The benefits of strength training for cyclists are undeniable, and as more research surfaces, we continue to learn just how important strength training is for the overall health and performance of all endurance athletes. For many years, cyclists have avoided weight training, shoving the methodology under the rug of stigmas like “weight training makes you big” or “I can’t fit it into my schedule.” We’re going to bust those myths and share with you why strength training could be the most important part of your seasonal preparation.
1. Bone density
If you’ve ever crashed your bike, you learned that pavement can be one of the unforgiving surfaces to come into contact with at speed, on the planet. Weight training increases bone density in the body, making athletes more durable and less susceptible to injury of many kinds.
Endurance training can often lead to the deterioration of the body in many ways, making it extremely important to counteract that with weight training.
EF Education-EasyPost's Dr. Kevin Sprouse said recently on the Team EF Coaching podcast that all cyclists should be strength training at least one time per week, especially for middle aged + athletes.
2. Muscular recruitment
Being able to recruit more muscle fibers into your pedal stroke is one of the easiest ways to be able to drive more power into the pedals, and strength training is the best way to do that.
When you lift weighs your body will be forced to engage deeper into the muscles that it doesn’t normally use on the bike. Many cyclists suffer from quad dominance and fail to use the strongest muscle in the legs, the glutes. Doing exercises like single leg deadlifts, squats, lunges, step ups, and many others, will drastically increase a rider's ability to recruit more muscle fiber in their pedal stroke.
It's like an 8-cylinder engine running around only using 4, strength training opens the valves to a higher functioning body for many athletes.
3. Metabolic health
Strength training can offer several hormonal benefits, one of those is regulating or even boosting the metabolism. Many riders have found that they can get leaner with a proper strength training routine in combination with road riding than they were able to exclusively cycling.
Now, leaner doesn’t just mean lighter or skinnier. This means that riders can hold onto the lean muscle, while exclusively eliminating fat, which will ultimately lead to a more efficient athlete and a higher W/KG output.
The ideology that strength training makes a cyclist “big” is not only wrong, but widely misunderstood. The act of building new muscle is a very difficult one for the human body, and a sufficient surplus of protein and overall calories have to be consumed in combination with strength workouts for the body to build the new muscle fibers. Muscle doesn’t just appear out of thin air, and it’s actually a lot more difficult to build muscle than most realize.
When most cyclists get really light for competition, they often tend to metabolize some of their muscle fiber, sacrificing power for weight. This is not only unhealthy, but often very ineffective in achieving optimal performance.
Cycling can definitely takes it toll on the body in many ways. Whether it’s fatigue on your joints and ligaments from being in the riding position for long durations, or an impact from a crash that’s causing pain - strength training and corrective exercise can help you not only eliminate those pains, but in many cases prevent the injuries all together.
Improved core strength and a stronger overall body will allow an athlete to enhance their bike handling skills, helping them to avoid more crashes.
Additionally, strength training can drastically help strengthen supporting muscles in areas where you may be experiencing pain.
5. Eccentric contractions
It’s widely known in the strength and conditioning community that eccentric contractions or load are more effective at building strength.
An eccentric contract is one where the resistance is greater than the force being applied by the muscle, thus lengthening the muscle, ie; the downward motion in the squat. Contrary to the concentric motion would be pushing the weight up in a squat, where the muscle force matches the load, shortening the muscle.
In cycling, we have no eccentric load, and this is another reason why even a small amount of strength training can make a big difference in the overall ability of an athlete.
6. More dynamic ability
Improving your overall strength will only make you a more dynamic rider.
Being able to manage accelerations out of corners, getting on wheels, closing gaps, and attacking your competitors with more strength, control, and raw power will only make you a more dynamic and versatile athlete.
Additionally, having more muscular strength will support your threshold and tempo zones, at the same time as giving you more options in your set of tools to transition between cardiovascular system and muscular system dominance within an effort. This will allow you to manage your heart rate, and stay in control of your effort at all times.
7. Engaging in different planes of movement
The sagittal plane is where most cyclists spend their entire existence, and this is unhealthy for many reasons.
As humans we are built to move in all three planes, the sagittal, frontal, and transverse.
Stepping outside of your comfort zone as an athlete and working on developing strength in all planes of motion will support your overall ability as a rider, but will also improve your overall health and flexibility and even have an impact on how you feel on a daily basis.
Article: Zack Morris
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