Team EF Coaching

Tejay van Garderen debunks weight training myths

In modern training, it's impossible to avoid the gym and weight training. Traditionally, cyclists have failed to appreciate its importance, but not any more. From climbers to sprinters, strength training has universal benefits - and keen to share his experience and tips, we got Tejay van Garderen's take as he debunked common cycling myths about this much maligned training tool.

There are a lot of opinions about weight training when it comes to endurance athletes. I’m here to give you some insights, debunk some myths, and help you form your own opinion - because ultimately - each athlete is individual.

Myth 1: "I shouldn’t lift weights because I will gain weight”.

Ask any pro body builder how hard it is to gain muscle size and mass. The number of weights you need to lift is one thing, but more importantly, the number of calories you must consume to be able to support and sustain that muscle mass.

Simply put - as long as you're not over-eating, you don't need to worry about gaining mass. Elite body builders are constantly fuelling the muscle mass they're building. This is what enables the muscles to grow, but that doesn't mean they're any stronger than muscles targeted without that calorific intake - you will be stronger, but you won't see an increase in size.

Myth 2: “Only sprinters need to spend time in the gym”

This is just false. Yes, Sprinters can build solid fast twitch muscles in the gym, and yes, they need more torque and power to put their wheel ahead of the competition, but climbers and GC riders can see huge benefits from gym work too.

They don't need to target exactly the same things, but ultimately, strength will support you in becoming less injury prone, improving your recovery and even boosting your cardiovascular capacity.

Myth 3: “If I have limited time, better to maximize my time on the bike rather than go to the gym.”

Obviously not everyone is a professional and very few people can dedicate their entire day towards making them a better bike racer.

Whilst absolutely the larger part of your training is done on your bike, that's not to say that the one hour slot a week for the gym session and lifting is redundant. Far from it. Sacrifice that hour, because that diversity in training will bring you infinitely more benefit than another hour of junk miles because your legs are blocked.

What are the benefits of weight training for cyclists?

Sometimes the path to your goal isn't a straight line. You go through through dips, and what you focus on can sometimes be counter intuitive.

If you are a GC rider your goal isn’t to build muscle in the gym, it is to build capillaries. Strength training will build a lot of these roads for blood to travel to and oxygenate your muscles. If you couple the strength training with high cadence training on the bike, here is where you will see massive gains.

Often, high torque efforts constrict and reduce the ability of your capillaries to carry oxygen. By training with weights and riding at high cadence, you can keep your capillaries from constricting and closing off. Not only does that help you ride faster, but it aids your recovery as you will be able to clear lactic acid much more efficiently.

What if I'm more of a sprinter?

If you are a sprinter, you can follow a different set of strength and riding plans to build more fast twitch fibers. Although GC riders and sprinters often want to train the other end, that’s totally cool. Sprinters need to survive the climbs and GC riders need a little pop to respond to attacks or attack themselves. It’s not to just put everyone in a box and say you do this and you do that. However, if you are looking to improve your sprint power, gym work coupled with some standing start big gear sprints will really build those fast twitch muscle fibers.

So how much gym work do I need to do?

Now the least sexy, but most important part of gym work as a cyclist is balance, body maintenance and general health. Core is not enough!! Cycling is such a repetitive motion at almost no impact. Bone and ligament health is going to suffer. Nobody sits perfect on a bike. No body is perfect (see what I did there).

If you are twisted up on the bike, then get on the ground you will most likely do a twisted-up plank. If you can load these movements up with some real weight, it will expose those imbalances, and force you to address them. For this reason, I am not a believer in weight machines, free weights are the way to go!!!

And it’s ok to be vein while lifting. Use a mirror to make sure you are doing to motions correctly. An overuse/imbalance injury can keep you off the bike for an untold amount of time, keeping your body strong and resilient will unsure that you can handle the stress you put on your body through pedaling.

This pays off particularly on climbs when you don’t have the luxury of resting the muscles during the dead spot on the pedal stroke the same way you do on a flat road. This was always a tough thing for me in my career. High cadence didn’t come naturally to me. But if I could train it, that’s when my best results came.