Like It or Not, You Should Be Lifting

In this episode of Fast Talk, we explain why serious cyclists should be spending time in the gym, incorporating weight lifting into their weekly programs. We speak to pro cyclist Svein Tuft, as well as Dr. Andy Pruitt to learn more about the benefits of strength training.

Free weights inside a weight room gym
Photo: Danielle Cerullo on Unsplash

Is it enough to just ride your bike for training? In this episode of Fast Talk, we explain why serious cyclists should be spending time in the gym, incorporating weight lifting into their weekly programs.

We speak to pro cyclist Svein Tuft, as well as Dr. Andy Pruitt to learn more about the benefits of strength training.

Episode Transcript


Welcome to fast off developer news podcast. Everything you need to know



what are the dangers of just always only riding the bike and I’ve met plenty of cyclists. So that’s all they do. They don’t want to do anything else.



You know, as they age, I can pick them out on the crowds, their posture, you know, the, the skeletal ostional, changing as we age and only riding the bike. The literature is very clear about osteoporotic changes in in cyclists of all ages. So I think to get off the bike and stimulate our skeleton, build muscle tendon strength is crucial.



Hello, and welcome to Fast Talk. I’m Kaylee fretts, senior editor here at velonews. sitting across the table from Trevor Connor, our longtime training columnist and my co host. Today we’ll talk about weightlifting, why you need it when you don’t and how to do it right. We’ll chat with Swain tuft a pro with Orca green edge. He likes taking barefoot walks in the woods before stages of Jared Italia, and Andrew Pruitt, a slightly more serious man behind the specialized BG fit system and one of the leading minds in cycling physiology and bike fit. Let’s make you faster. Hello, girly man. It is Dawn to talk about the weird room. Welcome to Fast Talk a velonews performance bald guys. so ridiculous fake shorts and bigger accents aside, this is a legitimate question for a lot of cyclists these days because, you know, it’s an aerobic sport and and strength is not necessarily the most important thing, right? I mean, it’s it’s, we’re not track sprinters. Most of us aren’t track spinners. Even sprinters strength is not generally sort of the limiter coach driver, should I be lifting weights?



So there’s a question that’s actually gone, done kind of an about face in the literature review, they used to really say no, there’s no benefits to doing way too doesn’t help endurance sports. So why are you doing this? In the last few years, there’s been a change and a lot of new research is coming out. Now that showing that actually getting in the weight room really does help cycling. So I just looked at one last night in particular that came out of Norway, it was done in 2015 by a very well respected researcher Ronstadt, and I’m sure I’m mispronouncing his name. And he took nine elite cyclists, but some of them through or he put them through 10 weeks of strength training. And then 15 weeks of a maintenance period. And what he found was huge improvements in their performance compared to a group that just did endurance training. So they saw an increase in their peak aerobic power, they saw an increase in their threshold power, and an improvement in their 40 minute time trial, where the group that just did endurance training, really saw no improvements. So what they found in this study might explain some of why research in the past didn’t find any improvements, because it was looking at old research tend to look at typical biomarkers like improvements in vo two Max and in this study. They didn’t find that as well.



So I’m trying to just make sure I’m keeping up here. They weren’t finding improvements with weightlifting, we’re talking about with weightlifting or studies.



So the old studies they would have they would put cyclists through weightlifting and you would see no improvement in vo two max. So they said okay, well, why should you be doing weightlifting? It doesn’t seem to aid performance. So this study is showing that yes, it really has aided performance. And likewise, no improvement of vo two max but where they saw the improvements. Were actually in biomechanical factors, it actually had an effect on the pedal stroke, that improved efficiency and economy while cycling. And those were things that they didn’t use to measure in some of the older studies.



So it’s it’s like, strength and core work and stuff like that. And what are we seeing here?



So sorry to derail You



know, that’s fine. So no, it’s a good question. I don’t want to get too technical, but they actually looked at the pedal stroke of these athletes. And what you saw was an earlier peak torque in their pedal stroke, and that correlated with some improvements in efficiency. Another really important thing with this study, a lot of the older studies looked more at cyclists using lighter weight because they were concerned about putting on muscle mass. This study actually used very heavy strength training, so they lifted quite heavy weights. So that’s another reason why some of the more current research might be showing improvements where the older research wasn’t.



Okay, but in cycling, you want to be as light as possible, correct. I mean, that that sort of a thing. Everyone sort of agrees on that one, if I’m lifting big heavy weights, if I’m you know, doing squats with with big weight, am I going to put on muscle mass, and is that muscle mass gonna slow me down.



So yeah, that’s one of the concerns. And a lot of cyclists really avoid the weight room because they’re concerned about putting on muscle mass. But that’s also getting addressed in the research. And there was a very interesting review written by Professor Islam, who’s another top researcher in the field that was put out in 2013, where he looked at the effects of concurrent weightlifting with endurance work in your body, but they do work through different pathways. And I don’t want to get too much into this unless you want to hear me start talking about things like adenosine monophosphate, activated protein kinase, I don’t really want to listen to you. I think I just got through that without stuttering. But basically, so I’ll just you can look these up if you if you really want to geek out but weightlifting works through a pathway, the what’s called the A key, excuse me, a k t pathway, where Endurance Sports tends to work through the ANP k pathway. What’s really important here is the pathway that that Endurance Sports hit, actually basically shut off the pathway used by weight training, which is a somewhat fancy way of saying that if you do a lot of concurrent endurance work and strength work, you’re actually not going to put on a lot of muscle mass because that endurance work shuts down the strength training, or shuts down the the hypertrophy effects of strength training. So if you’re actually a strength athlete, and you need to put on muscle mass, their belief that doing endurance work is actually going to hurt them as is true that’s being shown in the research.



So essentially, you shouldn’t really worry about getting swole so to speak, in the weight room because the the other activity that you’re doing the endurance activity you’re doing is shutting down the the massive weight gain that basically what I’m



okay, you always want to do swell.



I am swollen permanently swell. But yes,



for for us endurance athletes, if you go into the weight room, no, you’re not ever going to come out looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger,



a lot of time on your bike, deeply disappointing to me, but I’ll get past it.



Well, it might affect our ability to get dates, but it’s not going to affect your ability to get up that climb.



So if I’m not putting on muscle mass, because my body is essentially shutting that those systems down during endurance training, what am I getting out of it, I’m still getting stronger if I’m not getting more muscles.



So there’s really three ways that they’re showing weightlifting is helping Endurance Sports can really help you on the bike. The first one I’ve already touched on, which is improving your pedal stroke, it really hits the neuromuscular side, whenever you do a pedal stroke, you’re recruiting dozens of muscles in your leg that all have to fire in sync, the more in sync, they can fire, really, the less energy you have to produce internally to produce the power and the bike weight training has been shown in the recent research to really improve that pedal stroke make it more efficient. The second reason gets a little more complicated. So bear with me on this one. When you are putting out power on the bike, you have to recruit muscle fibers in order to put out that power, but you don’t recruit all of your muscle fibers. So the more power you put out, the more fibers you recruit, you start by recruiting your slow twitch muscle fibers. And those are the ones we really rely on an endurance sports. Those are the ones that don’t fatigue, but they’re not that strong. As you start putting out more and more power, you have to start recruiting fast twitch muscle fibers, they’re much stronger, but they fatigue really quickly. So you want to use them sparingly in a race, you certainly don’t want to blow out your fast twitch fibers before you get to the end of the race where you really need them to win the race. What they’ve shown with weight training is you strengthen those slow twitch muscle fibers. So what this means is when you are putting out a given wattage, so let’s say you’re riding at 180 watts, instead of recruiting at 90% of your slow twitch muscle fibers. For example, now you’re only going to recruit 60 or 70%. Plus since your body’s not using or your that particular muscle isn’t using all those fibers, it can cycle through them. What this means is a you get to spare your fast twitch muscle fibers and B, you’re using fewer fibers to produce the same amount of work. And so you’re going to last longer, you’re going to allow more muscle fibers to be resting when you’re actually putting out a high wattage. What this translates to is over the course of the race you you build a fatigue resistance, you can handle the higher work more you get to the end of the race, you’ve been recruiting fast twitch muscle fibers less and you’re going to have those for the end of the race to win the sprint versus somebody who has weaker muscle fibers. They’re going to have to be recruited. Not only there slow twitch, but they’re fast twitch muscle fibers throughout the race. And by the time they get to the end, even if they had a good sprint when they’re rested, they’re not going to have anything left at the end of the race. The last reason and and don’t undervalue this one at all is getting into bone mineral density. And there was a recent study or somewhat recent in 2008, at the University of Colorado, studying 14 competitive cyclists here, where they showed over the course of the year, these competitive cyclists lost a lot of bone mineral density, because Cycling is a non impact sport. So it doesn’t promote bone growth.



FYI, crashing does not count.



crashing certainly doesn’t help either.



In this study, they had the cyclists do some weight training in the offseason. And they were able to bring back some of that bone mineral density, not all of it, but some of it, but they were losing at a rate of about one to 2% of their bone mineral density, per per year. And if you do that over a 20 year cycling career, you’re actually looking at serious osteoporotic issues.



Okay, so strength training is going to improve my pedal stroke, my bone density, which is important for fending off osteoporosis, and also improve my Was it the fatigue strength of my slow twitch fibers or



something like that? Correct. We asked Dr. Andy Pruitt, what he felt about cyclists who just ride the bike and don’t get in the weight room and don’t do any sort of weight bearing activity. What are the dangers of just always only riding the bike, and I’ve met plenty of cyclists. So that’s all they do, they don’t want to do anything else.



You know, as they age, I can pick them out on the crowd,



their posture, you know, the skeletal ostional changing as we age and only riding the bike, the literature is very clear about osteoporotic changes in in cyclists of all ages. So I think to get off the bike and stimulate our skeleton, build muscle tendon strength is crucial.



The posture of devices is not a healthy posture, I think that does not encourage us to stand up straight. And, ya know, the closest that we develop is like less. Now the leg I need you to know, of course I did 15 minutes ago, I



have a combination of balance and strength, and, and especially strength in the muscles that we need to support ourselves appropriately back on the bike more back for glutes, if they would do



that corn glues throughout the season, they’re gonna be far better and less injured.



Okay, but I have a question that is perhaps more philosophical and physiological in nature, although I’m sure you will try to answer it with your usual physiological angle. So when I was essentially a full time bike racer, I, The difficult thing for me was always you know, I have a certain amount of energy, right, I can use that energy to train really hard, or I can use that, some of that energy to train really hard, and some of it to hit the weight room. And I always felt like, I got more out of just taking that, you know, the extra four hours a week, that I might have spent weight training, and spend those on the bike instead. Also, whenever I whenever I hit the weight room, and even if I did it for a while, I was always relative, I was kind of sore afterward. And you know, I just didn’t feel great on the bike, even for a day or two after, which would hinder those days of training. So I always felt like I was missing out good training days, if I went to the gym, and so I ended up avoiding the gym a lot. This is particularly important in the winter months, which is essentially when I was looking at doing it, sort of you know, preseason base miles kinda. Okay, I’m gonna try to ride 25 hours this week. If I spent time in the gym, maybe I can only ride 15 How do you do that? How do you balance that? And and where my concerns valid in the first place?



Yeah, I’m gonna blind you a science girly man, but I can’t do accents.



That was relatively terrible. It was Give me that well, yeah, that’s like a give a four and a half out of 10.



Look, I’m Canadian. I can’t even do a Canadian accent. So I can’t I’m not I shouldn’t even try any others who I can do Canadian a.






That’s better than me. I’m embarrassed. Yeah. So with the change in the science, you’re also actually seeing a change in the pros. And I’ve now interviewed several pros, who have started doing weight training all year round, including during the race season. And let’s take a quick pause here. One of those athletes I interviewed was was a fellow Canadian Swain tough. Who’s DONE How many grand tours now he’s been second.



He’s done many many grand tours and we recently found out every morning before every stage he takes off his shirt. And wanders into the woods, and does yoga for like an hour. The other thing, he does all everything about him.



Nothing he does all through the years, he’s in the weight room. So let’s hear from swaying.



And then there’s, there’s the physical aspect that I think we lose so much



kind of range of motion, and general strength through just doing such a symmetrical like, you know, it’s just like, on a track and you don’t have any, like other functions and just, you know, the thing that you’ve perfected the multitude of systems pedal stroke. And I think like, that’s necessary to be, you know, one of the, whatever you’re trying to achieve in cycling, but at the same time, you know, you do that over a long, long career, and you essentially become useless, you lose your posture and foster, you know, your bone density drops. And there’s a whole



list of things, you know, when you’re young you don’t think about or care about, you know, when you’re 20 years old, and you see the kids, that’ll never happen, go for it as you age. Exactly. realize how much can change affect you. But it’s also



it’s just preventing injury. If you’re strong and robot, you have a nice long



season. Right? That’s, that’s the big difference.



Do you continue any of it through the season? Or at that point? Are you racing and training so hard on the bike is just not a possibility?



Yeah, I think it’s, I think it’s good



to just keep touching up on it throughout the season.



Just Just so the muscles stay somewhat in tone for that kind of exercise as well. Because then you’re I think it’s also crucial throughout the season to do load bearing stuff. Yeah. So basically, I think it’s really good to keep up weightlifting and walking and all these things during the season. Just so you don’t have such a big gap in in,



in kind of keeping your posture aligned and your bone density up to especially as you get older, you know, because all those things start to degrade much quicker, and cycling’s probably, like, just Cycling is probably one of the worst things you can do in that case.



So your question is, you have the limited time, you only have so much energy. Why would you be lifting, trying to balance lifting and cycling, especially when you get into the season. And there’s actually some good counter arguments. And again, this was something that is Iran, addressed in his review, where he talked about burnout and overload, what you’re always trying to do, going back to the principles of training is producing overload, you’re trying to stress your body with more than what it can handle, and then let it recover so it can rebuild and rebuild stronger. What they show is as you get fitter, and fitter. If you try to overload with nothing but cycling, you end up just pushing yourself into burnout, where if you actually instead of just increasing the cycling, add in the weight training, add in some other work, you get that overload with less risk of burnout, and you can actually see greater improvement. So that’s one of the things they showed, there was also another study and I couldn’t find this one. But I read this several years ago, where they really looked at what’s called the law of diminishing returns where it’s basically each additional hour on the bike becomes less and less beneficial. So if you’re only training six hours a week, doing seven hours is going to make a difference. But if you’re training 1213, or like a pro 20 plus hours per week, each additional hour on the bike, you’re not going to notice it, but an hour in the weight room, you are going to notice that difference. So the conclusion of that study is if you’re training six hours or less per week, forget the weight room. But once you start getting over six special once you start getting over 10, you’re actually better off cutting an hour of cycling and going in the weight room and getting that bigger training stimulus. So another bit of evidence for continuing weight training through the year. Again, same researcher Ronstadt did a recent study where he had cyclists do 25 weeks of weight training and then stop lifting for eight weeks during the season and looked at the effects on the various performance markers. What they saw was a drop in their maximal power drop in the 32nd Wingate test. So really that top end strength what you need to win the race declined very rapidly just in eight weeks giving evidence if you want to have that good top end form, you might want to consider keeping up the weight training throughout the season.



So there you have it, it sounds like weight room training throughout the year could actually be a good thing and definitely over The winner when you sort of need to build yourself up against injury and again, osteoporosis and things like that, we’re not going to go into a lot of depth on what exactly you should be doing in the weight room. On this episode. We’re going to talk about that sometime later. But we do have tips here from Andy Pruitt on what you should be doing in the weight room.



Well, I like the weight room, I think it’s gonna be very planned. But it needs to include some balance and proprioception from the lateral movements that we don’t do on the right. You’ve got to use imbalance discs, a Bosu ball, we got to do something to stimulate our appropriate proprioception and balance.



You know, we think that cyclists have great balance. But surely, you know, the typical force of the wheels and the gyroscopic effect that is doing way more for us than then a great bike handling skills.



That if we can improve our balance and proprioception, that only makes it better by calendars, and enabling. So going back to the making sure your musculoskeletal system is ready for training, what are things that they can do?



The weight room is a great place to build patellar tendon, quad tendon, Achilles tendon, you know, durability is what happens. If you ask the the junior team management coach to two years ago, one of the things I would have them do for at least three months in the winter, is that they would do leg press with their body weight plus 20, which was basically, you know, them plus their bike. And they would do it for time, bouts. And in other words, you know, we do a minute of these repetition didn’t we do two minutes, and then we do three minutes. And it’s and it’s like,



it’s kind of like climbing, you know what I mean? The you can’t do like breath in 90 RPMs. But what you’re doing is you’re you’re torturing or training those particular tendons to build girth and shrink without a heavy load the bike racer, who go into the gym and squat you know, 600 pounds and, and does leg extensions with 150 pounds. He Yeah, they have beautiful claws. But they’re gonna have tendon issues because their tendons and strong enough to do that work. Whereas if they spent the time in the weight room doing some really



endurance strengthening work, I know, that sounds like a contradiction term is really not for the cyclist got endurance and strength simultaneously, really like the lake but I don’t, I don’t like to do it in a squat rack because then they might get dizzy and we don’t, we don’t want to fall on balance. We do this on a leg press machine or, or hip sled. I really like the hip flip. I like the hips level a lot for cycles. But it’s bodyweight plus 20 and then during mouth, and they can be up to 100 repetitions over a minute or two.



His quads are on fire. And the kids would, you know, they hated them, but they loved them. Because they knew at that last pitchy climb or that, that finish or that the mountain bike section, you know, where all of a sudden, they they go, I felt this before, and they’re in their tendon and their tendons hold up to it. So, and masters and women, you know, they the Masters cyclists and only rises bike and only Nordic skis, especially with my Colorado,



I really worried about their skeletal health. So getting them into the gym, where we’re putting some stresses on the musculotendinous from skeletal systems that will help build and maintain bone density is pretty crucial. So that’s number one. Number two, although they’re very dangerous, and injury prone, I love box jumps and plyometrics. So good. I think you’ve got to do. You can’t just get off the bike and say, Okay, I’m studying my box jumps today. I mean, you’ve got to build up to that. So you either build up to it in the height of the box, or you can build up to it with the leg press and hip sled kind of stuff.



Before you start to



love to hear me say that. I’ve been running a



kind of endurance, strength and plyometrics program for my athletes for six, seven years. As a first year, I didn’t do it. First year I had the issues of math like getting injured. For a Masters athlete is mean, what do you think? Is the timing for that? Should they be getting out of the weight room or stop doing this sort of work once winter comes around? Or, you know, I would do as you know, I would do that through the winter. Absolutely. So, okay, here’s, here’s, here’s the key point for me.



If you, if you look at it, we’re gonna ride and do some kind of all flight training.



The one that has priority you do first, and you do the other ones. Second facility, you’re in a fatigue states, you have to make quite the quality.



In the fall and winter, I would have to do you’re off by training first. So that you get your really good most of your quality and your ride suck. You know, so the guy was in LA, I don’t like to lift does it? I don’t feel as good on my bike. Right? It’s November, December, who cares? You should live first. I mean, get on your bike in the land pole. I mean, that’s. So whatever is important for that particular timeframe and your period ization is done first. Remember, your mother told you to do things you don’t like first and do things you like, later? The same things. So, you know, look, first, your plan x, do it as a first and then put some endurance work or a little bit of work on top of it. Then as you get closer to the season, you kind of start begin to flip flop that over as the fight Training Day takes priority over the over the offline.



yard. Yeah, that’s been Fast Talk the veterans performance.



Driver, you’re fired. Driver. You’re fired.



do more.



No more. No more weird Canadian Schwarzenegger. That has been fast Talk. Thank you for listening. We’ll see you next time.