Since 2007 I’ve been pushing for more cyclists, triathletes, and runners to get into the weight room, and hit the iron because, as a Strength Coach, the benefits to pumping iron were many- when done properly. It has been a long, hard road, but it seems like we are finally seeing the efforts begin to pay off, as more cyclists and endurance athletes are now including SOME strength training in their Annual Training Plan.
However, some out there are still resistant to fully embracing it or understanding it, and it appears that Chris Carmichael is one of them.
Now let me make sure you understand that this is NOT a “hate the big guy to get me attention” post. In fact, this post is as far from that as possible, as I have a lot of respect for Chris and how much he has done for Cycling in the USA. I even consider him a part of my “Brain Trust”, as I learned much as a young coach by reading his books, and his programs.
Yet, when it comes to Strength Training for cyclists, I completely disagree with him, as in his post from November 16, 2017, he states:
“Coaches have been debating the effectiveness and necessity of strength training for endurance athletes for many years, and even my own view has evolved considerably. Ten years ago I would have told you that if you’re a cyclist, strength training is a waste of time and effort. Not anymore.”
“Any conversation about strength training for endurance athletes requires some parameters of who you’re talking about. It is still difficult to make a compelling case for elite and professional road cyclists or even 30-something high-level Masters to spend significant periods of time lifting weights.”
Pro Cyclists have much to gain, perhaps MORE than the average cyclist.
High level cyclists have made many adaptations within their body to their sport. It is because of this that they have much to gain from a properly constructed strength training program. When one begins in a sport, any sport, the body is trying to figure out how to move, how the timing and rhythm of these movement needs to be to maximize efficiency and performance, as well as, over time, figuring out how to execute these movements with as little energy as possible.
In his book The Tipping Point Malcolm Gladwell talks about how the Myelin sheath that carries the innervations into the muscles thickens with repetition, so that the electrical impulse travels faster and the movement is carried out quicker. This is why a professional Violinist can perform as they do and why Kobe Bryant can dribble a basketball the way he does.
Cycling is no different. And this is just one area where Strength training can play a significant role in boosting ones performance.
How does Strength Training aid cycling performance?
At first glance the two seems o be opposing one another: Strength Training is incredibly different than cycling, and thus the demands on the nervous system and muscle tissues are very different.
It is in large part BECAUSE of these differences, that properly designed strength training programs can do much to help a cyclist or triathlete improve performance. As the body goes through Strength Training, the muscles, connective tissues, and nervous system are stressed in ways very different than the sport. As such, the motor-units in the body are recruited in different fashions, allowing us to now have “access” to more of our muscle to help us perform our sport of choice.
On top of this very basic level, we also have the fact that each and every sport creates it’s own imbalances in the human body, in order to help it enhance the sport results. While this is true, we MUST keep these imbalances in check, as “energy leaks” can form due to the body going with the path of least resistance in order to execute the task it is being asked to perform.
The human body is an incredibly complex organism, and while we don’t think of these adaptations as bad, over time many of them can lead to overuse injuries due to muscular imbalances.
This is perhaps where many of those cyclists at the higher levels have MUCH to gain from a properly designed Strength Program for cycling: When done properly, the sets and repetitions will fall outside of the “acceptable” 12-20 reps for “endurance athletes”, allowing the athlete to gain more strength, activate more Type 1 muscle fibers, strengthen the connective tissues, pressure the nervous system to adapt, and to allow the organism to work as a whole in order to maintain stability to execute a task with great biomechanics.
We, as a community, MUST FULLY BREAK OUT of the mindset that strength training for cyclists consists of:
While these exercises look most similar to your movements on the bike, they undercut one of the main tenets of a properly formed strength training program:
To balance out your imbalances, and train you in movement patterns you DON’T get in your sport.
Overuse Injuries occur because of, surprise, OVERUSE of muscles in a specific pattern! Thus, if we head to the weights and do the exact same movements, these simply open us to a higher likelihood of injury, and then the thought of “Strength training injured me”.
Unless you had horrible technique, and/or glaring imbalances that you didn’t first address, no, strength training didn’t injure you- you’re lack of understanding of how strength training is to be done properly is what injured you.
Unfortunately there is a TON of misinformation out there, ESPECIALLY today on the internet, as to how to properly utilize strength training for Cycling performance.
Over the coming weeks and months, I’m looking forward to sharing with you my knowledge and expertise here on my blog, and on the HVTraining YouTube Channel on how to properly strength train. It is my hope that through these videos, blogs, and programs that I can begin to shape the future of strength training for cycling and triathlon- two sports which have a significant need for this knowledge, but who are decades behind nearly every single other sport.