve read that higher weights and lower reps are recommended. That’s difficult for upper body strength work for me with various aging joint issues.
I’m a 62 year old female rider recently diagnosed with osteoporosis.
Cycling does not provide the impact for bone growth.
I’m interested in a strength training program that addresses the need for strength maintenance and improves my cycling.
I strongly believe (and have plenty of literature), one of the biggest benefits to resistance (strength) training for cyclists is the fact that it maintains, if not increases bone density. In fact, resistance training is the only way to increase bone density. Because cycling is a non-weight bearing activity, your bones see no resistance and thus, have no stress to adapt to. I read a study on pro cyclists that I found hard to believe. Bone density was measured on several subjects at the beginning of a grand tour and at the end. By the end of the tour, the average subject had a bone density comparable to 65 year old sedentary man… which is one reason why these pros break bones so easily, not to mention they hit the tarmac pretty darn hard. So, I would highly recommend to adopt a resistance program as part of your program, especially with your recent diagnosis. Good luck and keep fighting the good fight.
I agree with many of the benefits listed above. I do ST twice a week in the winter and once a week in season. From the prevention of injury perspective, I’ll also add a data point. I got hit by a car going 35mph about two years ago. My femur and a rib wer broken by the direct impact but only road rash from hitting the pavement. I’m assuming having a little more meat around my bones helped reduced overall injuries. I’ll consider myself lucky (in many ways) and keep up the ST
Good comment, I time trial, and during the season, i cut back on lifting dramatically. But on the off season, i lift like crazy, including very heavy squat reps. I find in the short term that my legs do pay the price, as in decreased maximum wattage, increased fatigue, sore knees. But, as the season approaches and i cut back on the weights and increase the ride hours, my legs catch fire, and my strength increases drastically. Anyway I think it is a long term investment doing weight training especially during the off season.
Can you comment upon venous occlusion training? I have been weight training on and off for 40 years so when I started cycling at 50 (I am 58 now) I had plenty of upper body mass, too much for racing crits and such. I discovered that I could maintain my present higher level of muscle mass by training only once or twice a week, and found this especially effective with venous occlusion training. I think this method is very effective as you get older, because it puts far less strain on the tendons and ligaments and takes less time as well. I have tried it for leg presses and standup sprinting, in intervals of 30 seconds to one minute. I would like to see some data on this if anyone has any.
Great article and I agree 100% !!! So hard for me to get people to be religious with weight training and later ‘wished’ they had. Not only does weight training do all that you mentioned above but it also doesn’t hurt making your body ‘look’ better as well 🙂 Always an added benefit.
I think that’s totally right. I’ve combined weight lifting with cycling, but when I work on my legs muscles, I always suffer on the bike the next day. I train based on the time crunched cyclist book, so I struggle doing my intervals with the soreness of my legs of the day before. Is there a better way to work on my legs to avoid struggling that much on the bike?
I do my leg workout after my ride when I don’t plan to ride the next day. The next day I do my upper body/torso workout. The day after that I am recovered enough to have a good ride. I don’t race any more, but I ride fairly hard. I am 70.
Terrific article, Chris … Thanks!
Heck, these other guys & gals are just “kids”. I’m 77 years & still climbing the high Sierras. I’m not long & lean. Rather short & stocky. Many years as a track sprint cyclist. Health & longevity hAve been my goal these past 10th years. I’mean a true beliver in moderate weight conditioning in addition to my mountain cycling here in Reno. Many thanks:
Jimmy on the Mountain.
Very Good article, I don’t find a lot information regarding Strength Training for cyclist. It is very important to know how many times a week do strength training, if it is important split between upper, low body, and core or we can do in the same section. I wold like to know if it is better to training wight at the same day a training bicycle or not, the problem is if a training the day before (12 hours of recovery) sometimes I am tired to do my bicycle training in the next day
I found whole body weight training and core training to be very effective at making it possible to keep good form and effort on long rides and especially long climbs. If your back is giving you problems on long climbs this is a good counter measure
Chris, what do you think about indoor rowing? It trains the upper body, but is it strength training ? It is not time consuming because I could do it at home and it can train my aerobic engine. Could be a great winter activity.
I do weight training squats and glut exercises 3x a week. I had a full hip replacement and lost a lot of muscle so found this necessary to get the muscle to grow. Biking was building muscle but very slowly and wasn’t growing muscle I needed for the rest of life. Two years later I’m continuing the gym weights and find it is helping my strength on the the bike when doing harder efforts. Look forward to more articles on this subject!
Oooh! Good! I am forwarding this to my husband who doesn’t seem to think weight training is all that necessary, but is ALWAYS sidelined with injuries.
“but because cycling is weight-supported many cyclists can “outrun” their skeletal system’s ability to handle the stress of either the speed or duration their aerobic engines can support. ”
Yes – that is very true. Back in the gym trying to balance things up ..!!
I would be interested in any studies showing the effects of high weight/low rep compared to low weight/high rep. I do weight training 2-3 time a week (MWF), although I do not do lower body on Friday as Saturdays are the long, hard team ride.
Former gym rat turned cyclist, currently recovering from arm surgery (to remove a lot of hardware inserted as a result of a bike crash and broken arm back in early 2016) so investigating off-season strength increasing options.
Great question. As a 71 year old guy who’s still pretty fit, I struggle with the risk of injury when I go “heavy,” and so I try and inch up my poundage at times, but really get tight about form.
I hope someone with some knowledge chimes in. Best, Jocko
I work in a physical therapy facility and the head therapist totally believes in low weight/high rep routine especially as we get older to avoid unnecessary injury trying to push/pull too heavy of a weight. Just my 2 cents worth 🙂
Thanks for the note Chris. I definitely will start with my ST this winter. I think the cold weather is a good incentive to start since many days the low temperatures make it harder to go outside and enjoy the rides. I”m planning on doing to sessions per week, but not sure how much to do in terms of repetitions and weight, and how fst to increase weight as the arms and legs get stronger.
As a 6000 mile/year cyclist who’s also a serious, expert level downhill ski bum I’m interested in optimizing strength training for both activities. Thanks!
“Even if you see yourself as primarily a cyclist I encourage you to expand your vision and aspire to be a well-rounded athlete who happens to focus on cycling. ” Good article – this thought really hits the nail on the head. I look forward to your future articles on this subject.
Also consider power yoga which has body weight positions. If executed properly yoga can prevent injuries, make you more flexible, and create more power and fluid movements. I am 74 years old and have been an avid cyclist for 33 years.
Thanks for the sensible critique. Me and my neighbor were just
preparing to do a little research on this. We got a grab a book from our area
library but I think I learned more from this post.
I am very glad to see such great info being shared
freely out there.
Good article. To be candid, I was once a CTS coached athlete – and dropped because your coaches knew little to nothing about strength training. I have lifted my entire life and came to cycling in my 50’s. My goal is to stay strong off the bike and get strong on the bike. Very pleased to see to address this topic and look forward to more articles. My cycling coaching experience was great and have gained lots of value from the experience.
Thank you for your article on ST for Cyclist. I look forward to reading the next in the series. I live in an extremely rural location and my community just opened a gym. This fall I have started incorporating ST into my workout routine in preparation for 2017. Although ST can add to stress and fatigue that can effect my cycling workouts, I think that it also helps with recovery. Can you please comment on the effects on recovery for older athletes? Also, my weight has become stagnant and I hope that ST can increase metabolic rate and encourage weight loss in my upper body so that I can one day uncover that glorious six pack.
I am a 53 years old MTB biker, begining in 2001 on the sport. Since 1986 to date, a regular member of a gym and rum and swing once a week or less. Alwalys have this old discussion with bike mates if keep the strech and weigth lifting helps to make you a better biker. I always kweep my gym sesions because I dont like the body of a full time road ciclyst, and think you must use all your sketelon bons and muscles for a better life and better support on crashes and roll Overs on the bike, or when you have to hike a bike. During the years, i have keep at least two gym sessions even on the hardest training programs.
Most of us, have a life aside of our rides, and must keep our bodys on the better shape we can. For me, better athletes make better ciclyst, specialy on races like La Ruta ore one Hundred Miller Rincon de la Vieja Challenge-volcano 100 here on Costa Rica.
Looking foward to read your future articles on this matter.
Santa Ana, Costa Rica.
Thank you for the article/paper. Very interesting read.
My question is: how can one find out which type of muscle fibers predominate in one’s muscles? Of course, without a muscle biopsy, can one use the lactate threshold test to determine is one is Slow Twitch predominant, Fast Twitch A, or Fast Twitch X predominant?
And when one knows that information, what is the appropriate type of weight/functional training and the appropriate periodization?
I guess I will have to check out Reece’s DVD (see his post below), although some of the information presented in this paper contradict what he is saying…
How much work have you done looking into the concept that weight training can have the effect of increasing the oxidative capacity of FTa and FTx fibres that just riding cannot. If true, then it would make sense that cyclists with a high % of FT would get more of a benefit from weight room training than ‘aerobes’, not because they’re stronger, but because they’ve improved the aerobic capacity of FT. It could put the argument of lifting/not lifting in context and explain the different benefits/lack of benefits between athletes. i.e. ‘fast twitcher?’…you better lift, not to become stronger, but to make your FT more aerobic. ‘Aerobe?’…lifting probably isn’t going to do much for you. Pro cyclist? … you’re probably not a fast twitcher and lifting won’t do much. Cav, Peter, get in the weight room. Chris, Alberto, don’t worry about it. Amateur cyclist? … there may be a good chance that lifting can help you. Interesting topic. Would love it if you had any resources to that effect. Here’s an interesting link: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.463.3828&rep=rep1&type=pdf …and although not likely a popular position, if the previous concept holds water, then crossfit, for amateur ‘fast twitch’ athletes, when done correctly, may improve the aerobic capacity of FT in athletes/cyclists. Sure fits the observations seen in top Crossfit athletes. (How many people can run a 51s 400m at 185 of body weight and power clean 300lbs? wow.)
Excellent advice as always Chris. I was having some lower back pain a few years ago. I read Tom Danielson’s book on Core Training Exercise for Cyclists. Tom had this same issue and with the advice of a sports trainer he was able to control this pain through a vigorous series of Core training exercises. I contacted him and he was able to give me some great advice on the elements of his book. The core exercises in the book work all core muscles and a stronger core makes you more flexible, stronger and I have seen the results. I won all 3 gold medals in the 2014 Delaware Senior Olympics and rode my best time ever. I broke the state record for the 40K road race. by minutes. I also do strength training with moderate weights and I have a paddle board which is a great cross training exercise. My back pain is now more manageable.
I came back to cycling after 20+ years awat. I am 65.
Ihave never done strength work apart from what I do on the bike.
I had decided to do some this winter, buthave broken shoulder. I am not a gym member. I am doing squats- abiut the only thing I can thng to help retain strength/muscle mass
Great, informative article Chris. Helps to hear it from a professional coach.
Yes! Yes! Yes! Total believer in all body conditioning, for Cyclists, Runners and Triathletes. Nicely written article.
Thanks for all the info you pass on through this blog – all realy good stuff!
Im 63; I have alaways done gym / core work. But have always had issues getting my riding and gym to work together efficently. When I feel Im riding well its because I have cut out for a period or really reduced the gym work. Gym does seem to make me sore / tiered etc. Would love to here your method of making it all work together efficently. And the range of exersizes you suggest.
Gymwork will make you sore because you are using heavier weights than what you are used to do on the bike and if you do it more often it will become easier. Gymwork needs to be stopped at least two weeks prior to a goal event. Do not neglect gymwork. The stronger your upperbody..the better output onto your legs during climbing or sprinting. Remember you pull on the handle bars during higher power output on the legs. If your core is weak, you tend to lie down on the handlebars and then you restrict your breathing.
A strong(not big) upper body and arms certainly do play a role.
Just curious as to why the comment I left at about 8:15 -8:30 this morning was deleted.
Drop me a note at the email address above and help me understand what was inappropriate about it.
Thanks, Rick Oshlo
It didn’t get deleted, the comments plugin flagged it for moderation. We’re not sure why it got flagged, but it’s been approved and should appear below. – CTS
As a 64 year old cyclist, I can say that short workouts in the gym using about six compound exercises, heavy weight and low reps, has an advantage for cyclists– it helps keep you lean! It is hard to get to a competitive weight with cycling alone if you are time crunched.
Strength Training is an undeniable benefit for cyclists at any age, possessing any/every level of ability. Young or old, beginner or advanced it makes no difference. Based off research I’ve read and it’s real world (personal) application I believe you can present a case this way…take any two athletes with similar genetic ability, make one 10% stronger overall (with weights) and the stronger athlete will win every time….barring mechanicals and the dreaded bonk:)! Disclaimer: The success of any weight training program for any athlete is correct program design. It’s paramount that exercise prescription considers and includes the appropriate number of sets/reps, amount of weight used, total volume of training, recovery, nutrition, exercise selection, and periodization which all play an integral part in improving your overall performance. I didn’t even mention addressing strength asymmetry or postural imbalances which one must be keen to do. Strength training for cyclists is important…….finding someone qualified to lead you in such endeavors is as important.
I personally do not recommend Crossfit for cyclists, the reasons why would require an entire article.
Also the reply concerning muscle fiber types…..last I saw, evidence exists showing type IIa and IIb being manipulated (over long periods) to transition to type I via endurance training. Evidence for the contrary does not exist…..In other words lifting weights using any tempo or load does not take type I and make them type II. Besides any type II fibers an athlete may have will check out after 5-10 seconds of all out effort. This is why the best sprinters need lead out trains and sprint no longer than 100-150 meters.
I’ve been a cyclist for 15+ years and a strength athlete for 25+. My passion for both motivated me to develop and release: The Next Level/ Strength Training for Endurance Athletes. It was the first DVD of it’s kind back in 2002 and I’m humbled and pleased to say I was able to help many a cyclist/runner/triathlete perform better by adding strength training.
I am 73 and an “avid” cyclist. I believe my pretty good fitness is due to my cycling. I used to concentrate on core strength building and so I believe my core is in pretty good condition.
But I have definitely found my general strength to have declined. I have decided that strength training is necessary. But I’m wondering what leg exercises to do since I have one total knee replacement and the other is getting close to that. Upper body – no problem, but what to do for my leg strength?
Thanks for the informative blogs…
I’m 71 and discovered that weights improved my performance on the bike about 15 years ago. I periodize my strength work in coordination with my yearly training plan. Thus I can add in the weights rather than substituting weights for aerobic work and always ride before the gym work. I find that makes the gym work more effective, not less. After all, I’m not bodybuilding, I’m endurance training.
Last fall, at age 63, I finally got serious about strength conditioning. I should have done it decades before. I worked with a fitness coach who, in complete coordination with CTS coach Renee, worked up a “growth” program for the winter months and a “maintenance” program in the summer months.
The effect of all this was quite positive on and off the bike. My weight is exactly where it was a year ago, but muscle mass is up some, fat weight is down some – a good thing for overall health and fitness. And, I do feel stronger on the bike with a couple of personal bests this summer on longer climbs in the Colorado mountains
The fitness coach used the Functional Movement Screen method as the basis for determining my specific program ( http://www.functionalmovement.com/fms ). I am not promoting that method and have no ties to it in any way. I mention it only to call out the concept of targeting exercises that balance and coordinate muscle strength. I have learned to love a Bosu balance ball!
Thanks Chris, good points to become a more well-rounded athlete.
One thing I do, (helps save time too), is some strength training while I do a short, 15 min Hike-a-bike towards the end of my shorter rides, (does require either mt. shoes, or cleat covers).
I lift my bike, (one hand on fork, the other on a seat stay), and very slowly lower it behind my head, (great for triceps, delts, upper shoulders), taking close to 30 secs to completely lower, than raise to full extension. After that, I moving my bike across the front of me from side to side, (fairly slowly), getting great torso work. I even do a few curls, (hands in different places on bike).
All of this is done while I walk to the pavement, (I’m on dirt, making it easier to walk in cycling shoes).
Combining this with regular, short yoga sessions has kept me in good overall shape, but I’m always improving & learning, so tahnks again.
Scott, sunny Palm Springs
Similar to Kerry’s comment, I would like to see more discussion of power (Olympic) lifting vs pure strength training and the apparent advantages of using free weights vs machines.
Properly coached Olympic lifting (cleans, jerks, snatches, etc.) are explosive moves that seem to play more directly into cycling and bone density than do pure strength moves such as squats, leg presses, pullups & the like. In addition Olympic style lifting & other free weight exercises engage many muscle groups in the core contributing to overall balance and core strength.
As my strength coach told me, at age 69, life is about putting the heavy box on the top shelf & staying upright, not pulling a lever, pressing a pedal or other isolated muscle group moves.
Anyone riding a mountain bike on rough trails needs upper body strength, XC race courses included. One of my longest-lasting injuries came, not so much from falling, but from over-torquing my right shoulder, hauling on the bars of my bike to keep off the deck. I’m a core strength believer, now.
While i realized the benefits of a strength program; i’m currently doing (just started for the winter season) 2x/week with squats, deads, legs presses and core, i’m also “worried” about my not getting “enough cardio”; that strength training steals valuable time away from building the cardio when i could have done 4x20m z3 or z4 intervals. are my worries “real” or just being a nervous nelly?
guess you can’t have it all at 50 with a job that takes too much time away from cycling…….
From my experience I think it can definitely make you faster. Especially if you’re a naturally weak skinny person like me. Especially deadlifts.
Very timely blog, as far as I am concerned. Like Karen above, I too like to do CrossFit, and I have had some conversations with my cycling coach about the best way to use the two together, since, at least on the surface, they may work antagonistically (anabolic versus catabolic).
I am still working out the best way to schedule my workouts in a typical week. Sometimes CrossFit workouts leave my legs wobbly for 2-3 days, making cycling very painful.
I think you are on to something with this topic, since I have not seen many information about cycling and CrossFit together.
Is it better to spin easy the same day after a CrossFit workout? What would a typical week of cycling training look like, if one wants to do CrossFit at least twice per week?
I look forward to more blogs on this subject.
While I agree for most part with your artical, I must say as a 50+ track cyclist (distance and sprint) your artical concerns road endurance riders? Track riding seems to be missed from most/all your training? And the gym is an extensive part of my weekly hours.
Dr Phil, I too am a track racer. Soon to be 67. This time of year I spend most of my time in the gym and very little time on the bike. Does it help. I believe so buy no real way to say for sure because I have never done without it.
Great article Chris. My feeling is that strengh training also helps improve form (in any aerobic sport). The longer one can maintain good form, the greater the effectiveness and power output and in turn muscle recruitment at high end efforts. But once form goes, efficiency begins to take a hit. But it can be hard to get aerobic athletes to cut down on bike or run time to hit a program that balances musculoskeletal imbalances!
What about lifting to effect muscle function? Power lifting to not add bulk or maintain muscle mass but tech muscles to fire quick. As endurance athlete cyclists typically have higher concentrations of type 1 muscle fibers. However, high weight low rep with explosive form has potential to adapt aerobic conditioned muscles to be more like type two muscle fibers. It’s been working for me this year!
Would love to hear more about the benefits of yoga and whether it counts as “strength training”. I have to believe the core and balance training coming from a good flow class is beneficial, but how does it compare to body resistance or weight training?
Thanks for all the info and help over the years, good job.
I am 58 and cycle on the road or trail 3-4 times a week , do some racing in the spring and fall and have a full time job and kids.
I would be interested in a efficient and effective weight routine that includes balance training that could be done in 90 min. How many times a week is ideal?
Thanks so much so all your informative blogs. As an aging triathlete and busy primary teacher, I have found my strength training has helped me over the years. However, as I have started to decline in my speed and possibly effectiveness in my three sports, I believe I may need to ‘shake up’ my routines. I look forward to your next blog for further information on what possible specific movements I may need to add or modify. Especially in the cold, great, white north of Canada!
I am a 65 year old weekend bike rider. I have decided to try lifting weights this winter to increase my overall stregnth.
I can remember a time when basketball,/baseball players, runners and other “non stregnth” were forbidden from lifting weights. Times have changed.
Thanks for these comments. I love going to my crossfit gym to try and get some strength training and mobility in on my days off the bike. I am glad it is beneficial. Sometimes I have wondered if it can affect your performance on the bike as far as having tired legs maybe after lifting.
Thank you for all of your blogs. Very interesting.
I am 60 yrs old and avid cyclist.
I am looking for your advice on a weight training program to complement my cycling training program.
I am looking for exercises for my legs and upper body i.e. arms and chest.
This will help with my cross-country skiing.
Thank you for your expert advice.
It is greatly appreciated.
Very interesting and relevant…..broke both hips in two crashes!!!