The $64,000 question for cyclists aiming to boost their performance: should they make lifting weights a part of their training regime? There are many arguments for and against, and few topics raise the hackles of bike fans more than this.
But, in my view, one thing is sure: when you have a busy life and time is of the essence, strength and weight training should take a back seat. If you only have a limited amount of time to dedicate to your cycling training, then forget about lifting weights and pumping iron: focus on intervals and the sessions that will bring you the maximum benefit.
Use Your Training Time Effectively
Nobody doubt that strength training is an excellent exercise in everyday life and can benefit everybody. People of all ages should do some strength training as part of a healthy lifestyle or exercise regime from a health and well-being perspective. The benefits are boundless; lifting weights can help maintain muscle mass and core strength throughout life.
But in my area of expertise, we are not talking about ordinary mortals: we are talking about serious cyclists. For riders, lifting weights CAN be a good option, let’s say, during the winter months as an alternative to road training, or if they have the luxury of incorporating lots of variety into their training programs. During quieter training periods, pumping iron can be an excellent alternative to regular endurance training. And there is a school of thought that weight training can make a tiny but crucial difference to highly-trained athletes.
Sadly, few people have all the time in the world at their disposal. Ambitious cyclists who want to boost their performance tend to have busy lives: children, families, careers, social life. So they need to prioritize their training to get the best results possible, and spending several hours a week in the gym pumping iron may not be a feasible option. However, when you only have so much time available, something has to give, and training on the bike will almost certainly increase your performance more than lifting weights.
The Research Is Inconclusive
The studies that have taken place so far as to whether strength training can boost a cyclist’s power and performance are inconclusive. Most riders know that they must put in heavy bursts with 1,000 watts during a race. But can these bursts be improved by strength training? Unfortunately, the answer is unknown because we lack the statistics to back up any theories advocated by some bike coaches and riders.
One of the most burning questions is whether it is possible to convert the neuronal power from strength training to generate extra performance on the bike.
One of the most common theories is that weight training makes muscles more efficient when recruiting muscle fibers for contraction. This theory does sound sensible and feasible, but it isn’t straightforward to prove in the lab.
Extra body weight derived from lifting weights will slow you down when climbing or accelerating your bike. And then there is the “power-to-weight ratio,” which refers to how many watts you can push compared to your body weight. That ratio has a huge impact when you climb or accelerate.
But during the cold winter months, strength training can be an excellent alternative to road and endurance training. So one crucial question cyclists should ask themselves is whether they would enjoy doing some weight training as an alternative to regular bike riding when it is freezing outside.
Strength Training Should Never Have A Negative Impact
So, yes, strength training is brilliant from a health viewpoint, but for dedicated cyclists wanting to stretch themselves and make tiny improvements, it can be dropped if time is tight.
It would probably be ideal to have “strength training only” days in a perfect world. However, this cannot be easy in practice, especially if tackling a fair amount of endurance training.
But while strength training is a viable alternative to regular endurance sessions, especially in the winter, it should never harm your overall training regime, so sessions on the bike should always come first.