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All About Weight Training

The benefits and downfalls of strength training for cyclists

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All About Weight Training
Spirit-Fire via Flickr

Believe it or not, weight training for cyclists is controversial. Some people believe it adds size and weight to the rider, which decreases performance. Other opponents feel you shouldn't waste your energy in the gym when your time could be better spent on the bike.

Physical therapist Cindi A. Prentiss, MBA, PT, OCS, Cert. MDT, LMT, owner of Physical Therapy & Beyond, Healing Hands Massage Therapy and Beyond Fitness, is a proponent of weight training for cyclists who believes more strength allows for less fatigue.

"Increasing strength will help adapt to the pedaling load, fight fatigue and therefore prevent muscle imbalance and injuries," explained the Team in Training cyclist who raises money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

In the following interview, Prentiss and Tutankhamen Pappoe, MD, founder of East Valley Spine & Sports Medicine Center in Scottsdale, AZ, discuss the benefits of weight training in the cycling population, conditions it can help prevent and potential complications.

About.com: What are the positive effects of weight training?

Prentiss: In general, there are many positive effects of weight training including increasing bone density, muscle mass and metabolism while decreasing body fat. It also helps in injury prevention, improves physical performance and can be compared to a “happy drug,” as it relieves stress and anger, increases self-esteem, as well as self-confidence.

Dr. Pappoe: When done properly weight training can strengthen bones and joints, prevent injury, improve endurance, increase power and improve coordination.

About.com: How might lifting weights benefit athletes on a bike?

Prentiss: For those of us who believe in weight training for cyclists, our position is that increasing strength will help adapt to the pedaling load, fight fatigue and therefore prevent muscle imbalance and injuries.

About.com: For those who may not currently include weight lifting in their fitness routine, how do you suggest they add it? All at once? A little at a time?

Prentiss: Contact a professional, certified personal trainer or physical therapist who has experience with cycling. Request a strength, flexibility and fitness evaluation. This baseline of information will help you determine your progress.

Weight training may be done two to three times per week using weights that can be handled for approximately 12 reps, two to three sets. When tolerated, progress to three to four sets. After two months, progress to heavier weight that can be handled for less reps. It is important that a balance be found for the individual, between weight training and regular cycling routines. Remember, this type of strength training does not have the goal of building bulky muscles, after all, which would just be a nuisance while cycling! Concentrate on strength over mass.

About.com: How will an athlete know what a safe starting weight is?

Dr. Pappoe: General rule of thumb is to use a weight that will allow you to easily complete 15 to 20 repetitions in the beginning. This will allow one to focus on technique. Improper technique could lead to injury.

About.com: What are some conditions that weight training can help prevent or manage?

Prentiss: Strength training will build bone density, therefore decreasing osteopenia and osteoporosis, which are seen in male and female road cyclists as compared to mountain bikers. Cycling is a low impact sport and puts little stress on the bones. It is important to cross train, including weight bearing exercises, such as pushups.

About.com: What are some possible complications or injuries?

Prentiss: Cyclists who are over 50 show slower reflexes, less strength, less aerobic capacity and lower bone density, which increases the chances of injury.

Patella pain is a common injury seen as cycling is a repetitive activity. Some tips to help prevent this: proper bike fit, decrease hill work and do eccentric quad strengthening (this is the negative part of an exercise, so the coming down from the step, whereas the concentric part is the rising up on the step).

Hip pain and ITB syndrome (iliotibial band) can occur if the seat is too high and the individual toes in or rides more than 20 miles. Proper foot position, stretching, decreasing the mileage and icing (15 minutes on/30 minutes off) may help alleviate this overuse injury.

Neck pain and tightness can be alleviated with moving while in the saddle and stretching on a foam roller to help loosen up the upper back.

Hand pain can be prevented by changing hand position frequently and wearing foam cushioned gloves to avoid carpal tunnel symptoms. Stretch the wrist flexors: using one hand to bring the extended fingers of the other hand backwards, while the elbow is straight. Shaking out the hands, while cycling, will bring circulation back to the area.

About.com: Any parting words of wisdom?

Prentiss: Whether cycling for fitness, endurance, raising money for a good cause or just fun, be sure to prepare your body and gradually increase your mileage and strength training. If you try to keep up with your friends when you are not yet conditioned, you may end up frustrated or injured. Stay safe, wear bright colors, follow the rules of the road and assume the cars don’t see you!

Dr. Pappoe: Functional strength training is the key. Too many people make the mistake of utilizing a bodybuilding program as opposed to a functional program. Body building programs are not beneficial to a cyclist, but could actually be harmful.

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