The Weight Debate

Every year I think about adding weightlifting to my program—particularly because I have a free weight room available to me right now. Yet every year I read some things from coaches, cyclists, etc. suggesting that weightlifting does nothing for your cycling ability, that the best course of action is by specifying—by doing the actual activity you’re training for, i.e. riding your bike.

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?

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5 thoughts on “The Weight Debate

  1. Uncadan8

    You are definitely on the right track here, Caloi. A cyclist can benefit greatly from weight training, particularly when he works in that 25+ rep range. And let us not forget that weight training includes bodyweight exercises. I have found these to be more beneficial to cycling needs than the iron work. And since I have been a powerlifter/bodybuilder, I know what both sides of the fence look like. By the way, I am one of those guys that starts growing just by walking into the weight room, so the 25+ rep work is absolutely excruciating for me. But it works for my cycling needs.

  2. Zed

    Hey, so are you ready for LOTOJA? My co-worker who does it every year is starting to get nervous. He says the longest training ride he\’s done this year was 80 miles.

  3. Boz

    Concentrate on core strength, that\’s where your power comes from. Keeping your back and stomach strong are key. We really can\’t function in real life with the physique of the likes of the Chicken or the Contador\’s of the world. We don\’t have that many events in which we have to climb rediculous amounts of mountains day after day. Or access to EPO. Most of the guys that win our type of events are lean, but very strong in a healthy sort of way, not guant, death march looking guys.

  4. Zed

    I have the scrawny, gaunt look going naturally anyway. Lately I\’ve been thinking I could stand to gain a few pounds—preferably muscle.I recently came across a sweet core exercise that you don\’t even need to go to the gym for. Maybe I\’ll post about it later. It\’s really simple, but it\’s an awesome core workout.

  5. Uncadan8

     I think I am about as ready as I am going to get. I am not worried about the legs, and I have the nutrition and hydration things figured out. My low back has been giving me fits, which makes me nervous, since climbing seems to be what sets off the low back. I am spending a good bit of my training focused on strengthening my core now. I head out to CO to start training at altitude on August 27, so the elevation change (from 350 to 4500 feet) shouldn\’t be too much of a factor by the time September 8 rolls around. It would have been nice if I had lost a bit more weight; that 250+ pounds may be a real factor in whether I can hang in the climbs. Check my blog, http://uncledanbiking.blogspot.com, for the results. I hope to get it posted before I return to PA.

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