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Weight Training For Cycling Part II
Date: 4 Aug, 2004
Address:

Last month Amy Taylor delivered the facts on the latest research and opinions regarding weight training.  And while the jury's still out on whether it's necessary or not, it seems that the anecdotal evidence from many other riders and coaches is strongly in the gyms favour.  So if you're thinking about giving it a go this article is aimed at helping you do it right.

 

Although road cycling is considered an endurance sport, there are still advantages to be gained in increasing your muscular strength.  Throughout a race cyclists must tackle steep hills, jostle for position and break from the bunch with sudden bursts of speed, not to mention the final sprint for the finish line.  These activities all require strength.  Now some might say that to get better at these skills why not just go out and practice them through interval training, big gears, hills etc? After all, that's more specific right?  Right, but true strength development requires heavy resistance for brief periods of time (5-30secs), which isn't always possible to simulate on a bike as momentum is too easy to generate.  Resistance training with weights is the best way to do this, and can also provide a welcome change from regular training (especially on those winter mornings!). 

 

Strength can be increased in as little as one session a week with two or three being optimal.  It should complement your other training so keep adequate recovery in mind when structuring your program, so for example, don't work on hill climbs the day after lifting a personal best squat! 

 

Pumping Iron

The two main ways to resistance train is via machines and free weights.  Machines were first popularised in the 70's as being the most advanced way to train due to the ability to focus on one muscle group at a time, thus generating more intensity and more results (if you were a bodybuilder that is).  They were also more convenient to adjust and easier to use than regular barbells and dumbbells.  A lot of gyms today are filled with the latest equipment to attract the clientele, as the majority of gym users believe that machines are the best way to train and even prefer to use them so they don't have to bother changing heavy plates or have to deal with the sweaty, apelike males that seem to breed in the free weights area.

 

But if you are after sport specific strength then nothing beats barbells and dumbbells for true functional development.  Free weights demand the recruitment of more muscle fibres to complete the exercise than machines.  They also use extra muscles as stabilizers, required to keep your body balanced.  This enables more weight to be lifted; more muscle stimulation and more energy expended which ultimately results in greater adaptation. 

  But I don't want to get Massive!!

If I had a buck for every time I've heard this from someone I wouldn't have a student loan.  Poorly trained instructors, supplement companies disguised as fitness magazines and well meaning but clueless friends all contribute to the myths that plague the exercise field.  However at the end of the day, the facts are that it is just plain hard to gain muscle; and if you're an endurance athlete, it is even more difficult.  To gain weight most people need to eat constantly, complete many different exercises per muscle group, high repetitions, short rest periods and 4-6 days per week in the gym. It is possible though, to gain strength without the associated weight gain by manipulating what you do in the gym.  Basically, do the opposite of what I just described.  One exercise per muscle group, low to moderate reps, adequate rest periods and training 1-3 times a week.  The constant eating however I do thoroughly enjoy and encourage!

The table below shows a general breakdown of the number of repetitions you should be doing depending on your goals.

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

Max Strength

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Strength, Speed or Power

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Functional Growth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Structural Growth

As you can see from the figure above to increase strength levels, 6 reps are about as high as you need to go.  An inexperienced weight trainer would still start with reps in the 10-12 range to learn correct technique, but after a couple of months lower the reps progressively.

Another thing to clear up is the fact (and it is scientifically proven) that strength training can lead to detrimental changes in the body's aerobic metabolism. Research has shown that when training for endurance and strength the change in fibre size which would normally lead to decreasing aerobic metabolism at the muscle, does not occur unless you reduce endurance and increase strength training volume.

 

Conjugated Periodised Waveloading Optimised Dumbbell Curls

Like diets, someone is always coming up with some amazing new way to train.  Almost always it is an old method re-labelled with a fancy new name or else it is complete rubbish with no science to back it up whatsoever.  At the end of the day, nothing is better than basic movements performed with moderate to heavy weight (70-90% of maximum) for moderate to low repetitions.  The best exercises involve as many muscles and joints as possible and are called compound or multijoint exercises.  Singlejoint movements are also called isolation exercises.  An example of each would be:

Isolation:  Bicep Curls-This exercise involves the bicep and forearm muscles and moves the elbow joint.

Compound:  Chin-ups-This exercise uses the bicep and forearm muscles, but it also targets the entire upper back musculature in addition to stressing the abdominals.  Two joints move, the elbow and the shoulder.

 

So which one will be the most demanding but the most effective?  Ten points if you said Chin-ups.  For those who said Bicep Curls, a copy of Suzy Aikens Bums, Tums and Thighs workout video is on its way to you. 

 

As strength training is only a small part of your program, you don't want to waste your time with impractical exercises.  It's all about quality, not quantity.  At least 75% of a decent program will utilize compound exercises.  So, say no to Leg Extensions, and yes to Squats.  Goodbye to Bicep Curls and Tricep Kickbacks, and hello to Chin-ups and Dips. 

 

No Pain, No Gain…leave it to Stallone and Arnold.

Of course, training this way is a lot harder than just performing a circuit on a few machines.   However you don't need to kill yourself doing it.  Only bodybuilders and fanatics push themselves to nose bleeding, screaming failure.  For an athlete, weights are a training tool only; you are looking for a hard workout, but not one that will take so long to recover from that all other training is affected.  Going to the point of fatigue is the aim, which should be approximately 1-2 repetitions short of complete failure.  This will still provide enough stimulation to encourage your muscles to adapt. 

 

Do I work the Pins or not?

So should you squat?  Or just stick to core training and nail the legs with hard intervals on the wind trainer?  After reading my drawn out article I think you can guess that I'm somewhat biased towards weight training. In the end it's up to the individual to decide.  But I'll leave you with a few things to think about:

  • If you do train lower body, squat and deadlift variations are the key.  Cyclists usually have tight muscles on the outside of their quads and weak hamstrings due to the quad dominant nature of cycling.  Full range of motion squats, lunges and step-ups help to target the medial quad muscles which have a large bearing on knee health and stability, and all the deadlift variations are essential for hamstring development with the added bonus of strengthening the lower back.  Both squats and deads also hit the gluteal muscles, which advanced cyclists tend to use more of.
  • If you train nothing else, train your core.  Cycling is only 20-25% efficient at the best of times.  Don't make it worse by having poor power transfer through the hips.  Amy aptly compares a weak trunk to a door with loose hinges. If you want another, how about driving a car with no suspension?!  More? Firing a cannon from a canoe?  Building your house with straw little piggy?  I think you get the message.  Look for exercises that work the trunk in all its planes of motion- flexion, extension, rotation, lateral flexion and stability.
  • There is no point in just doing a 12 week off season weights program.  To keep your strength you have to train it or you'll end up right back where you started.  After you've laid the foundations, once a week is enough to keep you on top of things in-season, but if you can't manage that then there's no point in starting.
  • Overall just remember, compound exercises, relatively heavy weight, low reps, long rest periods.  Here's a quick example of a basic program written for a cycling client.  This was one phase of the seven or so phases in the weight training year.

EXERCISE

SETS- plus 1-2  warm up sets

REPS

REST (mins)

Squats

2-4

6

2-3

Stiffleg Deadlift

2-4

6

2-3

Dumbell Bench

2-3

6

2

Chinup

2-3

5

2

Swissball Crunch

2-3

8

1.5

Medball Woodchop

2-3

6

1.5

 

It really can be that simple.

 

 

 

Ahiainen, J.P., Pakarinen, A., Kraemer, W.J., Hakkinen, K. Acute hormonal and neuromuscular responses and recovery to forced vs. maximum repetitions multiple resistance exercises. [Article] International journal of sports medicine 24(6), Aug 2003, 410-418

Marcinik, E.J., Potts, J., Schlabach, G., Will, S., Dawson, P., Hurley, B.F. Effects of strength training on lactate threshold and endurance performance. (Effets d ' un entrainement de musculation sur le seuil lactique et sur l ' endurance.) [Article] Medicine and science in sports and exercise 23(6), June 1991, 739-743

Bell, G.J., Petersen, S.R., Wesel, J., Quinney. Physiological adaptations to concurrent endurance training and low velocity resistance training. Int J Sports Med. 12, 1991, 384-390.

Sale, D.G., MacDougall, J.D., Jacobs, L., Garner, S. Interaction between concurrent strength and endurance training. J Appl Physiol.  68(1), 1990, 260-270.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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