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debating value of weight training(20 posts)

debating value of weight trainingDuane Gran
Oct 19, 2001 4:17 AM
So it is the off-season... I'm still planning to ride about 200-300km per week (about 15 hours per week), but I'm dreading the weight room. Based on my experience last winter it just made me more fatigued and didn't affect my overall strength. Unfortunately, raw strength is my biggest weakness. I have great aerobic fitness and endurance, but I simply don't have the strength to turn the hard gears.

This is my dillema. The biggest problem with the weights is that it cuts into my riding time. Aside from the fact that I find it more boring than riding the trainer without music, it just doesn't feel like time well spent. All of the cycling specific weight training movements are meant to simulate cycling as close as possible. Well.... what can be closer than actually getting on the bike?

I'm interested in some other viewpoints. I consider myself an avid racer and I'm willing to do whatever is needed to win, but I simply hate the weight room.
'tis the season... (longish)Kyle
Oct 19, 2001 7:59 AM
there was a similar post on MTBR recently. I guess everyone is hanging up their bikes for the year...

While there isn't a lot of good data on the effect of weight training on endurance performance, it seems clear that for elite cyclists (which I'm assuming you are if you can stand 15 hrs/week on a trainer) lower body resistance training is not indicated.

A study at the U. of Cape Town tested the effects of lifting on 40k TT performance and found that performance actually decreased. It was unclear if this was because the riders had to reduce on-bike time to avoid overtraining or because of actual adaptations in the muscle that reduced endurance (strength and endurance adaptations are mutually exclusive in a maximally trained muscle.)

Could lifting improve sprint strength, though? Perhaps, but probably not as much as on-bike power training. Another study on the subject of specificity put a test group on an 8 week squat program. They increased their squat strength by 70% but that translated into only a 35% increase in leg press strength and a 5% increase in knee extension strength. So it seems clear that short term pedaling power would be improved to some degree, but probably not to the same degree as a more specific training routine. I have never seen a longer term experiment in which the test group tried to then transfer that power over to biking by increasing bike time and tapering weight training time down to a maintenance program. It would be interesting though...

I like to set my trainer at an aerobic resistance and then occasionally unclip a foot and pedal with one leg until my form starts to fall apart. Specificity Plus--you get resistance training and you actually have to pedal better than you probably would normally in order to keep the one-legged action smooth.

The best argument for off-season resistance training is that most of us just can't get psyched for sitting on the trainer for half the year. This winter (after an obigatory month off,) I plan on riding the trainer 1 day/week, XC skiing 2x/week, and lifting 2x/week. If I could force myself onto the trainer for the same amount of time/week instead, though, I'd almost certainly be better off.

Upper body lifting is another story. I don't think there is any question that a moderate program will help your biking (road probably less than mountain.) Focus particuarly on core strength. Also a guy on MTBR marks his weight bars with the width of his handlebars. A good idea...
Thank youDuane Gran
Oct 19, 2001 2:04 PM
This has some good info. For me the winter is pretty mild and the temperature rarely keeps me inside, it is just the road conditions when it occassionally snows. I appreciate the input.
re: debating value of weight trainingbrider
Oct 19, 2001 2:19 PM
There are two ways to look at weight training for the cyclist:
(1) Increase strength for cycling -- This is the way MOST people look at weight training, and will give the results that were posted earlier (large strength gains in the lift that only translate a small amount to on-bike performance). If you want to build cycing strength, then utilize high gear riding, hills, etc.
(2) Increase strength in those muscles that are neglected in cycling for health reasons -- Probably what we should ALL be doing, and doesn't require that much time or heavy weight.
But you pointed out something that often gets neglected -- adding weight training to an already busy schedule usually leads to overtraining. Weight training shouldn't take a lot of time, 45 minutes tops. Just do one big movement (squats or deadlifts), a pushing movement (bench press or dips) and a pulling movement (rows or pull ups), then abdominal work and you're done.
re: debating value of weight trainingJon
Oct 19, 2001 3:21 PM
I largely agree with the above posts. I've just finished a review of the latest in specificity research in
Coaching Science abstracts, as well as Owen Anderson's reports in back issues of Peak Performance
Online. There are a couple of justifications for periodized weight training. One is that over a racing
season some muscle wasting inevitably occurs. Two, weight training restores and helps maintain
overall muscle balance, which contributes to injury prevention. Beyond that there is very little
transferability of generalized weight training gains to sport movements unless the weight training
movements are performed in similar planes and ranges of motion as cycling, and most importantly,
mimic velocity of cycling movements. This last point is critical. Third, when you do increase
weight room time you must reduce on bike time, b ecause of the total energy expenditure involved
in combining activities. Hormonally, as well, weight training and heavy aerobic training exert opposing effects.
As a result, I'm doing a reduced,bike specific weight program this winter, and combining that with an
increased emphasis on on-bike resistance work such as muscle tension and climbing intervals.
For state of the art advice on functional strength training, see Tudor Bompa, Periodization Training for
Sports, Theory and Methodology of Periodization, and Joe Friel, Cyclist's Training Bible. Like you, I have
a huge strength issue in my cycling and am looking for truly effective ways of compensating for my
rotten luck in the genetic lottery!
On-bike resistance trainingjacques
Oct 21, 2001 3:23 AM
These are all very interesting posts. I'd like to add a personal observation.

On-bike resistance work has worked well for me. But when I started doing this, I ran into a small mental barrier. Most of my riding is done as part of a group. I was very reluctant to do on-bike resistance work in a group environment. It just seemed silly, for example, to do a standing start from a stop sign in a 53x13 while everyone else spun up to speed smoothly.

The solution was obvious - do all my on-bike resistance work alone. It allowed me to structure my sessions exactly the way I felt they would do the most good. For me, that turned out to be doing standing starts and riding precisely timed work intervals into a headwind or uphill in what a casual observer would consider a ridiculously large gear.
I can relate. The trainer works too! (nm)Jon
Oct 21, 2001 9:01 AM
Don't have a trainer, but it would definitely work (nm).jacques
Oct 22, 2001 5:08 AM
re: debating value of weight trainingObiwan
Oct 22, 2001 9:17 PM
I totally agree. I have learned as a USCF coach, that the rule of specificity applies to all sports. After speaking with many top level pros and trying the gym myself, I'm a cat 1 roadie, it seems that the only thing really gained in the gym, and for example a leg press machine, is that it teaches the body to be good at moving a leg press. There is a specific circular motion that can not be duplicated in the gym and I firmly believe that cycling is the best training, or I like to say "practice" for a cyclist. The euro pros have for years raced cyclo-cross and track during the so called off season, just look at Eddie Merckx for example. Six days track events, not weight training, was the way to have incredible fitness. A more recent example is Miguel Indurain. After his 4th victory in the tour it was thought that his weakness was the in the mountains. What did he do? Did he take time off the bike and run or ski or even go to the gym? No! He worked in the mountains on his bike and made climbing a strength. I think the current books on training are incorrect. They may be that way so that Joe Q Public doesn't over due it and injure himself. Specificity is the key to performance in any sport. You do not become good at cycling or any other activity unless you practice that activity. Obviously you have to listen to your body and recover, but you shouldn't throw away the fitness gained during a season of racing by taking time off and lifting weights. If your races will be hilly, then get busy with the climbing, if time trials are your bag, perform tt workouts. If you want to be good at lifting a barbell, go to the gym.
followupDuane Gran
Oct 23, 2001 5:32 AM
I appreciate all the input from others in this thread. I asked my coach, who will ultimately be the final word in this matter for me. He had the following to say:

Years ago football, baseball, track, and basketball coaches warned their athletes not to engage in weight training. They thought that weight training would slow them down and stiffen them up. They were wrong. Today all of those athletes regularly lift weights, and today all of the sports have stronger, faster and more efficient athletes. Cycling is no different. Weight Training increases your musclar composition, and "aerobic" training contributes to muscle wasting. Weight training is very high intensity exercise, which causes you muscles to reach total exhaustion within a matter of minutes. This is what causes your muscles to grow. You will never reach total muscular failure while cycling. Yes, pushing a big gear and riding hills is tiresome and can elicit some muscular growth, but not close to the same degree as high intensity weight training. Weight training will never mimic cycling movements. Leave the specific and skill training for cycling and the strength gaining for weigths. Adding muscle mass will increase your metabolism, which is important for maintaining your leaness. Cycling will not do that. Weight training will increase your bone density and joint stability, so when you crash you won't break your bones or dislocate your joints. Cycling is very restricted in movement and biased in muscles involved. For long term health it would be adviseable to enhace you full range of mobility and keep you structure balanced.

Weight Training when done properly is pure exercise and it is not at all fun. Cycling is (even racing) is not pure exercise, it is recreation and it is fun. So if you would rather ride then lift, that is why. I would suggest that the benefits of weight training out weigh the discomfot you will experience while doing so. At the very least I would suggest you spend 20-30 minutes a week performing high intensity weight training. This should not hamper your ability to ride.

Well... there it is. I believe I will proceed with less time spent on weights this winter, but I don't think I should bag the weight room entirely. I believe I'll be doing high gear resistance work on the bike along with weights to work on the strength issue.

Again, thank you for all the input,
Oct 23, 2001 5:47 AM
Doh! Your coach beat me to it - my main points being joint stability and building strength through the muscle's full range of movement.

By building basic body strength in the gym you can then effectively transfer that into cycling specific strength via big gear drills etc..

I believe you're in the DC area no? Are you using a local coach (Fitness Concepts etc.?)

followupDuane Gran
Oct 29, 2001 6:19 AM

Yes, I live in the DC area. The coach is actually affiliated with the Evolution Fitness Club in Vienna, who is one of the sponsors of my team. I think he is a well-meaning fellow and has over a decade of racing experience. There are some very informed arguments on both sides of the fence here on weight training.

I think part of the problem is that fanatical cyclists (most racers) are concerned about the best use of time. Some of the replies have put a little fear in me, since climbing is my main strength. The problem is that very few races are won in the mid-atlantic by the best climber. Sprinters nearly always win, and ultimately without a good "kick" at the end it is hard to win. Solo breakaways are hard enough, but once they become your style nobody lets you get away.

That said, I think I'll have to hazard the chance of diminishing my climbing a little in favor of developing my sprint. The weight training should be beneficial this way.
I disagree with some of this...Kyle
Oct 23, 2001 7:32 AM
for a few reasons...

1: Football, track (sprint), baseball, etc. are high intensity, short duration efforts. African marathon runners do not do lower body lifting as far as I know.

2: "Weight Training increases your musclar composition, and "aerobic" training contributes to muscle wasting." While it's true that some studies have shown an actual decrease in muscle size with endurance training, it is hardly 'wasting.' There actually may be an advantage to smaller muscle fibers due to faster O2 difusion (less distance), among other things. Higher levels of contractile proteins in the muscles increase size and strength, but can 'crowd out' endurance adaptations in a highly trained unit (the dreaded mitochondrial dilution.)

4: There would be some fat burning benefits to increased muscle mass, I guess. It seems to me that elite cyclist I know have more trouble maintining their weight than losing it, though.

5. Crash resistance: Sure, but this speaks more to upper body and not lower body, right? Most cyclists have pretty strong legs and stable joints already. We're not talking about health here, we're talking about speed. High intensity/duration sports probably aren't good for you in the long run anyway.

The bottom line is that you probably aren't going to see any improvement in your 40kTT results from lifting (assuming you're substituting it for riding and not sitting on the sofa eating Doritos.) It does seem likely that you could see a significant improvement in sprint/jump power output though--which can be very beneficial in a race. The key is to balance all this out so that you don't create a weakness.
re: debating value of weight trainingHugh Balls
Oct 23, 2001 10:48 AM
I suggest that you take a look at MIchael Colgan's "Power PLan." Instead of wasting three days a week in the gym, and being tired at least the next three days, Colgan explicitly believes in one day a week, less than an hour, with very heavy sets and very low reps, thereby frying only the fast twitch muscles, which will inevitably lead to better sprinting and force, and leaving you 5 good days to work on aerobic skills, which we should all be doing anyway if we race frequently. Skills AND power - not one or the other. I am doing it and am quite happy so far. Pick up the book, I recommend it highly.
re: debating value of weight trainingJon
Oct 23, 2001 11:45 AM
I've tried a one day a week maintenance program which is similar to this, lifting about 90% 1RM for
4 to 5 reps per set. It was recommended by an acquaintance who just finished his Phys.Ed. degree.
They had done some research on this type of training in the elite athlete conditioning program.
With this kind of program have you experienced any problems with delayed onset soreness due
to the once per week frequency?
re: debating value of weight trainingHugh Balls
Oct 23, 2001 3:06 PM
I only experienced soreness the first few times. Yes, it is hard. I suspect that a very good warmup (I ride 1/2 hour to the gym, and then stretch, and then lift) is crucial due to the intensity. Colgan also recommends just 3 sets of maybe 8, 4,and 6 reps in the middle phase, and then for the last 7 weeks for pure power, 5,2,3,2,3 approximately. With the slightest drop in strength or ability, go home. It is all about quality and not quantity.
re: debating value of weight training (Sprints will be boosted)Cyclorocket
Oct 23, 2001 4:09 PM
A climber shouldn't do weight lifting at all, it increases muscular mass but makes him lose his quads muscular coordination, witch is VERY important.

BUT; If you are a sprinter(or what to do better on crits, perhaps me) Go for it, you will make a big loss of endurance and a big loss in climbing (building muscle means adding weight + losing muscular coordination). The best for you is to do Legg pulls on a bench-press adaptor that only cost 100$ MAX, take some medium weight, the next day YOU MUST do a coordination exercices (such has going at 105rpm on a 10milesTT else then 80rpm, go at 120rpm for 15sec with a normal outpout)

I tried that on august till now (my physical education at high school told me to do it), The results were very good.

There was no loss BUT no gain on TT's, the climbing were just a bit better, BUT hell the sprints were boosted by 5kph (I'm still just going to 57kph...but hey you never saw my climbing rocketed legs in action...) final speed on 200m, + short accelerations are a real joke, BUT holding top speed is a TERRIBLE pain.

It's up to you to decide who much time you can invest in your training.

I never tried 53-12 on the trainer...but the weight exercices combined with coordination training IS productive for boosting accelaration.
re: debating value of weight training (Sprints will be boosted)doog
Oct 26, 2001 1:51 PM
I read an article just after the Sydney games about the olympian gold medalist sprinter from the US (Tony somebody?). He won by a hundreth or tenth of a second so the exact reasons for his win cannot of course be totally understood, but, he did leg presses until he threw-up.
Pretty convincing to me, for sprinting anyway.
re: debating value of weight training (Sprints will be boosted)Hugh Balls
Oct 29, 2001 4:16 PM
There is more than one way to lift weights, and if you only do very short sets of reps, so that you use only fast twitch, the mass gain is utterly negligable - your talking about 1- 2 ponds MAX. And no, weight lifting won't make you "lose" muscular coordination. That is what those 3 days a week for the next 3 months endurance spin rides are for...
Lifting properly can help you - but it has nothing to do with body building or non-bike specific endurance.
re: debating value of weight trainingclaw
Oct 28, 2001 5:31 AM
A few interesting points gleaned from a Medline search.

1) There is no evidence that doing 3 sets of resistance exercise is better than one set. Several studies showed no benefit from the extra sets.
2) Leg presses are very different than pedaling because they require the muscle to contract while it is lengthening (ie lowering the weight). This is called eccentric exercise and creates DOMS( delayed onset muscle soreness) much more than concentric exercise. It also provides a more potent stimulus for muscle hypertrophy. There is nothing to suggest that increasing the volume of eccentric exercise will increase the stimulus for promoting hypertrophy. The increased DOMS, however, will reduce the ability to train on subsequent days which is deleterious.
3) The data on weight training and cycle performance is very mixed. Good studies are difficult to design and conduct. For example stimulating hypertrophy (and possibly hyperplasia)through eccentric training may yield different results for TT vs road race events or flat vs hilly courses. Also, it is known that endurance training can convert fast twitch anaerobic fibers (type IIb) into fast twitch aerobic fibers (IIA). Testing prior to this transformation may yield different results compared to testing after a cycle of endurance training.
The bottom line for me is that weight training is probably helpful and does not need to be time consuming or especialy painful.