This 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