Belle of the bar: Why cyclists should be strength training

womanbarbellThis fall, I’ve been hiding out in a place where my fellow cyclists won’t find me— at the gym. In all seriousness, when I tell my friends that I’ve joined a gym to lift heavy weights, they look at me like I’ve just admitted to wearing underwear under my bibs. For so many cyclists the phrase “Ride lots” carries them from season to season and cycling is the only exercise they engage in. They think they’re earning extra points by riding outside year round and racking up more miles than their friends. Do you ever notice that these are the people who fade midseason, suffer from chronic aches and pains and who never seem to improve much despite all the time they put in?

What if I told you there was a shortcut to greater fitness gains that didn’t involve freezing your ass off and scrubbing road salt from your bottom bracket? Strength training is a cyclist’s secret weapon. Pedaling long hours of base miles (or subbing in some other type of steady state cardio) runs the risk of elevating your cortisol levels, which has been shown to increase metabolic resistance (ie: making weight loss difficult) and accelerating the aging process, while negatively affecting gut and heart health (reference).  Strength training elevates the metabolism for at least 12 hours post-workout, whereas cardio doesn’t provide this increased after burn and lifting doesn’t wreck havoc on your hormonal balance (reference). Strength training can also increase your aerobic capacity and even increase V02 max. I’m not saying to never ride your bike. There’s a time of year for hard efforts on the trainer or outside. But there’s also something to be gained from off the bike work. Less is more and mixing it up a little is a terrific boost both mentally and physically. Continue reading

Four ways to become a stronger, faster cyclist

After 18 weeks of preparation, it all came down to 3 hours and 46 minutes. That’s the time it took me to find the finish line after 65 grueling miles at the Tour of the Battenkill. I was elated and exhausted by the end. Sure I was ecstatic over my performance, but I was also extremely proud of (and a bit surprised by) the athlete I had become over those four months. I knew when I signed up that I wasn’t going to half-ass it until April. I tend to do things in a big way and this was no different. I planned to carefully follow my training plan and to use my diet and recovery tactics to see just how great I could become. It turns out these strategies paid off big time. Continue reading

Yoga for cyclists

This winter, I’ve been spending some quality time on my yoga mat. I’ve been practicing yoga for longer than I can remember and it’s definitely become one of my cycling secret weapons. There’s a reason I can tuck into the tiniest ball while descending and why I can complete a century without back and neck pain. Yoga is a perfect complement to cycling.

Cycling muscles like the quads, glutes, hamstrings and hip flexors tend to tighten and shorten from hours on the bike, which can lead to misaligned hips and muscle imbalances. If the back, neck and core are weak, they can become strained from the position on the bike. Yoga helps correct imbalances, strengthen underused muscles and loosen up tight ones, therefore increasing muscle function, lessening the chance of an overuse injury and aiding in recovery.

Yoga also teaches cyclists how to regulate their breathing. In each yoga pose, you breathe deeply into the muscles you’re stretching. You can also apply this same rhythmic breathing to push through tough efforts on the bike and to tune into your body. Continue reading

Information Overload

The minute my front wheel rolled onto the steep climb, my mind began spewing out a slew of tips and tricks like a broken slot machine. First, assess the hill and divide it into segments. Start off slightly slower, allowing other riders to attack the hill and hopefully blow up before the top. Visualize a rope pulling you upward. Stay seated and spin if you can to conserve energy. Stand occasionally to engage other muscles. Try counting pedal strokes as you climb to reduce the pain. Open your suitcase of courage. Dance on the pedals!   Continue reading