by Andrew Randell and Steve Neal
At our gym, our clients are often surprised at how much strength training – classic strength training with free weights supplemented with circuit training – helps them with their riding. So, just what is it about strength training that benefits cyclists?
Get more out of your muscles
Strength training leads to better motor control. You also gain the ability to fire more muscle fibres when activating a muscle; it’s not a bigger muscle, but you can use more of it.
With more strength, you’ll become a better bike handler with the means to manoeuvre your bike over and around obstacles. Think of the tight switchback on the mountain bike ride and lifting that front wheel ever so slightly to tighten your turning radius. Or, think of the crack in the pavement that you need to move your front wheel away from when you’re out on the road bike and in the middle of the peloton.
This feature is a big one in terms of getting better on your bike. If you can stay injury-free, you will train more, simply by not having to take a break to recover from whatever ails you. Without aches and pains, you become more consistent, which, over time, will make you better than the rider who is always taking time off to recover from that sore knee.
When you are working through a grinder-circuit workout – for example, 20 minutes during which you do three exercises throughout a circuit – your perception of effort starts to change and your ability to sustain the work starts to develop.
An increase in strength, increases your ability to co-ordinate movement between your shoulders and hips. Stand up on the bike and feel the shoulder, hips and legs working together through your midsection, without a weak link, to drive the bike up a hill.
Improving your breathing mechanics is a great way to get better on the bike: deliver more oxygen efficiently and the body can do more work. With better control and awareness of the body through strength and circuit training, you develop better respiration.
The bike doesn’t offer much in the way of impact to maintain your bones, so it is important to supplement with strength training to keep up our bone density. Cyclists usually fall into an older demographic. Once we get passed 40 years of age, we start to lose our muscle mass. Doing strength work can help you maintain and even rebuild your muscle mass.
To keep reaping the benefits of strength training, once you start, you should never stop. The work will improve your mobility, overall strength and health. If you keep it up, even once a week during the summer, you can maintain the improvements and even build on them.