There is a perception that strength training is just for gym junkies and sprinters. But what about cyclists? Can strength training benefit cyclists? This post shows that strength training is very beneficial for cyclists, and can help you to improve your stability and your cycling efficiency. More importantly, it is not just about being faster – strength training ultimately enables us to maintain an active lifestyle with a good quality of life longer.
Experts are still arguing about the necessity of strength training for cyclists, and some of them believe that if you are a cyclist, strength training is a waste of precious time and effort. Some even worry that the extra weight of muscle mass will slow you down. But is that true? Read this post and make up your own mind!
It seems clear that strengthening our muscles increases our cycling power. And the weight of a few pounds of extra leg muscle is not going to impact you significantly, unless perhaps you are already at a Tour de France level. More importantly, muscle strengthening improves our general health, enabling us to continue to enjoy an active life for many more years. That is why I strongly believe that strength-training exercises should be a part of every cyclist’s training. (And every person who is not a cyclist, too!)
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Why Strength Training Is Important For Everyone
The World Health Organization recommends adults should get 150 minutes of aerobic exercise and two days of strength training per week. This recommendation is related to the vast amount of research that shows that both kinds of exercise contribute to health and help prevent diseases. For example, research published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that both aerobic exercise and strength training are important to promote longer lives, but that strength training may be slightly more important. These researchers discovered that the risk of early death from any cause decreased 23% when people did strength training, and that the risk of cancer-related death decreased by 31%.
This is contrary to the emphasis that has been put on the magical powers of aerobic training for the past few decades. The point is that both are important, and that they seem to work together to promote health. Regular strength training combined with regular cycling can add years to your life, and also improve its quality.
Why Strength Training Is Important For Cyclists
Many cyclists, whether professional or amateur, are constantly looking for ways to improve our speed. For this goal, it can be extremely useful to hit the gym and improve our leg strength. It is obvious that leg strength contributes to cycling ability. After all, it is our leg muscles that crank those pedals and power us up hills.
However, as we age, our muscle mass decreases. After we turn 30, we begin to lose as much as 3% to 5% of our muscle mass per decade (Harvard Medical School). Strength training helps slow that process, enabling our muscles to remain strong longer.
Apart from speed, there is the simple issue of just continuing to cycle. As we age, it can become increasingly difficult to keep riding a bike. We may become generally weaker, so that each bike ride seems a little more daunting. We may develop balance problems that make cycling almost impossible.
It is possible to find ways to keep cycling. For example, some people move to tricycles as they age. However, for most people, the gradual deterioration associated with aging leads them to give up cycling eventually. Unfortunately, degeneration then usually accelerates due to the decrease in exercise.
The good news is that if you start to include strength exercises in your routine, you can expect to see visible results within as little as eight weeks. You will be starting a trend that will ultimately lead not only to faster cycling, but also to many more years when you will be able to remain active, keep cycling, and enjoy a good quality of life.
Key Benefits of Strength Training
Here are the key benefits of strength training, based on the research that has been done on the subject.
Strength training improves bone health, because your bones are living tissue that can actually adapt and grow. In response to increased stress, they become stronger, even in older adults. This keeps your bones strong, and reduces the risk of osteoporosis and bone breaks (American College of Sports Medicine).
Strength training improves cardiac health. Dr. Timothy Miller, a sports medicine physician at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, says:
“Strength training often gets overlooked for its importance in improving cardiovascular health, but it can be a valuable addition in reducing the risk of heart disease.”
Strength training also lowers the risk of diabetes. If you do strength training for at least 150 minutes a week, you will reduce your diabetes risk by 34%. If you combine strength training with aerobic exercise (such as cycling), you will reduce it even further. Combining 150 minutes of aerobic exercise with a minimum of 150 minutes of strength training per week has been shown to reduce the risk of diabetes by 59%. And it is dose-dependent – the more you strength train, the more you will decrease the chance of diabetes (Medical News Today). Senior researcher Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health, said:
“This study provides clear evidence that weight training has beneficial effects on diabetes risk over and above aerobic exercise. To achieve the best results for diabetes prevention, resistance training can be incorporated with aerobic exercise.”
Other benefits of strength training include:
- reduces blood pressure (Journal of Human Hypertension 26(9): 533-9);
- increases speed by increasing power (The American Journal of Sports Medicine 28(5): 626-633);
- reduces the risk of injury and helps with arthritis and low back pain (Current Sports Medicine Reports 11(4): 209-16);
- improves balance;
- preserves and improves metabolic rate;
- enhances coordination;
- reduces the risk of injury (American College of Sports Medicine);
- develops the small muscles that improve stability; and
- develops and maintains neural pathways for proprioceptions (Physical Therapy Science).
Obviously, these benefits of strength training will help to keep you healthy and strong. This in turn will enable you to keep cycling, and to cycle more strongly. Perhaps more importantly, these benefits will help you to enjoy many more years of an active life and a high quality of life.
Best Strength Training Exercises For Cyclists
If you want to remain active and strong for as long as possible, the very best thing you can do is to hire a personal trainer to set you up with a sensible program that is tailor-made for your needs and goals. The older you are, the more likely it is that you will benefit from expert guidance. If that is a bit out of reach for your budget right now, consider studying a good book on the subject, such as the excellent Weight Training for Cyclists, and using it to draw up a program for yourself.
Alternatively, check out any of posts below, which you can find right here on this blog. Just let the slide show play until you see a post that you are interested in, then click on it!
Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Start with a simple strength-training program that you can maintain over the very long term. The very long term being the very long, active life you plan to enjoy. And in the mean time, strength training will let you enjoy the fun and exhilaration of being a faster cyclist!
Good luck on your marathon!
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