Cyclists: How to Gain Strength Without Gaining Weight

If you watched the Tour de France in July, it was not hard to notice the drastic weight difference between their upper and lower body. Carrying less weight as you climb the Pyrenees only works in your favor--and it becomes a competition to see who weighs less. There is a fine line, though, between performance, weight and strength.

The stronger you are, the more force you can use to push down on the pedals. The byproduct of being strong typically is lean mass muscle, which will make you heavier. And we all know, getting too big from weight training is one thing all endurance athletes fear.

Genetics, age, sex and calorie consumption need to be taken into account when considering incorporating strength workouts into your cycling training plan.

The body needs food to build muscle, and when the majority of your calories get burned up through hard bike rides it can be pretty difficult to gain muscle. You also need to make sure you eat enough to allow your body to recover from all the training you are doing,--eating minimal calories can actually be dangerous.

The goal is to get stronger without gaining too much muscle mass, and proper exercise selection and rep and set schemes will get you there. There are two ways to increase muscle mass: myofibrillar hypertrophy and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.

Myofibrillar hypertrophy is done with lower reps (3 to 5) and heavier weight, 80 to 95 percent of your one rep max. This type of training will increase your strength without making you look like a meathead. Also, remember you have to eat more to drive the process of getting bigger.

Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is done with lighter weights and a lower intensity, but you do higher volume--8 to 12 reps and many sets. Body builders typically use this style of training, and while you'll look bigger, you won't be as strong as if you had employed a high intensity training program.

Long story short, the best way to get stronger without packing on the pounds is to work with heavier weights. The intensity will be high and volume will be low (4 to 5 reps, 3 sets), and squats, deadlifts, shoulder presses and bench presses are by far the most potent exercises you can do.

Not a fan of the big lifts and would rather do some easier exercises that are not as technical? Bodyweight exercises like pull/chin-ups, dips, air squats, lunges, planks and sit-ups are another great place to start. Bodyweight training is easy and you can do the exercises at your house or a park. Another bonus: bodyweight training engages your entire body.

Suspension training is another popular route, and the TRX will help you build strength through exercises like single leg squats, lunges, back rows, pushups and countless ab exercises. The TRX uses your bodyweight as resistance and you can easily adjust that resistance by changing the angle of your body.

There are many ways to build strength without looking bulky and adding weight. You should aim for two weight training sessions each week. Limit the exercises you choose--focus on getting better with the exercises you perform, rather than doing 15 different exercises.

Being strong is a great boost for both cycling performance and your overall health.

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