Saturday 17 January 2009

The Compleat Tour de Basement: Weight Training for Cyclists

There are some who feel that weight training is a waste of time for cyclists and the limited scientific studies carried out so far have had mixed results as to whether pumping iron makes you faster. There are fears that the possible addition of muscle mass in the upper body (remember Lance Armstrong pre-cancer?) will provide no tangible benefits and in fact will be just that much more weight to carry around.

In fact a strong torso contributes to pedalling action by providing rigidity against which the quadriceps can work. Most of the training programs for cyclists I have seen tend to be aimed at building strength rather than mass and as the riders moves into the racing season the weight program becomes one only of maintenance. Increased strength means reduced fatigue although aerobic capacity seems to be the limiter for endurance. Stronger muscles last longer and stabilize the body, improving technique and efficiency, allowing the cyclist to keep in the proper form longer.

Not to be overlooked is the fact that cyclists typically suffer from low bone density as cycling is not a weight-bearing exercise. Studies indicate that during the Tour de France pro riders can lose up to 25 percent of bone mass, and a surprising number of Masters-class racers suffer from symptoms of osteoporosis. Weight training helps combat this, as do weight-bearing exercises such as running, and calcium supplementation.

There is also a saying “lift weight to lose weight.” Aerobic exercise burns calories but the body’s metabolism returns to pre-exercise levels quickly, perhaps in as little as 30 minutes, whereas strength training “confuses” the metabolism for a much longer period. In addition, having more strength means you will burn more calories as muscle burns calories at a higher rate than body fat.

My coach has given me a simple program that provides the periodization recommended, working from light weights to much heavier weights and then backing off to more reps with lighter loads. I am presently doing three weight sessions a week. At the moment I am doing the full gamut of legs, arms and chest and core but I will soon divide the workouts so that there is one day for each of the major muscle groups and the core would be worked every day.

In addition to my coach’s comments, I have found a very useful guide to weight training to be the recently revised Weight Training for Cyclists: A Total Body Program for Power and Endurance by Ken Doyle and Eric Schmitz. This 2nd edition of their 1998 book, released in November 2008, incorporates new information on core training and lower body exercises. It is very clearly written and explains how strength training in the weight room translates to endurance and power on the bike.

Different exercises for the muscle groups are described and illustrated with very good line drawings that are simple but effective. I have photocopied the section on core workouts and have supplemented my coach’s suggestions so that I am doing more work with a stability ball. There is also a chapter reviewing the best series of stretches I have seen.

The last part of the book presents a range of training plans that are time-efficient and look quite effective. I have incorporated parts of them into my own workout and although it is not quite My Year of Abs yet there is a definite improvement in my core strength.

Of course, weight training can become so addictive that it takes away focus from its goal here which is simply preparation for cycling. While doing my workouts I focus on what I want them to accomplish for me on the road. For example, the leg presses and squats will build up leg strength that will, I hope, allow me to turn a very big time trial gear at high revolutions. I am getting a 56-tooth chainring for motivation!

“Weight Training for Cyclists” is an up-to-date and comprehensive book that is invaluable in building a program to increase strength. Clearly-written, attractively-presented and reasonably priced, it belongs on the shelf of everyone interested in improving their riding.

Should anyone be interested, here is my current workout, designed to maximize strength. Most of it is a single set of six at maximum weight, although pullups are to failure (ouch) and a lot of the core exercises are for 20 or 30 reps.

Machine Squat
Leg Sled
One-Leg Sled
Hanging Leg Lifts
Bicep Curls
Lateral Raise
Lat Pulldowns
Seated Row
Side Plank
Ab Crunch on Ball
Ab Roll with Ball
Ab Bicycle
Ab Crunch
Back Extension

Of course, there are lots of other exercises to consider. In addition to the free weights and machines at my gym, I have a set of dumbells, a stability ball, a chin-up bar and lots of rubber resistance tubes at home. The tubes alone can provide an amazing workout! I also use the Fit Deck exercise card pack when travelling or for variety at home. Of course, you don't need any equipment at all since bodyweight exercises, like push-ups and crunches, are very effective. As you will recall, one of my New Year's Resolutions is to beat Groover's 100 push-ups in a row. I think my weight loss program will be easier...

A weight training program should be a fundamental component of training, coupled with the right nutrition. And nutrition will be the next stop on the Compleat Tour de Basement.

Weight Training for Cyclists: A Total Body Program for Power and Endurance
by Ken Doyle and Eric Schmitz
224 pages, illustrated
VeloPress; 2nd edition (November 18, 2008)
ISBN-10: 1934030295
ISBN-13: 978-1934030295
$18.95 list, but you can get it for $12.89 at you-know-where


Will said...

That's a pretty serious and organized training program. good for you.

Believe it or not I have been using a nutrition planner - similar to since Jan 1st to lose a few pounds.

It's amazing how competitiveness to do well and the guilt of having to record "bad" calories into a program makes on eat less/better.

It's putting a crimp on my beer drinking.

Good luck with your program.

Sprocketboy said...

I enjoy using and it is fun to try and balance my eating so that I hit a roughly 60% carbs, 20% protein and 20% fat mix. It really is a challenge and I too dream of drinking more than one beer a week now. Not to speak of pizza...

Good luck to you too and stick to it!