Good job! You've recognized that in order to improve your cycling performance, you need to add weight training to your regime.
Not only does weight training help to make you a more powerful cyclist by improving your speed, posture, and handling of the bike, but it can also help to prevent cycling injuries.
Weight training helps strengthen your muscles, correct weaknesses or muscle imbalances, develop the muscles around your joints, and increase your bone density. All of these things help to make you a better, faster, and more injury-resistant cyclist.
Although both weight lifting and cycling are important for improving your overall fitness, in this guide, I'll be focusing on athletes who take a cycling-first approach.
I'll cover the top 7 mistakes cyclists make when weight training and how to avoid them so that you can safely and effectively build the strength you need to improve your cycling performance.
1.) Not Warming Up
One of the biggest mistakes any athlete can make is to immediately jump in and start exercising. Just like with cycling, a good warm-up is essential for weight training to make sure you get the most out of your workout and help prevent injuries.
In fact, a study showed that over 30% of injuries seen by sports medicine clinics could have been prevented by warming up and stretching.
According to the Tri-City Medical Center:
"Warming up prevents injuries by loosening your joints, and improving blood flow to your muscles — making your muscles less likely to rip, tear, or twist in a harmful way during your workout. "
So before you pick up those dumbbells, be sure to do a proper warm-up of 5-10 minutes of light cardio followed by some dynamic stretches.
You can use a lighter weight to go through a full range of motion and activate or "wake up" the muscles you're getting ready to train.
2.) Doing the Wrong Exercises
Another common mistake cyclists make when they start weight training is doing the wrong exercises. When you start weight training, it's tempting to jump in with a workout routine somebody recommended.
But as a cyclist, there are some exercises that have the potential to do more harm than good. You want to make sure that your weight training routine is improving your performance, not leaving you vulnerable to injuries.
Cycling is a sport that requires a lot of repetitive movements and long training sessions. You want to avoid exercises that put repetitive stress on the same muscles and joints that you use when cycling. Exercises like these can lead to injuries from overuse.
5 Exercises to Avoid:
Dumbbell shrugs are performed by holding weights down by your sides and using your trapezius muscles to shrug your shoulders toward your ears before slowly returning to a starting position. The Laredo Sports Medicine Clinic warns that doing this exercise incorrectly can lead to muscle tears.
"Because you’re only focusing on a single muscle while shrugging, overloading your dumbbells puts tremendous risk on one area. Tearing can also occur if you let your shoulders fall from the shrug instead of using your muscles to lower them gradually."
An injury in this area can make it difficult to easily look over your shoulder while cycling, which can present a serious safety hazard while riding.
Another exercise to avoid is Leg Extensions. Leg Extensions are performed by sitting on a machine with your legs extended in front of you and then lifting the weight by extending your leg at the knee.
According to High Mountain Orthopedics, this exercise is well known for causing knee injuries.
"Because weight is placed on the ankles, the knee experiences a great deal of added force as it extends, which increases the likelihood of a patella or quadriceps tendon injury."
With the number of times you're pedaling as a cyclist, you really can't afford to have your knees out of commission. You're much better off doing squats and lunges to help strengthen your quadriceps.
A Kipping Pull-up is performed by swinging your body and using the momentum to "kip" your chin over the bar. While this exercise can help develop upper body strength, it also puts a lot of stress on the shoulder joint.
Mike Dewar, a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), warns that this exercise can lead to "acute overuse and chronic issues with the shoulder joint, elbows, and muscle tissues."
An injury to your shoulders can make it difficult to control your bike as you ride.
Overhead Military Press
Another exercise to avoid is the Overhead Military Press. The Overhead Military Press is performed by holding a weight in each hand and pressing the weights straight up over your head.
Many people experience shoulder pain when performing this exercise and many sources claim that doing it incorrectly can cause shoulder impingement.
The Advanced Injury Treatment Center notes that when performing the Overhead Military Press "there is a high risk of injury without appropriate mobility or stability."
And even if you execute the move correctly, this exercise will definitely aggravate or worsen any pre-existing shoulder injuries.
You're better off skipping it and performing alternative exercises such as front, side, and rear lateral raises with dumbbells. Just make sure not to go past horizontal at the top of the raise.
The last exercise you should avoid is the Leg Press. The Leg Press is performed by sitting at a machine and pressing a weight away from your body with your legs.
Personal Trainer George Guerin warns that this exercise is dangerous for your lower back.
"The Leg Press exerts enormous compression forces on the spine that can potentially damage vertebral end plates and cause disk herniations."
This is the last thing you want to deal with as you spend hours hunched over a bike on your next long ride.
3.) Ignoring Upper Body and Core
Another crucial mistake cyclists make when weight training is ignoring their upper body and core. A lot of cyclists make the mistake of thinking that weight training is all about the legs.
But if you want to be a well-rounded cyclist, it's important to focus on your upper body and core as well. Strong arms and a strong core will help you generate more power on the bike and improve your posture and balance when getting out of the saddle.
Plus, strong arms can help you pull yourself up those hills and give you an edge over the competition.
When it comes to preventing injuries, let's remember that weight training helps strengthen bone density as well. Strong bones are important in a sport where you have a high likelihood of a crash or fall at high speeds.
Having a strong upper body and core with stronger bones is an important part of protecting yourself from injuries.
4.) Only Doing Upper Body and Core
While some cyclists are guilty of avoiding their upper body and core, some make the mistake of only training these areas.
If you want to be a successful cyclist, you need to have strong legs to power your pedaling. It's important to find a balance between upper body and lower body workouts.
You don't want to make the mistake of thinking that you can just ride your bike and that will be enough to strengthen your legs. Adding in lower body workouts will help:
- improve your leg strength and power.
- give you more power to sprint toward the finish.
- increase your endurance and efficiency while riding.
- lower your likelihood of injury.
Making sure you strengthen your entire body will help take your cycling to the next level and prevent muscular imbalance injuries.
Don't Forget Your Adductors
A specific area of the legs that you want to make sure you don't miss when weight training are the adductor muscles. The adductors in your legs are a group of muscles located on the inside of your thigh.
These muscles are responsible for pulling the thighs together, rotating the upper leg inwards, and stabilizing the hip.
When these muscles are underdeveloped, they can cause instability in the hip and your legs to bow out as you pedal. This limits how much strength you can put into the downward motion of pedaling and you'll lose power as you cycle.
To avoid this, make sure you're adding in some adductor-specific exercises like sumo squats or lateral lunges into your workout routine.
5.) Doing Cardio With Your Weight Lifting
When it comes to cardio, some cyclists make the mistake of adding it to their lifting. Cardio is an important part of cycling because it helps improve your endurance and heart health.
And cross-training is important too, but when it comes to cardio, you want to make sure you're doing it on the bike. Why? Because when you're out on a ride, your body is constantly changing gears and using different muscle groups.
This type of interval training helps improve your VO2 max (the amount of oxygen your body can use) more than just running on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike ever could.
In other words, if you want to get better at cycling, you need to cycle. And if you want to improve your endurance, make sure you're doing some long rides on the weekends.
6.) Training With Low Rep/High Weight Workouts
Another easy mistake for cyclists to make when weight lifting is to choose low rep/high weight workouts. A low rep/high weight workout means choosing a weight that you can only lift for about 4-6 repetitions per set.
While this type of workout can help build muscle and strength, it's not the best choice for cyclists. That's because the risk of injury is much higher when using heavy weights.
Chris Carmichael, CEO and Head Coach of CTS, warns that "with lower resistance, athletes are able to maintain proper technique longer as they fatigue. When you are lifting heavy and doing it wrong, you can get hurt pretty easily, whereas the consequences of mistakes are typically less serious with lighter weights."
In general, you want to stick with higher reps and lighter weights when weight training as a cyclist. If you're looking to build muscle, choose a weight that you can complete 8-12 reps per set.
This will help prevent injuries while still helping you build muscle and strength.
7.) Not Stretching
The last important mistake that cyclists often make when weight training is not stretching. If you're so eager to get your training session done that you skip stretching, you're increasing your risk of injuries.
Cyclists especially need to be vigilant about stretching because of the repetitive motions involved in pedaling and lifting weights. Over time, these repetitive motions can lead to tight muscles and a reduced range of motion.
Stretching helps improve your flexibility, which can help prevent injuries. It also helps improve your range of motion, so you can generate more power on the bike.
Plus, stretching after a workout helps your muscles recover faster.
As well as stretching, it's important to roll out your muscles with a foam roller or lacrosse ball. This will help release any knots or tightness in your muscles, so you can prevent injuries and improve your range of motion.
The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center notes that foam rolling your muscles "can improve your range of movement, increasing your speed and flexibility."
To foam roll, simply place the foam roller on the ground and roll over each muscle group for about 60 seconds. If you find a particularly tight spot, stop and hold the pressure for 10-15 seconds before moving on.
Weight training can be a great way to improve your cycling performance. But it's important to avoid these mistakes so you don't end up injured.
Remember to focus on quality over quantity, mix up your routine, and get enough rest to avoid overtraining. If you do all of this, you'll be well on your way to becoming a stronger, faster cyclist. Safely.