If you are anything like me, when you think about strength training you go through some sighing and moaning.
I mean, we just want to RIDE our darn bikes!
When I got to a point where cycling became this integral part of my daily life, I really started to look forward to all of that time on the bike.
Spinning my legs comes almost as natural to me now as breathing, and I can’t imagine NOT doing it.
I find, however, that with strength training my brain has a LOT of resistance.
I don’t WANT to. Please don’t make me lift weights. I don’t want to do squats. I just DON’T WANNA!
That was stage one of my strength training journey. I just kind of flat out refused.
And then I did some reading, did some research, and started to realize just how important it is for female cyclists to incorporate strength training into their workout regime.
Strength training then went solidly into the “well this is something I really should be doing” train of thought.
I knew that I should incorporate it, but I wasn’t really sure how to, or where to begin.
So, naturally, I just kind of avoided the issue.
This month I decided to take the plunge, and prioritize strength training. For one month I am prioritizing it OVER cycling.
I won’t lie, it’s hard. It’s different.
BUT, (and this is a big but!) it is amazing to know that I am making my body stronger, and actually helping my cycling game in the long run too!
Not yet convinced? Read on to learn about the reasons why female cyclists really need to incorporate strength training into their workout routines.
Reason #1: Strength Training is VERY Important for ALL Women
Strength training is important for all women, especially as we get older.
It is strength training that increases our bone density. Cycling and cardio really don’t do much for this. In fact, due to the lack of impact cycling in particular does very little to help out our bones.
Low impact is great for preventing injury, but a little impact actually does help strengthen our bones. We don’t get any impact in cycling.
Keeping up our bone density to stave off osteoporosis is vital. We love our bodies, and we love to cycle. We want to be able to do this as long as possible.
Even if strength training isn’t absolutely vital to improving our performance on the bike, it IS incredibly necessary for our overall health.
Also, simply maintaining muscle mass itself becomes more difficult as we get older, too.
In other words when we were younger our bodies were able to maintain muscle mass on their own. They simply aren’t doing it as well anymore. We need to help our body out!
Fat in our bodies naturally increases over time, and muscle decreases.
By incorporating strength training into our workout schedules in addition to cycling, we are taking a huge step towards keeping our bodies strong and healthy as we age.
To learn more about strength training, and being a female athlete (yes, if you ride a bike, any kind of bike, you ARE an athlete!), I cannot recommend Dr. Stacy Sims enough. Her book, Roar, is an excellent read for any woman who moves their body and wants to do right by it.
She highly recommends strength training for all athletes.
Check out the book, Roar, here!
Reason #2: Strength Training Can Make You a Stronger Cyclist
When we ride our bikes, our legs get stronger. Cycling absolutely works the muscles in our legs in a very good way.
The problem is though, that we are doing one basic spinning motion. That means that certain muscles are being hit by our legs in the same way over, and over, and over again.
Certain other muscles in our legs are not. And we are really not doing much of anything to help our arms, core, back, or shoulders while riding.
With incorporating strength training, we can actually build up muscles that will make climbing easier, and help us get up hills faster. Who doesn’t want that?!
Additionally, strength training is even more beneficial for mountain biking and cyclocross.
In these cycling disciplines you are even more likely to use your legs, arms, and core in different ways and benefit from off the bike strength training.
Strengthening our core in particular really can help our performance on the bike by increasing our efficiency. Without a strong core you will end up putting energy into moving from side to side instead of focusing all of your energy into your legs.
Reason #3: Strength Training Helps Prevent Injury
This is a huge reason to incorporate strength training into your workout routine as a female cyclist.
There is literally nothing worse than having an injury keep you off your bike.
So many of us experience knee pain, hip pain, even wrist pain that can make cycling incredibly difficult.
It’s awfully hard to get on your bike and ride long and far if you are experiencing injury and pain. In fact, it is very much not advisable.
Strength training as a female cyclist is a great way to prevent these injuries from occurring.
According to this article from Cycling Weekly , “Cycling is predominantly one motion — pedaling — with a limited range of movement, using the same muscles repeatedly. This can lead to imbalances.”
The article goes on to explain that if you don’t address these imbalances with strength and conditioning, that you are increasing your likelihood of injury.
Now it should be mentioned that strength training can cause injury too if you do too much too fast or lift too much too soon.
When you start any kind of workout routine it is always a good idea to consult your doctor, especially if you have experienced injury in the past.
Additionally you want to be sure to listen to your body. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Find a different exercise or a different routine that does feel good.
I recently tried a leg workout that was just too much for me. I am re-assessing, backing off those exercises, and letting my leg muscles heal up a bit before jumping back into something that works for me.
There is a difference between working your muscles hard and injuring yourself. Being in tune with your body and listening to it will help you figure out what exercises work best for you, and how often you should do them.
Reason #4: Cyclists Use Core Strength, but Cycling Alone Doesn’t Strengthen Your Core
When we climb on the bike our core is engaged and is strengthened, but generally on a flat road our core is engaged but otherwise cycling is doing very little, if anything, to strengthen it.
Since most of us are probably not climbing fiends all the time, it’s incredibly useful and important to strengthen our core OFF of the bike.
I am pretty picky about core workouts. For instance, I don’t love a lot of crunches but I do really like planks! You get more bang for your buck out of a plank because you are working more than just your abs.
I am all about efficiency in my workouts. Especially strength ones. I will pedal endurance pace all day long happily, but I want my strength routines to be over…well…fast!
This beginner core workout by Emma from GCN is a great place to get started.
If you don’t have a stability ball (though Emma only uses it at the end), I also really like this core routine from Bicycling.com.
Don’t forget to modify any exercises that are too much!
Remember, planks can always be done on the knees as a modification. Thank goodness for THAT!
Reason #5: The Impact of Strength Training On Your Well-Being Feels Truly Awesome
I know some of you are going to want to fight me on this one, but hear me out.
Once I finally committed to strength training, and prioritizing it, I started to see results.
Now I am not talking about instantaneous shifts in my ability to do the exercises and lift heavy weights. That is definitely a work in progress!
Nor did I instantly build rock hard abs or see definition in my arms.
What I am talking about is results in terms of how I feel.
I feel great. I feel strong. I feel accomplished. I feel proud.
Taking up strength training actually feels a lot like how I felt when I first discovered cycling.
I feel like I am doing this amazing thing for myself and my body to make it stronger.
To live longer.
To be healthy for my family, and to be able to keep up with my husband and my son.
It feels great to know that my body and I can continue to do hard things together.
That we can face new challenges together, and conquer those challenges.
Now you may think that I am getting ahead of myself because it is so new. That I will drop my strength training as soon as the weather starts to get warmer.
And sure, this is always possible. I may decide that strength training is no longer important to me down the road.
But, I don’t think I will. I have been turning this over in my head for a while, and if you’re reading this article I am thinking you probably are too!
I have been thinking about being this person who trains her muscles in addition to riding for some time.
And now I am her. And it feels amazing.
I want this for you, too.
So what are you waiting for? Are you in?
Start small, but start today.
Incorporating even just a day of strength training a week can make a difference and guide you along the path of incorporating strength training into your life.
One of the biggest misconceptions of strength training is that it’s only beneficial if you want to build bigger muscles. As you write, that’s not true. Strength training should be a part of any healthy lifestyle and help you become a better athlete, no matter if you’re a cyclist or football player.
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