The following is part one of our series on strength training for cyclists. You can check out the introduction to the series by clicking on this link.


What do Father Time and riding a bike have in common? They both whittle away muscle and hollow out bone [1-3]. If you’re getting on in years, the most effective way to push back against age-related declines in your quality of life is to improve your strength [4].

If you’re young with enough foresight to plan for the future, building stronger muscles and denser bones contribute to a “physiological 401k” [5]. Research suggests the larger your physiological 401k, the less likely you are to get dropped from the gene pool [6].

For the young and old, overwhelming scientific evidence suggests that strength training is a non-negotiable component for optimal health and vitality [7].

Training can be confusing. In our free eBook, we’ll show you four ways to use your data and insights from science to ride better than ever.

The Cyclist 

Highlighting the benefits of strength training for the general public makes sense, but our lives are a bit more complex as cyclists. 

We’ve fallen in love with a sport that provides endless hours of impact-free adventure, competition, stress relief, and cardiovascular health, but what makes the bike an incredible form of exercise is likely to contribute to our frailty in the game of life.

Bone and Muscle

You may find it unsurprising that the best cyclists in the world suffer from losses in bone mineral density [8]. Still, the same non-weight bearing consequences of riding are linked to us mortals who spend closer to six hours a week in the saddle [3].

To further complicate the picture, we cyclists nab performance power-ups in exchange for lower mass and an atrophied upper body. Any muscle deemed non-essential on a climb or found to increase frontal area is quickly carved away by hours in the saddle or feet up on the couch. 

Unhealthy Incentives

The power-to-weight incentivization structure found in competitive cycling can lead to a massive disconnect between a durable body and one ruthlessly evolved to ride a bike fast.

If you’re getting paid to race your bike or are focused on short-term objectives, weakened bone and frail body might be an acceptable cost. But for most cyclists christened into masterdom, or for those wise enough to forge a plan to be a savage 80-year-old in spandex, accepting frailty is a costly mistake [4, 9].

In short, if your training consists exclusively of ride time, neglecting your strength will shorten your usable life in the saddle.

The Solution

Just like the recommendations for general health, strength training is the most effective complementary exercise enabling cyclists to build a more durable mind and body capable of great moments on the bike later in life [10-14].

If you find the general health arguments for strength training unconvincing, let’s take a closer look at the evidence suggesting strength training might also make you faster.

Training can be confusing. In our free eBook, we’ll show you four ways to use your data and insights from science to ride better than ever.

References

  1. Rosenberg, I.H., Sarcopenia: origins and clinical relevance. Clin Geriatr Med, 2011. 27(3): p. 337-9.
  2. Aspray, T.J. and T.R. Hill, Osteoporosis and the Ageing Skeleton, in Biochemistry and Cell Biology of Ageing: Part II Clinical Science, J.R. Harris and V.I. Korolchuk, Editors. 2019, Springer Singapore: Singapore. p. 453-476.
  3. Mojock, C.D., et al., Comparisons of Bone Mineral Density Between Recreational and Trained Male Road Cyclists.Clinical journal of sport medicine : official journal of the Canadian Academy of Sport Medicine, 2015.
  4. Mcleod, J.C., T. Stokes, and S.M. Phillips, Resistance Exercise Training as a Primary Countermeasure to Age-Related Chronic Disease. Frontiers in Physiology, 2019. 10: p. 645.
  5. Sullivan, J., Barbell Prescription : Strength Training for Life after Forty. 2016: Aasgaard Company, The.
  6.  Srikanthan, P. and A.S. Karlamangla, Muscle mass index as a predictor of longevity in older adults. Am J Med, 2014. 127(6): p. 547-53.
  7. American College of Sports, M., ACSM’s guidelines for exercise testing and prescription. 2021, Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer.
  8. Klomsten Andersen, O., et al., Bone health in elite Norwegian endurance cyclists and runners: a cross-sectional study. BMJ Open Sport Exerc Med, 2018. 4(1): p. e000449.
  9. Visser, M., et al., Muscle mass, muscle strength, and muscle fat infiltration as predictors of incident mobility limitations in well-functioning older persons. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci, 2005. 60(3): p. 324-33.
  10. Mathis, S.L. and J.L. Caputo, Resistance Training Is Associated With Higher Lumbar Spine and Hip Bone Mineral Density in Competitive Male Cyclists. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 2018. 32(1): p. 274-279.
  11. LAYNE, J.E. and M.E. NELSON, The effects of progressive resistance training on bone density: a review. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 1999. 31(1): p. 25-30.
  12. Liu, C.J. and N.K. Latham, Progressive resistance strength training for improving physical function in older adults.Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 2009: p. CD002759.
  13. Gordon, B.R., et al., Resistance exercise training for anxiety and worry symptoms among young adults: a randomized controlled trial. Sci Rep, 2020. 10(1): p. 17548.
  14. Coelho-Junior, H., et al., Resistance training improves cognitive function in older adults with different cognitive status: a systematic review and Meta-analysis. Aging Ment Health, 2020: p. 1-12.

Written by Nate Dunn M.S.

Nate Dunn has spent his entire career in education and coaching. As a former teacher and now founder/head coach at Data Driven Athlete, he is most excited about helping cyclists discover their potential as they experience more great days on the bike.