Weight training for cyclists, part one

Off-season weight training for cyclists
Some cyclists are afraid of the gym. They fear they will emerge in the spring carrying 20 pounds of excess muscle weight, while others are very self-conscious because they can barely bench press the bar itself.

The truth of the matter is that weight training in the winter can be very beneficial for cyclists, you wont end up looking like a linebacker, and at least there will be plenty of people in the gym who are able to spot you, including children.

Endurance athletes do not strive for large, bulging muscles. Increased strength is the goal of weight training for endurance athletes, not increased size. You are trying to increase the amount of force your muscles can exert and how fast they can produce that force.

So, how do you gain strength without gaining size? There are two ways by which muscles get stronger. Either muscle cells get bigger, or more muscle cells contract at the same time.

The number of cells that contract at once is determined by a process called neural recruitment. Basically, the nervous signals from your brain reach a given percentage of the cells within a muscle. One of your bodys adaptations to training is to increase the number of recruited muscle cells. You get stronger as a result of using more of the muscle you already have.

There should be a 2- to 4-week transition period as you begin your weight program. Lifting weights forces you to put your muscles under tension for a larger range of motion than usual. It is important that you become accustomed to using your muscles in this range of motion before adding significant resistance. This helps to reduce the soreness many people experience as they begin a weight program. During this period, 1 to 3 sets of 12 to 15 repetitions, one to three days a week is appropriate.

Pump up the volume
High-volume, low-resistance weight training is very useful for bringing about this training adaptation and should follow the transition phase of your program.

During this 3- to 4-week high-volume phase of your weight program, you should be performing 3-4 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions, 2 to 4 days a week. This phase not only increases muscle fiber recruitment, it also prepares your connective tissues, tendons and ligaments, for later phases that feature heavier weights.

Strong like a bull
The strength phase follows the high-volume phase, and differs from it in that the number of repetitions decreases to 6-8 while the number of sets increases to 3-5.

During this phase, you are still developing the neuromuscular pathways you developed in the high-volume phase, but your body reacts to the additional stress you are putting on the muscle tissue by building stronger structures. The strength phase lasts 3-4 weeks.

Feel the power
The power phase is the final 4 weeks of an endurance athletes weight program. This phase utilizes on-the-bike resistance work to transfer strength gained in the gym to power on bike. Your strength gains are useless to you unless you can apply them in a cycling-specific motion.

Workouts like Stomps, MuscleTension, and PowerStarts are very effective for this purpose. Please see our glossary for a more specific definition of these on-bike exercises.

Don't forget the trunk
Trunk exercises are critical during all phases of your weight program. Trunk strength is necessary for stabilization and power transfer. As stated in more detail in a previous article ("Start at the core"), trunk-strengthening exercises should be done year-round.

Most people do not gain a lot of muscle weight following this kind of weight program, but most gain some. While your body weight may increase slightly, your strength and power will increase more. Your improved muscular development also helps prevent injury because your tendons and ligaments are stronger and your joints are more stable.

Balancing weight training with your winter cycling schedule is a very important issue, as strength training and endurance training mix like oil and water. We will deal with that issue in Part 2.

Jim Rutberg is a FitnessForm coach with Carmichael Training Systems (CTS). CTS is the leader in personal coaching, training camps, and certified products.

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