It’s no secret that strength training is beneficial for cyclists. From health benefits such as improved bone density to performance benefits such as improved pedal stroke force production and efficiency, it’s easy to see why cyclists are hitting the weights.
However, as an athlete and coach, I know that lifting for your sport is very different from lifting for other purposes and if you don’t do it right, both your weightlifting and cycling performances suffer. Instead, the schedules and exercises must complement one another.
To further expand on this topic, I reached out to Team Wilpers in-house applied strength expert, Ryan Hopkins. From middle school athletes to MLB and NFL players, he knows how best to enhance sport performance using strength training. Please see below for our interview Q&A:
Matt: What are the benefits of strength training for cyclists?
Ryan: There are primarily two:
1) By building a stronger body using weights, you are better able to handle cycling training load and thus progress faster. I like to think of this as changing your own “stress vs strain curve”. In other words, you experience less strain for a given amount of stress.
2) Strength training puts stress on your body’s neuromuscular connections (think mind to muscle). This stress stimulates improvements in intramuscular coordination and intermuscular coordination. With improved coordination, your body gets more efficient, burning less energy for the same amount of work on the bike.
Matt: Just as the demands of your cycling training should change throughout the year (think “in-season” vs “off-season” training) so should the demands of your strength training. How should strength training for cyclists differ during periods of more intense cycling training vs periods of less intense cycling training?
Ryan: Great question and what we often see are people trying to achieve everything at the same time. This results in less than optimal performances both on and off the bike. Just like everything in life, it’s about knowing your priorities and when to focus on what. At a high level, when the demands of your cycling training are high, strength training needs to take a back seat…and vice versa. Here are some more specific tips:
- During in-season/more demanding cycling training:
- Focus more on muscle activation vs overload and simply maintaining what was built in the off season.
- Think low weight, low reps and moderate effort so that the residual fatigue from your strength session does not interfere with your next cycling session.
- 1-2 days a week of strength training a week is sufficient with low to moderate weights at low to moderate volume.
- During off-season/less demanding cycling training:
- As it becomes easier to meet the demands of your cycling training, you can focus your efforts more on strength training volume and intensity. This is when you can really “move the needle” in your strength game prior to your next big ramp up in cycling training.
- Think of strength training 3-4 days a week and try to incorporate a blend of higher intensity with volume and load.
Matt: We often hear that during more demanding phases of cycling training, cyclists are riding hard 3 days a week. When would you have them strength train? Also, would the experience level of the athlete make a difference (i.e. beginner vs advanced)?
Ryan: Just like most things in life, “it really depends” haha. Remember that the end goal is the following: Avoid letting the residual fatigue of the weight session interfere with the rider’s performance in their next workout. More experience athletes tend to recover faster than less experienced athletes. That isn’t “always” true, but something to take into consideration.
For the vast majority of people, getting off the bike on those harder ride days and getting after some minimally invasive exercises while they are still warm makes the most sense. Muscle activation is achieved but also muscular endurance is stimulated given their body hasn’t had much time to recover from the ride. It just should not be very heavy weight.
However, with stronger athletes that can recover more quickly, you could do the following:
- Have them wait 6-12 hours post hard ride and then hit the weights. This keeps the subsequent recovery day still an actual “recovery day” while allowing the athlete to have a little more energy and sharpness to push during the weight session.
- Have the athlete do strength training on the day after a hard ride with the same rules applied…not doing so much that they can’t meet the demands of their next session.
Matt: Cycling is a very leg dominant sport. Should athletes only strength train their legs?
Ryan: True, however you want the athlete strength training the entire body with an extra emphasis on the legs and hips (or lumbo-pelvic region). The gains you are hoping to achieve on the bike include force production and posture.
Matt: What are 1-2 high value exercises cyclists can do “in-season”? Same question but in the “off-season”?
Ryan: Really some of the high value exercises most specific to cycling would be the same in-season vs off-season but the difference would be in volume and intensity of their application. Here are a few examples:
- Romanian dead lifts (single and double leg)
- Single leg reverse lunges
- Single leg split squat variations for example having your rear foot elevated
- Lateral squat walks
- Isometric single and double legged wall sits
We hope you enjoyed this interview with Team Wilpers strength coach, Ryan Hopkins. If you would like to train or book a consultation with Ryan, please visit us at Team Wilpers.
Have a great day and remember to train hard, train smart and always have fun!