In 2017 I am still seeing strength plans for cyclists that consist of lots of low weight/high rep work. To say this is flawed is being far too kind. Cycling itself is a low weight/high rep workout. The last thing any cyclist (or endurance athlete in general) needs is more of that. If that is what your strength plan is you are wasting your time. You have to lift heavy!
Your legs are already strong enough for your sport. In an experienced endurance athlete leg strength is never the limiting factor in performance. Don’t believe me? Try this. Go to your local gym and load up 2x your body weight on a leg press machine. Most likely you can easily press that for many reps. Now imagine if you loaded that same weight on a barbell in a squat rack (please no one actually do this). If you manage to even get it off the rack if you try to squat you are likely going to drop the weight at best and most likely get really hurt. So we have just proven your legs can move a massive amount of weight. So why is the squat so different? For one you are now having to move your body weight in addition to the weight on the bar so it is heavier. The biggest difference though is now you have to stabilize that weight and move in multiple planes. You back is not strong enough, your core is not strong enough, your shoulders can’t support the weight. There are many possible points of failure. In a leg press machine we are pressing against an immovable platform that allows us to access all the strength of our legs. On a bike we create that platform through our grip on the bars and the tension we create with our core. This is what a good strength plan should be addressing.
In cycling you can see it when a rider blows on a climb. Their shoulders drop, their spin is now a grind, and their upper body is now bobbing up and down with each pedal stroke. In runners their once long and graceful stride is now a shuffle. The legs are tired yes but the entire chain has broken. A strong and stable core allows us to use the massive strength and power in our legs to move us forward. Once that goes we slow down, big time.
I work mainly with cyclists at WUKAR Fit and we deadlift, a lot. The deadlift is the best bang for the buck move that I know. It develops tremendous hip and leg power, a rock solid core, and grip strength all at once. It is the ultimate lift to find and fix weak links in the chain. I expect all my athletes to have a 1.5-2x body weight deadlift by the end of a 12 week cycle. Barring any pre-existing injuries I have yet to have an athlete not hit those numbers. Low weight/high rep simply is not going to get your strength to those levels. For a Cross Fit athlete or powerlifter these are not impressive numbers but for a cyclist or any endurance athlete they are strong enough. By that I mean if you can hit those numbers you have shown to me that your core is solid and your grip is not a failure point. To get much stronger than that means more specific time in the gym and less time in your sport. At the end of the day I am training endurance athletes not powerlifters.
The deadlift is not all we do of course, but it is a foundation move. We also do a lot of squats and supplemental work on specific areas like shoulders, core, and balance for example. Adding muscle mass is not a concern. With proper rep and rest programing we see massive strength gains with little to no weight gain.
So ditch the kiddie weights and get ready to do some real work. Lifting heavy is not something that you will do right out of the gate. It is a progression. In much the same manner that the last hour of a 5 hour ride can’t be simulated in a shorter ride. the benefits of a heavy squat or deadlift can’t be replicated with lighter lifts. Spend the time to learn them right and you will be a better athlete for it.