Curious about cycling and weight training? Is it all hype or is it an effective way to boost your speed and performance?
If you're going to take time away that could be spent on the bike, it makes sense to be sure it's actually going to pay off. In this article, we'll be covering how to combine cycling and weight training, and the benefits you can expect from doing so.
Should Cyclists Lift Weights?
The answer to this is a resounding yes! Adding weight training into your workout routine can help make that extra push to improve cycling performance. While cycling provides an aerobic workout focused on building cardiovascular strength, weight training can help fill in the gaps and take your cycling up a notch.
Benefits of weight training for cyclists
Despite being a cardio endurance sport, there are some serious benefits to incorporating weight training into your routine. Weight training can help to improve cycling performance by:
- Increasing power output-- building muscle strength helps to boost power and speed on the bike.
- Improving cycling posture-- weight training helps to strengthen your core muscles as well, which is essential for keeping good cycling form.
- Increasing energy efficiency-- by strengthening the muscles used in cycling, you’ll be able to conserve more energy which can help you to go further and faster.
- Preventing injuries-- strength training exercises help to improve joint stability and flexibility and correct muscle imbalances, reducing your risk of cycling injuries.
Do pro cyclists do weight training?
Not convinced cycling and weight training go together? Ask the pros. There's a reason every pro cyclist from road riders to mountain bikers incorporates some form of weight training.
One study found that "The strength training group saw big improvements in cycling economy, work efficiency, time to exhaustion, and development of force. All of these were significant compared to the control group and helped improve cycling performance."
Add that to faster and more powerful race finishes, improved cycling form, and increased cycling endurance. It's no wonder pro cycling teams have been incorporating weight training into their programs for years now.
How to Combine Cycling and Weight Training
Now that we understand why weight training is definitely worth your time, how do you put it into practice? Here are a few key tips to get you started:
The first thing you want to keep in mind when you start combining cycling and weight training is to start slow. Because cycling isn't a weight-bearing exercise it can be dangerous to start lifting too heavy too quickly.
You'll need to spend more time easing into your strength training workouts than you will once your body becomes more accustomed to them. So start slow and give your body time to adjust to the new demands of weight training.
Consider starting in the off-season (cold and rainy season)
If you're brand new to cycling and weight training, it's a good idea to start lifting in the off-season. This is the time of year when the weather tends to be cold and wet and you’re unlikely to be out on this bike.
Starting during this time of year will give you plenty of time to learn new exercises, perfect your lifting form, and build strength without constantly having to sacrifice good riding weather to hit the gym instead.
As I just mentioned, it's important to start slow with weight training. For that reason, it's often better to start during the time of year when you have more time off the bike.
Time your workouts
Another good tip for combining cycling and weight training is to pay attention to the timing of your workouts. Adding in the additional training has the possibility of really wearing out your body and you don't want to get so fatigued that you overtrain or put yourself at a higher risk for injuries.
If you plan to do a cycling workout in the morning and weight training later on, make sure that you give your body adequate time to recover. A good recommendation is about 6 hours between workouts.
It's also important to keep in mind that whichever workout you do first will probably get your better effort. If you cycle first, your weight training session later might suffer a bit.
That will be something you want to keep in mind as you plan out your workouts for the week. A good idea would be to pair heavy strength training days with lighter bike days and vice versa.
Create a solid training plan
Based on the tip we just covered above, it's no surprise that I also recommend you create a solid training plan before you get started. A good plan will make sure that not only do you avoid overtraining and injuries, but you'll also make sure you're hitting all the right cycling and weight training workouts.
With your cycling, you'll want to make sure you fit in enough hill, endurance, recovery, threshold, and interval training. With weight lifting, you'll want to be sure you cover all the main muscle groups and always focus on proper form.
A cycling coach or exercise professional can be a great help in getting started with your cycling and weight training plan. They'll help make sure that you're doing the right workouts for your cycling goals and avoid injuries at the same time.
Train your entire body
Another good tip for combining cycling and weight training is to train your entire body. Plenty of cyclists get distracted by just training their legs thinking it's the only muscle group that makes an impact.
However, weight training for cycling has more to do with just stronger legs. It also helps correct muscle imbalances and prevents injuries.
For that reason, you want to make sure that you train all main muscle groups in your body. For your upper body, that includes your back, biceps, triceps, chest, and shoulders.
For your core, that includes abs, obliques, and lower back. And your lower body will include quads, hamstrings, and calves.
Training your entire body will help ensure that you have optimal cycling power and performance while avoiding any potential cycling injuries.
Here is a detailed offseason workout for cyclists.
Pay attention to your form
When weight training, using the proper technique is crucial. Especially as you progress to using heavier weights.
Bad form leaves you vulnerable to injuries and often ends up working the wrong muscles. You risk being sidelined from training for potentially weeks while also negating the progress you're trying to make.
While lifting, make sure to:
- Start with a warm-up.
- Keep your back straight and your core engaged.
- Perform each rep in a slow and controlled manner.
- Don't train with weights you can't lift with proper technique.
Don't skip rest days
Last but not least, make sure you aren't skipping your rest days. It might be tempting with the added volume of workouts to squeeze an extra one in on a rest day.
But rest days are just as important for cycling and weight training as the actual workouts. You need to make sure you're getting enough sleep, eating well, and making time to stretch and roll out your muscles.
Pushing yourself too hard lessens the effectiveness of your workouts and leaves you more at risk for injuries.
How often should a cyclist lift weights?
How often you'll weight train as a cyclist will typically depend on what season it is. During the offseason, you'll have considerably more time to get in the gym.
You'll want to try and fit in 5-6 days of strength training as you work on building strength and fine-tuning your lifting technique.
During the cycling season, you'll have to adjust your program a bit. You may only be able to fit in 2-3 days of strength training and focus more on technical cycling workouts with the time you have.
Is it safe to lift weights every day?
Although it's good to push yourself and work toward your goals, there are some definite downsides to lifting weights every day. Dr. Mike Bohl, the Director of Medical Content & Education at Ro and a certified personal trainer cautions that lifting every day can lead to fatigue, muscle injury, and ultimately decreased performance.
All of which can really decrease the effectiveness of your workouts.
To prevent this, make sure you don't skip rest days, and split up your strength training workouts. You can focus on separate muscle groups on different days or pull exercises on one day and push exercises on another.
Should I cycle or lift weights first?
Honestly, the answer is going to depend on you. When it comes to combining cycling and weight training on the same day, whichever you do first is going to get your better effort.
You'll be fresher and have more energy and effort to apply to your first workout. So it makes sense that you'll want to do first whichever one is a higher priority for you.
If cycling is more important, do that first and then go to the gym for some weight training later in the day. That way you'll be able to put all your energy into cycling first and then still have enough left to get in an effective strength session afterward.
On the other hand, if you're in the off-season and want to prioritize building strength and power, then you'll want to hit the gym first and cycling second.
Just make sure to follow the tips above so you don't overdo it and cause any injuries.
Adding weight training to your cycling routine is a great way to increase your power and speed on the bike. Following these tips will help ensure that your cycling and weight training program is balanced, safe, effective, and will help you reach your cycling goals.
Just remember to start slow, listen to your body, and have a solid training plan in place. With a little dedication, you'll be cycling faster than ever in no time!