by Robert Forster, PT
Whether you’re a casual cyclist, road racer, crit rider or sprinter, the stronger your muscles are the more power you can generate. And that matters because performance in cycling comes down to your power to body weight ratio, i.e. the sustained power you as an athlete can produce in relation to your body weight. That power is generated from strong muscles in the legs, pelvis and core while upper body strength acts to brace the trunk for stronger pedaling. But weight lifting and other forms of resistance training hold many additional benefits for the cyclist even beyond performance.
We all need to do whatever we can to maintain strong bones right into old age. With each generation, we are living longer. And while two out of four women will suffer an osteoporotic fracture in their lifetime, one of every four men will too.
The mortality rate for seniors, post fracture, is very high. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Old age begins in young age!” For all of us, bone density peaks around age 25, and unless you engage in resistance training, it’s all down hill from there. But it’s not the fun kind of downhill. Although it is well known that we are all losing calcium from our bones as we age, it turns out that cyclists lose it faster than others.
A study of well-trained, male, master cyclists, found that in spite of rigorous training on the bike, they had the bone density equal to that of postmenopausal women. Although the reasons are not entirely clear, it is thought that the excessive loss of calcium in the copious amounts of sweat that is produced over the course of the many hours of cycling each week is actually leached from our bones. And while a diet rich in calcium will help offset this loss of bone by providing more of this important electrolyte for your sweat glands and thus preventing the body’s need too raid your bones, weight training is the most effective method to keep your bones strong in the long run. It is never too early to plan for this loss of bone because the more you have the more you have to lose, and still be healthy, later in life.
Maintaining Muscle Mass
Sarcopenia is the term for the loss of muscle mass as we age, and it comes with profound health risks. Similar to bone loss, muscle mass peaks in our mid 20’s as well. Between the ages of 25-50, the average man loses about a fifth of a pound of muscle every year. After 50, men lose up to a pound a muscle a year! Since natural levels of testosterone and growth hormone plummet after 50, the muscle loss has significant effects on health and function. With less muscle pulling on our bones, bones weaken faster and the risk of fracture increases. As muscle decreases, the calories burned all day also decrease, which results in later life weight gain. Weight training helps maintain muscle mass, and when performed using a scientific approach, weight training can also help maintain higher testosterone levels in later life.
Reduced Body Fat
Reduced Body Fat Also of great benefit for your health is the increased testosterone levels associated with weight training, and the higher daily calorie burn rate of well trained muscle, these will act together to reduce body fat and favorably effect your power to body weight ratio. Studies have shown that strength training boosts testosterone levels to promote recovery, and if adequate rest is provided, the testosterone boost, also in women, will improve lean body mass & strength.
Not only will your bones be stronger but so will your tendons and ligaments. The most common injuries suffered by endurance athletes stem from the stress of repetitive movements and are related to the breakdown of the connective tissue element of the body. Tendons, ligaments and fascia are comprised of collagen fibers that connect muscles to bones, bones to bones, and wrap every muscle fiber as well as bundles of muscles together. These structures are constantly stressed in cycling, but if your alignment on the bike is sound, your training program allows for adequate recovery, and you are eating right and getting enough sleep, your body will be able to respond to stress by shoring up with stronger connective tissue. However, if your bike fit is not personalized to your alignment issues, and/or your workouts outpace your body’s ability to adapt to the stress of training, then connective tissue breakdown is not addressed by the body’s healing mechanisms, and instead injury results.
The best way to protect from these connective tissue injuries is weight training. Weight training not only strengthens muscles but the connective tissue elements of the musculo-skeletal system as well. Hardening of these structures occurs at an accelerated rate with resistance training and increases your resilience to injury.
The goal of progressive resistance training is to increase the amount of force generated by the muscles. Increased ability to generate force at a given body weight not only translates into increased speed and improved climbing ability, but also greater endurance. Weight training will improve your ability to maintain power output for extended periods of time. As each muscle fiber becomes stronger, less of them are needed to maintain a given pace on the flats or in the hills. Muscle fibers contract in specific recruitment patterns to generate force. While the first set of fibers bear the burden of the workload, others rest to be called upon later. In this way, increasing each individual fiber strength allows you to get by with less of them to turn the pedals. Therefore, more fibers to lie in wait ready to be called into service later over the course of the ride. However, successful weight programs for the endurance athlete are predicated on proper program design and execution.
Your strength program must be designed in accordance with sound training science to produce results consistent with the needs of your sport. Weight training goals for endurance sports are very different than that of power sports or bodybuilding. Cyclists ultimately want to improve power output in relation to their body weight. The last thing a cyclist needs is heavy bulky muscles which only serve to negatively impact the power to body weight ratio. Therefore, your weight-training program must be designed in such a way as to make you stronger and not necessarily bigger. Additionally, the program must be safe because far too many athletes suffer unnecessary injuries in the gym.
At PHASE IV, science tells us what we have to achieve to keep you at your physical best, and our experience provides for how it can be done safely and successfully. Every PHASE IV weight training program begins with a head to toe Structural Examination performed by an experienced Physical Therapist and is personalized to your particular needs. Your program will be based on the same Periodization Training Principles we use to train elite athletes, which have been time tested and proven effective in the results driven arenas of the NBA, ATP and the Olympic Games.
Call 310.582.8212 today to schedule your Structural Examination with Robert Forster, PT or any of our staff Physical Therapists or schedule a complementary PHASE IV Performance Consultation to discuss your goals.