During winter training many cyclists enjoy visiting the local gym and believe that strength training can help them perform better. But does strength training really help them?
First of all, strength training is not a magic tool to better performance. However, if you like to switch cycling training with other sports during the winter, weight lifting can be a good supplement to your bike training.
Even though so many cycling coaches have different opinions about weight lifting, there is probably a trend towards recommending strength training during the winter season. Several studies have shown that strength training may possible compensate for cycling training. However most of these studies are very small and in most cases tested on relatively untrained riders.
I believe there is a tendency that many riders overestimate the value of one specific training regime. If there was one clear answer to this question, every professional rider would use it.
Personally, I believe many riders can benefit from strength training and use it for most training programs during the winter season. Since the positive benefit from a scientific point of view is minimal (if any), I take other factors into consideration for example previous experience with strength training, injuries, motivation, success rate of training sessions etc.
So what should you do to benefit from weight lifting?
1. You need a squat rack
First of all, you need access to the right equipment for serious training. Actually, you don’t need any fancy equipment as long as you have access to a solid squat rack where you can perform the single most important exercise for cyclists. If you build a home gym, a squat rack should be your first priority (or second priority after a quality ergometer bike).
2. You need to learn how to squat
Secondly, you need help to learn proper technique for squatting. Please notice that body dimension influence your technique. What is possible for one athlete might not work for you. Still it is possible to improve your technique and that way reduce the risk of injuries and increase your benefits from weight lifting. Ask a fitness instructor to help you and give feedback (and/or make a selfie video with your smartphone).
3. Focus on building strength, not hypertrophy
If you gain more muscle mass, you might be able to push more Watts and your sprinting power might improve. However, in most cases it would be wrong to focus on hypertrophy. Heavier legs will not make you ride faster because your Watts to kilogram ratio goes down. The problem is that a large muscle mass is heavy to carry and there is a dilution of mitochondrias in muscle cells. Thus, an increment of maximal strength made through hypertrophy will probably not result in a better overall cycling performance.
Instead, cyclists should focus on building neural strength because these strength gains won’t negatively influence aerobic performance. In fact there is some scientific trends indicating that if you’re be able to activate your muscles in a smarter and more efficient way, you can perform a more powerful stroke and ultimately increase your endurance.
Here is case story about how I successfully managed to increase strength without adding body weight.
4. Don’t spend too much time
Weight lifting is time consuming for most riders. So if you are limited on time, you’ll get more value for the time spend in the saddle. From a strict time effective point of view, weight lifting should be avoided. In stead stick to your quality cycling training regime.
Does weight lifting make you ride faster?
Maybe, but there is no guarantee. So be realistic about what you can achieve with strength training. It’s a great supplement (or substitute) for your winter cycling. And if you make a few tweaks to your current weight lifting program, you can probably achieve even better results.