It is 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 certain: 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 is in any doubt that in everyday life strength training is excellent exercise and can benefit everybody. From a health and wellbeing perspective, people of all ages should do some kind of strength training as part of a healthy lifestyle or exercise regime. The benefits are boundless; lifting weights can help to maintain muscle mass and core strength throughout a person’s 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 the 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 prioritise 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. 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? 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 they recruit muscle fibers for contraction. This theory does sound sensible and feasible, but it is extremely difficult to prove in the lab.
Extra body weight derived from lifting weights will slow you down when you climb or accelerate 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. 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 extremely cold 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.
In a perfect world it would probably be the ideal scenario to have “strength training only” days. In practice this can be difficult, especially if you are 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 have a negative impact on your overall training regime, so sessions on the bike should always come first.