The Secret to Cycling Single Lifts
A few years ago I was reading an article about weight training for cyclists. It mentioned that many cyclists do not lift weights regularly because they are afraid of hurting themselves or their bikes. Some believe that lifting weights will make them slower than if they did nothing at all.
Others say it makes no difference what kind of exercise you perform, but rather just keep your heart rate up and eat right so you don’t get fat.
I am here to tell you that these fears are unfounded. There is no reason why you cannot become a better cyclist if you lift weights regularly. You may even improve your time on the bike and your overall fitness level.
In fact, lifting weights could make cycling easier for some riders because it will increase their power output which will result in faster times and higher scores on race records!
So let’s look at the pros and cons of lifting weights for cyclists.
Pro: You will get stronger and healthier!
Con: Your muscles won’t grow like when you lift weights regularly!
What does that mean?
Well, it means that you might have to work harder with each set and lift heavier weights. But there is a catch…
If you want to build muscle mass, then lifting heavy things isn’t going to do it. Sure, you might be able to pick up a heavier dumbbell for one rep, but if you try to lift it for 10 reps with the same weight, your muscles will probably fail on the 8th rep. If you are looking to just build muscle mass, lift really heavy things and eat a lot of protein.
But if you want to use lifting as a tool for performance enhancement and general health, keep reading!
How often should I lift weights?
Lifting weights should be a year-round activity for any cyclist. Now, I know what you are thinking… Ughhh, not another year-round activity that I have to do… But trust me on this one, lifting weights should actually make your cycling season better! You will have more energy and you won’t be as fatigued during those long weekend rides.
However, you don’t want to lift weights more than three times a week. This will keep your muscles from getting too used to the weight training and it will give them time to recover. So, if you were lifting weights on Monday, you should not lift again until at least Thursday.
If you are going to lift every day, only do 1 workout and then take two days off.
As for the number of sets and exercises, it really is up to you (as long as you are not lifting every day). Most cyclists only focus on compound exercises, but there is nothing wrong with doing isolation exercises. Compound exercises are best for cyclists because they work many muscles at once.
So, your leg extension is out, and deadlifts are in.
How heavy should I lift?
The rule of lifting weights is the 8 to 12 rep range. If you can do more than 12 reps, then the weight is too light and if you can’t do at least 8 reps, then the weight is too heavy. What you are looking for is the perfect “in between” where you can lift the weight properly for 8 to 12 reps. This is a good range for building muscle mass and strength.
Always begin with smaller weights and gradually move up in weight. Not only will you prevent injury, but you will get stronger as well. As for how many sets, this is really personal.
Some people like to do just one set and be done with it while others (myself included) like to do about three sets per exercise.
What exercises should I do?
This is the fun part! There are tons of exercises you can do and the list is practically endless. But, as a cyclist you should focus on exercises that target the large muscle groups such as the back, legs, and abdomen. As for how many sets, again this is up to you, but I would recommend at least two sets for each muscle group.
Here are some compound exercises that I recommend:
Squats – The King of all exercises. Do these right and you will be on your way to a strong lower body.
Deadlifts – See above, but this focuses more on the posterior chain (lower back/gluts/hamstrings).
Barbell Rows – An oldie but goodie for strengthening the upper back and rear shoulders. Not many cyclists work these muscles very much.
Bench Press – The most popular exercise in weight lifting. Always be sure to lift within your limits.
Here are some isolation exercises that I recommend:
Crunches – Sit ups are for the playground, try to crunch as far forward as you can.
Leg raises – Lie on your back and lift your legs up to your chest and then slowly lower them. That is one rep.
Leg Extensions – The name of this exercise says it all. Focus on keeping your knees at a 90 degree angle.
Should I take supplements?
I would recommend taking creatine monohydrate, especially if you are a semi-vegetarian. It is also helpful to take some multivitamins as well. Protein powder can also be taken after workouts to help your muscles rebuild themselves. Always be sure to read the labels and instructions before taking any supplements.
Now you are on your way to becoming an alpha-cyclist. Best of luck and have fun lifting!
-James Christopher (IXSC)
Sources & references used in this article:
Testing polymer rollers memory in the context of passenger lift car comfort by L Gardyński, P Lonkwic – Journal of vibroengineering, 2014 – jvejournals.com
Unique aspects of competitive weightlifting by A Storey, HK Smith – Sports medicine, 2012 – Springer
NHS plc: the privatisation of our health care by AM Pollock – BMJ, 2004 – bmj.com
Children’s diminishing play space: a study of inter‐generational change in children’s use of their neighbourhoods by CA Tandy – Australian geographical studies, 1999 – Wiley Online Library