Prevent injury and build bone density
Stronger and more flexible muscles and tendons are less likely to be injured from overuse, crashes, and daily life. That’s the main reason why all cyclists should do some strength training. But it can also help protect against muscle imbalances created by repetitive training. Cyclists very commonly have rolled-forward shoulders and knee tracking or ITB issues. Some research also claims that doing only non-weight-bearing endurance exercise like cycling can lead to osteoporosis. The addition of strength training is the ideal solution for maintaining healthy bones.
Grow strength not size
Lifting heavy weights doesn’t have to mean growing big muscles. Bodybuilders who are focused on hypertrophy adjust their training in a specific way to maximize muscle growth. They do a lot of reps, train to failure, and do isolated single–muscle exercises. You don’t have to do strength training like that as a cyclist. Here are general guidelines for strength training to promote strength development, not muscle growth.
- Lift heavy loads. Gradually increase weights and reduce the number of repetitions.
- Do 1-5 reps in each set and have at least 3 minutes of rest between sets to fully recover.
- Do 3-6 sets of full–body movements like squats or deadlifts, no isolated exercises.
- Do 2-3 sessions a week, not more.
Periodise your strength training
If you want to take your strength training to another level, you should introduce periodisation and adjust the style of lifting you do from month to month. Before you get to the abovementioned maximum strength phase, you should spend a few weeks getting your muscles and tendons ready, especially if you’re new to this. In this phase, you should do 20-30 reps per set at slow speed with 2-5 sets per session and 90 seconds recovery between sets to keep things really easy.
The prep should be followed by a maximum strength phase and after that, you should focus on converting your newly-acquired strength into power. For power, you should do 8-15 reps in 2-3 sets with 3-5 minutes of recovery in between them and the speed of the lift should be fast but controlled. And lastly, for muscular endurance, you should do 40-60 reps in 1-3 sets with weights at 30-50 % of the weight of your heaviest lift, and maintain 1-2 minutes of recovery between sets. The last phase is simply maintenance. For that do 6-12 reps in 2-3 sets with weights at 30-50 % of the weight of your heaviest lift and 1-2 minutes of recovery in between. This is how it might look like spread across a season.
- 4 weeks preparatory phase
- 4 weeks maximum strength phase
- 3-6 weeks power endurance
- 4-8 weeks muscular endurance
- strength maintenance
Improvised home gym
Unfortunately, most of us don’t have a fully equipped gym at home with all the barbells and weights needed. The good news is that you can do a lot at home with very little. The most versatile thing for weight training you can buy is a kettlebell. You only really need one to make all bodyweight exercises harder. That should be your first investment, maybe except for a pull–up bar. If you don’t want to or can’t invest in any new equipment then work with what you have at home. You can fill socks with rice and create dumbbells that way. Or you can go even bigger and create a sandbag or a rice-bag that you can use for heavy squats or lunges. Canisters or bottles filled with water can also be used that way. Get creative and make your own improvised gym at home.