Endurance athletes frequently debate whether hitting the weights is an effective use of training time. Our resident fitness expert, Joy Sherrick, offers several convincing arguments for the “pro” camp as well as suggestions on what exercises to add to your weekly routine.
Being in one position for an extended period of time – whether it’s sitting at a desk for work or riding a bike for hours – can lead to problems. Add to that performing the same movement over and over for hours and you’re putting heavy demands on your body.
Preventing Imbalances/Preventing Injury
So many injuries experienced by endurance athletes come from overuse and muscular imbalance. The imbalance in the strength of muscles, which attach to bones via tendons, can wreak havoc at the joints. Imbalances at the pelvis and hips are common as are those at the knees and ankles. Imbalances also occur in the upper body at the spine, shoulders and neck as well as the wrists and elbows.
Cycling puts high demand on the muscles of the quads and glutes, not to mention the IT Band. Using clipless pedals and a fluid pedal stroke can help to engage other muscles of the legs but their contribution is much less.
If we’re striving to hit a cadence of 90 pedal strokes per minute, an hour-long ride means 5,400 pedal strokes in that hour. Can you imagine if I asked you to perform 5,400 repetitions of ANY exercise in the gym? Several days a week? You’d think I was crazy. But that’s what we’re doing on the bike.
Another consideration: cycling is an activity which occurs in one plane of motion, the sagital plane. And, as we’ve established, there’s A LOT of motion going on in that plane. Real life, however, occurs in three planes of motion. Getting exercise outside of cycling can help to counterbalance all the repetitions we’re doing in the sagital plane.
To help balance out the hip joint, consider doing hip abduction and hip adduction exercises. While standing, place a not-too-heavy (five or ten pounds) flat weight plate on the floor. Then try pushing the weight across the floor sideways, with the outside of your foot. Next try pulling the weight back to where you started by using the inside of your foot. Also add foam rolling to your routine. Cyclists should spend extra time on their quadriceps and IT Bands.
Weight-bearing exercise is required to maintain or increase bone density. Weight-bearing exercise is defined as exercise with the additional stress of one’s own body weight. Cycling can be an amazing workout. It is not, however, weight-bearing. To provide the load necessary to keep bones healthy, you need to be on your feet.
Exercises like lunges, properly executed squats and deadlifts and step-ups will not only strengthen the same muscles you use for cycling, they will also contribute to your bone health.
Speaking of bones, cycling does little to encourage good posture. Road and TT/triathlon bikes can wreak havoc on most of the spine – cervical, thorasic and lumbar – while all cycling can be rough on the lumbar spine and hips. A proper bike fit can ensure you’re in the best position possible but it does not completely eliminate the stresses on the spine.
It’s critical to employ proper form during exercise or you’re only encouraging bad posture. If unsure, use a mirror and by all means, hire a personal trainer until you’re able to perform the exercises with proper form even when fatigued.
Again, exercises done while standing are preferable to those done with machines. Deadlifts and squats, performed correctly, are great for posture. Back exercises – such as pull-ups, reverse flys and a variety of rows – can counter all the hunching we do on the bike as well as sitting at a computer all day. Aside from pull-ups, all these exercises can be done while standing, so they have the benefit of also be weight-bearing. While not weight-bearing or involving weights, a simple back extension (not over-extension) done lying prone on the floor is also beneficial to counter all the damage we do to our backs throughout the day and on the bike.
One of the most common and easily repairable mistakes I see in cyclists is instability. It’s important to be relaxed on the bike but not to the point where you’re allowing extraneous movement. Extraneous movement in exercise always means inefficiency. In the same way you don’t want flex in your road shoes – because you’ll lose power transfer from your foot to your pedal – you don’t want side-to-side movement at your hips. Or your shoulders. Or to see your bike swaying from side-to-side. When you see or experience any of these, you’re wasting energy that could be going towards your speed.
Assuming proper bike fit, the problem is with muscle stability – either out of weakness or laziness. Make sure your body is still, moving from the hips down only. Also make sure you’re not leaning on your hands. If you’re experiencing any numbness at your wrists, hands or fingers, check to make sure you’re engaging your core muscles. I encourage my clients and fellow riders to think of cycling as a core workout. Suck in that belly and feel the difference in your hips.
The core muscles are muscles that are built for endurance. They’re meant to hold the body in proper alignment during movement and at rest. To engage your core muscles and build endurance, try adding planks to your routine. Hold a push-up position – either from your toes or your knees and either at your hands or elbows, from whichever position you can keep your back in a straight line – for as long as you can. This is an exercise you can do daily, with the goal of increasing your time as the weeks pass.
Appropriately strengthening the muscles you use for cycling can benefit your cycling. Endurance training with weights can help with endurance on the bike. Training for power with weights can translate into more power on the bike.
Depending on what kind of cycling you do, your weight training should be built around that and even change depending on the time of year. Exercises for power, those of short duration with explosive energy can help with a sprint, but not in the week that effort is needed! Your training should be built around your season. A professional trainer will know how to best design your training program.
Strength training can also help a more intangible, yet highly relevant aspect. The gains in proprioception, or one’s awareness of self in space, can translate into better balance on the bike and better bike handling.
As with all physical exercise, a degree of common sense is required. It’s always recommended to talk to your doctor before beginning a new exercise program. Because proper form is important as is understanding how to best implement strength training, those with training in anatomy, physiology and kinesiology should be consulted.
Our resident fitness guru, Joy Sherrick, shares with us the wisdom of her years of experience working with people to meet their fitness goals.