weight training for cyclists



Weight training:
The great debate- does weight training make you
a faster rider?
As far as I am concerned, no.
Does it keep your muscles healthier and joints and tendons healthier? For
masters racers in particular. Yes
Can you improve strength thru weight training. Of course.
Can you transfer those strength gains to the bike? Very poorly. Not enough
of a transfer takes place, in my opinion, to justify the amount of time
spent gaining said strength. I think one would be better off trying to gain
cycling specific strength, rather than gain it from an 'outside the pedal
stroke" source.
Of course, this flies in the face of most of the accepted wisdom on this
subject. I never make a claim unless I have had personal experience with the
debated subject.
Here is my history:
Rode for 7-8 years with success, then decide to try an off-season of a
cycling specific designed 12 week weight training program. I did this for 2
off-seasons, religiously.
I never felt any improvement. I felt like I spent a lot of time in the gym,
got to see some cute girls working out(always a plus), but was it worth the
time invested? No.
That was 3 years ago. I have since used my off-season to ride some, keep
some fitness but mostly, to mentally refresh myself for the next season..
I certainly would agree masters aged riders doing some
off-season weight work helps muscle 'wellness'.
Track riders have some different requirements, and perhaps could justify
some gym time.
Roadies? I just don't think so.
I have also watched several of my training partners adhere to a dedicated
weight program, some continuing into the season, and frankly I didn't see
the benefit for them either.
Bottom line, I think to get strong on a bike, you have to ride a bike. The
next step of course, is to figure out what type of bike workouts you can do
to actually improve you strength, your power. That is another subject.

I have included this interesting info I have garnered from a couple of
outside sources-

"Elite and recreational endurance athletes undertake resistance training
believing it will improve performance. But training for endurance and
training for maximal strength and power represent completely different and
opposite forms of activity. Endurance training consists of many thousands of
submaximal muscle contractions performed at low to moderate workloads, while
training for strength and power involves relatively few contractions at
maximal or near maximal force. From a physiological standpoint, it seems
unlikely that muscle would be able to adapt to two seemingly incompatible
training stimuli when they are undertaken simultaneously. Surprisingly, few
good scientific studies have been conducted using well-trained athletes to
determine if the improvements in muscular strength gained from resistance
training result in enhanced endurance performance.
Swimming is one sport where the majority of competitors practice some form
of resistance training. Although most competitive swimming distances might
not be considered true endurance events, elite swimmers perform huge volumes
of over- distance training. To determine whether adding resistance training
to pool training might improve sprint-swim performance, Tanaka, et al.
(1993) studied 24 experienced swimmers during 14 weeks of their competitive
season. The swimmers were divided into two groups of 12 swimmers and matched
for stroke specialties and performance. The two groups performed all swim
training sessions together for the duration of the season, but in addition
to the pool training, one group performed resistance training three days a
week, on alternate days for eight weeks. The resistance training program was
intended to simulate the muscles employed in front crawl swimming and
utilized weight lifting machines as well as free weights. Swimmers performed
three sets of 8-12 repetitions of the following exercises: lat pull downs,
elbow extensions, bent arm flys, dips and chin ups. In order to maximize the
resistance training effect, weights were progressively increased over the
duration of the training period. Then both groups tapered for approximately
two weeks prior to their major competition. The most important finding:
resistance training did not improve sprint swim performance, despite the
fact that those swimmers who combined resistance and swim training increased
their strength by 25-35%. The extra strength gained from the resistance
training program did not result in improved stroke mechanics. Their
conclusion: "the lack of positive transfer between dry-land strength gains
and swimming propulsive force may be due to the specificity of training."
In rowing, supplementary resistance training programs are still advocated by
most coaches. In the early 1970's it was common to employ a program of high-
resistance, low repetition training during the pre-season period, followed
by a gradual transition to lower-resistance, high repetition endurance work
nearer the competitive season. But during the past decade emphasis has
shifted to a greater volume of local muscle endurance work during the
pre-season, with using more exercises that simulate the rowing action as the
competitive period approaches. Bell, Petersen, Quinney and Wenger (1993)
studied 18 varsity oarsman who undertook three different resistance training
programs during their winter training. In addition to their normal rowing,
one group performed 18-22 high-velocity, low-resistance repetitions, while
another group did low-velocity, high-resistance repetitions (6-8 reps). All
exercises were rowing-specific and performed on variable-resistance
hydraulic equipment four times a week for five weeks. A third group did no
resistance training. After training, the high-velocity, low-resistance
repetition group performed better in high-velocity movements, while the
low-resistance, high-resistance group did better at low velocity actions.
But when tested on a row ergometer, there was no difference between any
group for peak power output or peak lactate levels. The conclusion: training
effects were specific to the resistance training mode and did not transfer
to the more complex action of rowing. Resistance training programs may
actually restrict the volume of beneficial, sports specific training that
can be achieved because of increased levels of fatigue.
Resistance training for endurance cyclists results in extra muscle bulk and
added weight which can reduce their performance levels. James Home and
co-workers at the University of Cape Town recently examined the effects of a
six week progressive resistance training program on 40 km cycling
performance. Seven endurance-trained cyclists who were riding approximately
200 km per week added three resistance training sessions to their normal
cycling workouts. These sessions consisted of three sets of 6-8 maximal
repetitions of leg press, quadriceps extensions and hamstring curls, all
exercises which recruit muscles used in cycling. The resistance training
program resulted in maximal substantial strength gains of about 25%. The
strength gains, however, did not transfer into superior cycling
performances. On the contrary, 40 km times slowed from 58.8 minutes to 61.9
minutes after resistance training. Additionally, cyclists complained of
feeling "tired and heavy" while riding and were forced to reduce their
weekly training distance by about 20% during the study. Although it's
impossible to determine whether resistance training alone or the effect of
resistance training resulting in tiredness which forced a reduction in
endurance training volume caused the impaired performance, it's clear that
there was no positive effect of undertaking the two different training modes
concurrently. For highly-trained athletes who are already capable of
generating high power outputs in their chosen discipline, further
improvements in strength are a less important factor in enhanced endurance
performance. At the highest level of competition, increases in strength and
power are not as critical to successful performance as the development of
correct technique. For these athletes, the concept of specificity rules! The
bottom line is that modern training studies do not support the use of
resistance training programs for improving the performances of
highly-trained athletes.

As with anything, each rider must experiment and see what works best for

Good Luck to All!
I go along with most of the above. However I feel that most cyclists underestimate how much their upper body comes into play. Next time you are in a sprint or a heavy hill climbing session check how you are using your upper arms, shoulders and back muscles. By the way look at pictures of Lance's upper body physique! :eek: Incidentally how often do you get pains in your under used shoulder, neck, and back, compared to leg, hip and knee pains, the ones that are getting all the exercise attention! Yes, us oldies need the muscles to hold our badly abused joints and tendons together. :'( No, weight training won't make you a faster cyclist, just a better one! ;) Of course it's another time problem, and if you have to choose then the bike must win.
Hey, I'm gonna have to disagree with you on this one....

But, before I go any further I do have to acknowledge your points and say that you present a very good argument against general weight training at the expense of "on the bike training". Without recapping the various studies you've sighted and your personal observations, at face value I would agree with you. BUT, and here's where it becomes a little more complicated…. First off, and this is something I've struggled with myself through out my cycling career and what has made interested in not just sports, but sport sciences. Why is it that some guys are just faster then me, when I'm training my a** off and working like a dog?

     Well, I've come to a conclusion, a theory that ties in with yours.  What I come to learn is that there are many factors that equal a "champion" or a successful athlete.  A lot of them we all know about, good genetics, high VO2's, big lungs, good strength-to-weight ratio's, (which I will come back to….) excellent recovery, mental focus and a few others I haven't mentioned… OK, the sum and total is, when you put these factors together you'll usually end up with a winner.  

     Now the flip side to this, are the rest of us "mere" mortals. Who may or may not be blessed with some, but not all of these "necessary" attributes for success.  Who have to struggle with and though our failings.  Which brings us to my theories or points. Weight training is best on two sides of the spectrum. Let me explain what this spectrum is. At one end you have a complete novice, someone new to sport in general, a beginner.  And at the other end a complete professional, the best of the best.  

Before I go any further I must state a fundamental rule; "All things being equal, the stronger athlete will win". This is the foundation of my theory and goes for ANY & ALL sports involving physical prowess and exertion. With that said, let me put it together.  Ok, as a beginner one of the first things you must do is develop basic strength, endurance flexibility and sport skills. As part of that development you have a core of fitness. Weight training along with other activities is the best thing you can do to help a beginner to hone their bodies to be able to withstand the types of stress you incur as a serious athlete.

As you go from a beginner to intermediate you will and should do less and less general conditioning and more and more specialized training. Even focusing on strengths, as a road cyclist maybe time trials, hill climbs or criteriums.  Weight training and other activities will take a "back seat" to riding the bike. Remember, that all the real weight training you've done at this point is just for general conditioning and NOT focused weight training and activities for CYCLING…. AND here is where I disagree with you.

See, most people NEVER get exposed to the kind and type weight training that is best suited for CYCLING.  And what I have found, and am finding out is that this type of training is not shone to the general cycling population. Were told, "oh, go lift some weights, it's good for you"… Without knowing that there different types of lifts that are better suited for cycling. So, Joe blow cyclist goes and does some weights in the off-season, and might get a little stronger. Which is good, but doesn't help him ride his or her bike any faster….   And becomes a little frustrated as to why….  

But, here's the catch. To do this type of training, it isn't really recommended or EVEN good for a beginning or intermediate cyclist. As a matter of fact it'll probably hurt or injury a beginning or intermediate cyclist.  This type of training is power and explosive training.  In order to do this you MUST have a base of weight training and strength.

This where the other side of the spectrum, the advanced to professional, the best of the best comes in… These guys and girls have probably maximized their potential, worked on all their strengths & weakness and frankly, are looking for "the racer edge". As we all know some "find" that "edge" in a bottle or syringe. But for the rest who are looking for something "more natural" what I'm suggesting, might do it…  

For trackies, the most serious and hard core sprinters know of this type of training. This is the bread and butter of their workout in the gym.  Now I would say that most road guys have NO knowledge of this type of training mainly because all most roadies have been told is "go ride your bike, that's all you need". Well I disagree.  Here's why.  First off, let me go back to the strength-to-weight ratio thing.  

The first thing any road guy will say if you tell em' "go lift" is "I'll get too big and heavy" which is a valid point, IF you train the way MOST people think they should. Which is in the "bodybuilder" style, well that great if you're a bodybuilder but not so good if you're a serious athlete.  Take a real good look at the Olympic lifters and Powerlifters in the lighter weight classes. I mean like the guys who weigh a whole 123 or 140 lbs. If you saw one of those guys on the street you might think to yourself, "god, what a runt". But don't let looks fool you… These guys are throwing 3 and 4 times body weight overhead, bench pressing 300 and 400 lbs. Squatting 4 and 5 times body weight.

It's hard to explain but, if you had that kind of strength reserve, can you imagine what it would be like to climb up the biggest hill or mountain for that matter, on the club ride? See, think about it…..  Think about how many of the guys on the ride, sucking wheel as you power up the mountain threatening to break the cranks with every pedal stroke?  All because you, at a whopping 140 lbs. have a monstrous strength-to-weight ratio!

This is what I'm talkin' about, all because you've done all the RIGHT training….

I think it is bunkem. You can probably find data compiled in the other direction as well. The truth of the matter is that if you look at pro and olympic level athletes they all add strength training to their routine. This sounds like the same nay-sayers that told athletes not to touch weights in the 1930-70's, as it will make them aesthetically unpleasing and too bulky to move. Marathoners, and distance cyclists are some of the last holdouts to embrace the benifits of weight training, but it is just a matter of time until more cyclists who do use weight training become the norm.

Should you replace specific training (cycling) for weight training. No. The weight training should augment the cycling. Switching from summer cycling to winter weight training as you have found isn't helpful. You should look to work both into your training schedule, with cycling (specific training) accounting for 75% of your time and weight training 25%, all year round. "Concurrent training isn't benificial", bunkum, all oly athletes do it, for one reason, it works.

You aren't going to put on a lot of mass with weight training, as cycling will negate the effects. Going to a low rep (1-3) high weight (80-100% max) program may not help either, as it will build explosive power, but without endurance. Like bodybuilding, a moderate (8-12) rep at 70% max may be more efficient. Going to a high rep (15 rep +) with low weights (30% max) will have minimal effects building overall muscular strength.

If you are going to add a weight training program to your cycling, make sure it properly augments your, specific training program. Talking to a strength coach isn't a bad idea, but if you do so describing your goals and concerns are important.

Hey guys,

just a thought: I think it might be worthwhile to consider the concept of catabolism here. Namely, cycling and the cyclist's average diet of a lot of carbs/little protein doesn't exactly cater to building any kind of muscle from weights. My brother did a ton of leg work in the gym this winter, but given that he hardly had enough protein in his diet, he made relatively no gains. I'm not sure if it's this "anti-bulking" mentality in cyclists, but eating at least 1-1.5grams of protein/lb--which is the necessary amount to overcome muscle catabolism--will not make you bulk up. Over the winter, I work out in the gym 3 times a week (abs onces a week) in the typical body building fashion (now I'm riding & doing leg work w/ faster & greater reps: 100 reps of 235 on the leg press machine). however, if any of you have every tried to really build muscle, you'll know how essential it is that you get you fair share of protein. so add cycling's anticatabolic effects on there, as well as the fact that most cyclists who do weight training probably don't get enough protein in their diets (for fear of gaining "bulk" or too much weight), and you'll realize that the reason they haven't been getting anything out of weight training is the fact that they're not supporting muscle repair & growth with their cycling diets. I think people seriously overestimate the possibility of putting on too much weight in cycling. I am just getting back into the swing of things, yet I am actually leaner around the abs than my brother (who goes for 3hr + rides 4-5 times a week).

so if you consider that most cyclists don't eat enough to prevent catabolism, I think you'll have a pretty compelling reason why you're not seeing gains from weight training.

I definitely agree w/ the other guys' points about doing leg work in the gym and performing more reps faster pace. however, I just think that most cyclists fail to realize that the 60/40 carb/protein diet (or just the greater carb than protein cyclist diet), is not suitable to support muscle growth from weight training. While this means that you will probably have to consume a ton of protein 1.5grams per lb to overcome the catabolic effects of cycling & weight training, I think it's worth a shot.
"Strength" has been a big debate lately. Everyone has their own feelings on this. I've been lifting on and off for well over 20 years. Let me just share a few things I've noticed.

1) Weights will make you strong for sure. They help prevent injury. Lifting helps create very strong tendons and ligaments. Legwork can help prevent knee injuries.

2) Lifting for cyclists is best done in the off season when no important competitions are scheduled.

3) It is very important to make a "transfer" of strength immediately to the bike, normally in January. How much transfers is open to debate. Track riders lift massive amounts of weight year round.

4) Strength is easy to maintain once you have it. For someone under 30-35 years old, it can probably be maintained for the season without too much problem by doing nothing. Riders over 35 should periodically lift every 2-4 weeks to maintain strength as needed. This may or may not mean doing legwork. Legwork and racing do not mix very well for most people. Sprinters seem to benefit most by lifting weights.

5) lifting during the season will take away from your recovery ability if racing or riding hard, even if you are doing upper body work only.

6) Bike specific strength work is the most productive way for riders to get stronger legs.
Sprints, hills, and isolated leg training (ILT)will make your legs stronger.

7) Developing a strong "core" or abdominal section is one of the most important and neglected muscle groups for all athletes, especially cyclists. Your core must stabilize and counteract the power transmitted by your lower body. Additionally, strong abs help to prevent lower back pain, especially from hard climbing.

8) Riders should focus on strength gains, not hypertrophy (growth), even though hypertrophy is a byproduct of strength training. Some people are "easy gainers" others are "hard gainers." This is determined by genetics, not diet. Some people will not get any bigger in 20 years of lifting, others will get bigger just looking at a barbell. Eating regular, "normal" meals is usually plenty for muscular growth. Exceptions might be vegetarians, dieters, or meal skippers.

Strength training is an individual thing. If you suffer from back pain, shoulder/neck pain, etc, you should experiment with some upper-body work.
Try it with your legs in the off season if you race. Don't lift beyond your capabilities. Keep good training records of riding and lifting. Document everything you do. After a period of many months, determine for yourself if strength training is helping you or not.

Good luck!!!