I often hear that cyclists skip strength training because they are afraid they will gain additional body weight. In this series I will try to explain how cyclists can strength train without gaining extra body weight.
Before we start, I will just make sure that everyone understand that we don’t know whether strength training makes you a better cyclist. It’s still uncertain and there is still no evidence (read more on lack of evidence on strength training for cyclists here)
1. Why additional body weight should be avoided
Larger muscle cells (that will say larger square diameter) can generate more power. That is the most commonly known way to increase power, though it is not desirable for cyclists. The problem is that a large muscle mass is heavy to carry and there is a dilution of mitochondrias.
Additional body weight will slow you down when you climb or accelerate your bike.
Notice that I include accelerations, because many riders forget that their body weight also matters when they accelerate their bike out of a corner.
Enthusiasts riding with power meters may have introduced you to the term ‘power to weight ratio’. That refers to how many watts you can push compared to your body weight. That ratio has a huge impact when you climb (or accelerate.)
If you are able to increase your power to weight ratio, you are very likely to improve your performance in mountain stages, but there are also other aspects worth considering while fine tuning your body weight, like I talk about here: Maximum power output or watts per kilogram?
Thus, an increment of maximal strength made through hypertrophy will probably not result in a better overall cycling performance. Forget about most principles used by body builders, not because I don’t like body builders, but because their training programs are designed to optimize their hypertrophy.
When I recommend strength training for cyclists, I focus on strength gains through neural adaptations. In another post in this series I will talk about how we can train for neural adaptations instead of hypertrophy.
So I should drop strength training to avoid additional body weight?
No, it is very unlikely that you will gain weight if you use the principles I advocate for here in this article series.
There are some simple tricks you can do to minimize or in fact eliminate hypertrophy. As you can imagine, there are millions of people in the world trying to bulk muscles, but only the most dedicated people are succeeding in their project. The reason for this is that just like in cycling you will have to be very determined about how you train, how you eat and how you live if you want to be successful.
So building muscles is not as easy as you might think.