And there’s a mountain of evidence on either side of the debate. On one hand you have the classic endurance athlete insisting weightlifting does nothing but hamper your distance abilities; on the other hand, you have coaches, exercise scientists and, yes, even the occasional actual cyclist insisting weightlifting is a must—even for endurance athletes. The coaches et al. point out that just riding a bike leaves your bones brittle while endurance athletes point to studies suggesting muscle hypertrophy (the muscle getting larger) makes aerobic pathways less efficient.
So which is it?
Can I throw out an idea here? I don’t think there’s anything wrong with weightlifting and hoping to have it positively affect your cycling ability—unless you’re focusing on developing pure strength. See, typically, weightlifters lift heavier weights for fewer than 10 repetitions per set hoping to affect an increase in Type II (fast-twitch) muscle fibers.
That’s nifty and all, but unless you’re a pure sprinter, you really don’t need overdeveloped fast-twitch fibers—and even if you are a pure sprinter, you’ve got to make it to the end of the stage with everyone else. Let me propose that weightlifting is only worthwhile if done in a manner that emphasizes slow-twitch muscle development—lower weight for more repetitions. And I’m not just talking 12–15 reps here. I’m talking 30-plus repetitions. Something that feels like an endurance sport.
I’m just realizing now that I’ve been a primarily slow-twitch athlete—even when strength training—throughout my life. I used to pump the low-rep, high-weight sets hoping for strength during my gym visits, but for me those produced minimal results. Then I switched my approach. Instead of bench-pressing 170 twice, I switched to bench-pressing 105 pounds as much as 35 times. Oddly enough, I saw my one-repetition max rise much more quickly.
I read something recently suggesting that if you’re the type of person who works out and works out and works out but can’t seem to get any larger, you’re probably a primarily slow-twitch athlete; whereas, if you’re the type of athlete who has bulging muscles after a week’s worth of visiting the gym, you’re probably a fast-twitcher. Do you remember me complaining about not being able to get my quads any bigger? Yeah, this has been a bit of a revelation for me: I’m a slow-twitch athlete. And all this time I’ve been trying to work on my sprints. What was I thinking?
So what are your thoughts? Can a cyclist lift weights without ruining his cycling abilities? Am I wasting my time by finally signing up for the office gym?