Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Winter Weights and Cycling

Every year this time (base period/off season for most cyclists in North America), there begins a flurry of on-line discussion and argument about the benefits and risks of strength training for cyclists. It's not hard to find well-known coaches and physiologists to argue either side of the issue. Coggan thinks weights are useless and that the fatigue generated by strength workouts can be harmful to endurance athletes because time is taken away from productive training; Friel has always (at least since the '80s) been a proponent of strength training in the base training periods.


I have a lot of respect for some of the folks on Google Wattage (where many of the heated discussions occur) who dismiss the use of weights and/or strength training because “the research does not show that it helps; therefore it’s a waste of time so it hurts.” Research and real scientific results are crucial to learning how to use your training time most efficiently. It’s perilous to ignore the results of multiple legitimate scientific studies. But I think the anti-weights voices are a little too stubborn in their narrow, but very consistent, response: “the research does not show that weights make you faster.”

Maybe they don’t make you faster. But I can tell you from n=1 that they make you feel faster. That’s worth something. They make you feel more confident. That’s worth something. They might make your bones healthier and more dense. That’s worth something. They make you less prone to injury. That’s worth something. They make you look and feel better. That’s worth something. They make winter training less monotonous. That's worth something. And a whole big bunch of very successful cyclists and coaches have reached the conclusion, for a variety of reasons, that weights are worth the time. That’s worth something.

For me, all those minor ‘somethings’ add up to a lot. So I’m sticking with the weights for a few decades until the researchers get it sorted out.

8 Comments:

Andrew Coggan said...

1) I've never (that I recall) said that weight training is harmful (aside from the fatigue, that is) - that's more Ric Stern's claim.

2) The reason that I always state that "there is no data to show weight training to be beneficial to endurance cycling performance" is because A) that is true, but also B) because that is the most conservative way to summarize the state of the literature (although several more negative studies have recently been published).

3) Whether or not weight training increases BMD or makes your bones stronger is actually somewhat controversial. What does seem clear is that bone responds more to sudden shocks than to high forces per se.

Colin Griffiths said...

Robert: I agree totally with your sentiments. Despite the lack of science to support weight training in cycling, it SEEMS like the right thing to do. As a 50 year old I am concerned about maintaining flexibility and strength irrespective of my cycling objectives. This winter I've devised a combined Swiss ball and weights routine for myself which I'm quite enjoying, just 30 mins twice a week and nothing too extreme. After my experiment to improve my sprinting weakness last winter I'm also a fan of plyometrics too, again just 10 mins twice a week.

Robert Jordan said...

Dr. Coggan: Fair enough. I've modified the text to more accurately reflect your position on strength training. I also tweaked the bone health statement to make it more accurate.

Thanks for the comments.

Rich W said...

It's funny but I feel faster when I have super skinny arms!

Robert Jordan said...

There isn't much risk of me growing guns. I'm doing squats, step-ups, lunges, and box jumps with just enough ab work, pushups, and standing rows to keep my upper body from vanishing altogether.

JonathanMartel said...

A not yet publish article in The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research show that there are some scientific evidence that weight training can improve your power at 70% of your Vo2max. It has to be confirmed with a large group, but it is some preliminary data that we can work with.

http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/publishahead/Maximal_Strength_Training_Improves_Cycling_Economy.99480.aspx

Anonymous said...
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Robert Jordan said...

Mr. Martel: Thanks very much for the reference. Based on the abstract, that looks like very promising data.