Is Cycling and Lifting in One Day Too Much?

By Jiri Kaloc

Strength training and cycling are both beneficial for cyclists. Endurance training is obviously vital for sport-specific performance, but strength training is crucial for injury prevention, overall health, and longevity. So, the question is, should you try to fit both into one day?

Science says they interfere with each other

Research shows that training for endurance and for strength sends your body potentially conflicting signals. Endurance exercise such as cycling activates AMPK, an enzyme-regulating cellular energy, which increases mitochondrial synthesis. Strength training, on the other hand, activates mTOR, an enzyme controlling cell growth, which increases muscle-protein synthesis. The problem is that elevated AMPK can reduce mTOR activity, which suggests a potential conflict in achieving maximum strength and endurance adaptations simultaneously.

The key is to balance both types of training

The thing is, this interference effect is not meaningful enough for most people, especially for amateurs who mainly ride for health and enjoyment. The overall benefits of both strength and endurance training are significant enough that everyone should do both if possible. The key is finding the right balance based on individual goals and the specific demands of cycling.

There are three ways to include strength training in your usual cycling routine – doing each on a different day, doing both on the same day, and doing both inside one workout. Here are the advantages and drawbacks of these approaches to help you choose.

Weight lifting
Strength training and cycling are both beneficial for cyclists.

Training strength and endurance on separate days

This option is theoretically the best, because you avoid sending your body conflicting signals from two different types of training. Unfortunately, for most time-crunched amateurs, it’s not practical. You can try doing two strength workouts and one interval ride during the workweek and then two long endurance rides on the weekend. This leaves two rest days to recover. Unfortunately, having five exercise days is a tall order for many cyclists. Plus, this volume of cycling may be enough for base training in the off-season, but it won’t be enough to properly build your high-performance when racing approaches.

Training both on the same day

If you are able to combine a morning ride with an evening strength session two days per week, then this could be the optimal solution for you. This will allow you enough rest days and hard cycling days during the rest of the week, even in the most-demanding stages of the season. Here are a few tips to get the most out of your two-a-days.

  • Have at least three hours of rest between your ride and the strength session. This will minimise the conflicting signals described above.
  • If you’re planning intervals, do your ride as the first sport of the day. You need fresh legs to hit high intensity on the bike properly. Strength is only there to support your cycling; you can get away with fatigued legs in the gym.
  • If you’re planning an easy endurance ride of up to two hours, you can start the day with strength training. Even fatigued legs can get you comfortably through a talking-pace ride.

Training both within the same session

If you’re not a highly competitive cyclist and have a hard time fitting in five or more training days a week, then this may be the way for you. Here are a few tips to make the double sessions work.

  • If you do the strength training before heading out on the bike, focus on doing activation exercises with body weight only. Things like hip bridges, glute kickbacks, air squats, step ups, or lunges are good choices. They activate the muscle groups you’ll use on the bike without taxing them too much.
  • If you lift weights, do it after your ride. It’s safer to ride with fresh legs and arms when you need to navigate terrain and traffic. Starting the strength session with tired legs means you may need less weight to get the same stimulus. Complete sets of eight reps while having at least two reps in reserve, don’t lift to failure.
  • In general, spend more strength-training time on your upper than lower body. This is simply because as a cyclist your overall health will benefit much more from exercising your arms, shoulders, chest, and back than your legs that just pedalled for several hours.