How To Combine Bicycling and Weight Lifting

How To Combine Bicycling and Weight Lifting

Bicycling is one of the best, low-impact exercises for individuals looking to lose weight.

That said, avid cyclists are known for being an emaciated, wiry bunch. Their large thighs and tiny, pasty-white bellies make them look like some freak of the underworld.

You half expect them to have elvish ears. (Let’s face it, it’s incredible that these guys ever get a date.)

There is a reason we call these folks “cardio bunnies.”

Dave Henly, an amateur bike racer, is a fan of combining weight-training and cardio. “Life is too short to only be good at one thing,” he says, “so many people choose only one sport when they never reach the pinnacle of that sport. I’ve noticed that those who have more than one sport that they practice, live well-rounded, healthy lives.”

Weight-lifters are known for avoiding cardio at all costs. Their heart gets enough of a workout from all the weights they lift. That should count for cardio, right?

In this article, we are going to examine whether cardio is necessary, how much cardio a weightlifter can do before it begins hurting his (or her!) gains and leave you with some principles that will enable you to implement the latest research into your workout routine today.

Does Strength Training Protect The Heart?

Despite the claims of cardio fanatics in the 70’s, strength training does seem to confer benefits to the heart. The advantage it produces is different from the benefit of cardio.

In a 2010 study, researchers from Appalachian State University in North Carolina published a paper that demonstrated the unique benefits that strength training confers to the heart.

They were able to demonstrate that strength training had the opposite effect from cardio-focused efforts on the arterial system.  While cardio workouts increase the flow of blood without stiffening the arteries, strength training strengthens the arteries without increasing the flow of blood.

The take away is that there are unique and complementary benefits of each type of exercise.

Strength training, however, is correlated with lowering aging markers. In a study with mice models, higher Myostatin levels were associated with the death rate in mice. Strength training is one of the best ways to lower myostatin levels and may correlate directly into a longer lifespan.

If that isn’t enough reason for you to start pumping iron as if your life depends on it, there is some preliminary research that is pointing to weight liftings ability to decrease one’s risk of getting cancer. In one study, those who lifted twice a week or more had a 30% decrease in their chance of getting cancer. Cardio workouts did not provide the same benefit.

Strength training is right for your heart, but it offers the added benefits of reversing markers associated with aging and preventing cancer.

How Much Is Cardio Needed To Protect Your Heart?

Which brings us to cardio-based workouts. Spend time in any fitness forum, and you quickly understand that cardio is of the devil and what gets in the way of genuinely becoming “swole.”

“Cardio kills your gains” is the claim, and there does seem to be some science to it. Your muscle’s needs for Cardiovascular gains are different from what your muscles need for strength gains. Some folks have recommended allowing 6 hours between your cardio sessions and your lifting sessions to ensure that your body can focus on meeting one goal at a time. Additionally, excessive cardio (5+ days a week) has been demonstrated to interfere with strength training.

However, there is also some limited evidence that 2-3 sessions of cardio each week can increase muscle gains.

Additionally, study after study has demonstrated that moderate cardiovascular-focused exercises hold the key to lowered heart risks and a healthier heart. But even these studies have uncovered a limit.

The healthiest heart workout is a moderate-intensity workout that is repeated for a total of one to two hours of workout time. (The American Heart Association would prefer that number to be closer to a minimum of two-and-a-half hours of working out time.)

But there is a limit to the benefit of cardiovascular working out. Marathon runners and other extreme cardio athletes have demonstrated a buildup of plaque in their heart, showing that there such a thing as “too much of a good thing.”

The takeaway from these is that there is a significant, demonstrable benefit to doing at least one hour of cardio per week. It can protect against heart disease and increase your strength gains. If you are a body-builder, you might consider hopping on a bike once or twice a week.

Best Weight Lifting Plan For Cyclists

Weightlifting seems to offer a marginal benefit to cycling performance. Long-distance cardio requires an over-reliance on slow-twitch muscle fibers, and strength training focuses explicitly on short-twitch muscle strands. In one study, Cyclists who lifted 3 times a week for 8 weeks, increased their ability to work at their peak power for a longer duration without exhaustion.

Additionally, a strength training workout can increase growth hormone levels. Growth hormone levels have been correlated with everything from metabolism and anti-aging to improved sports performance.

So, What’s An Ideal Strength Training Plan For Cyclists?

Most fitness experts recommend compound moves that work multiple body parts such as:

  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Leg Presses
  • Hamstring Extensions

In addition to the lower body, the upper body should also be worked out regularly with exercises that focus on strengthening the chest, core training exercises, and back strengthening.

Separate the strength training days so that the lower body is worked out on one day and the upper body is worked out on a separate day. If you are doing this workout 3-days per week,  then you should be alternating which body parts get worked out twice that week.

Just 30 minutes of focused weight lifting each week is not enough to make swole but will make all of the difference when it comes to your day-to-day fitness.

Plus, you’ll be faster when claiming those Strava segments.

Best Cardio Plan For Weight Lifters

For weightlifters, we’re going to appeal to our earlier arguments to encourage you to get on the bike three days per week.

Ninety minutes of cardiovascular exercise is simple, speeds your gains from weight lifting, and offers a statistically proven advantage against heart disease.

Keep your workout at a hard pace, but just slow enough that you can still speak during the exercise. With consistency, this moderate speed is the perfect pace to keep your heart healthy, while building your capacity to do more work.

Variety Is The Spice Of Life

It’s tempting to choose only one workout and to stick with that. Every human has something they prefer.

However, by pushing outside of the comfort zone into other areas, you are training the brain to try new things, and simultaneously preparing your body for every scenario.
















Thomas Matthys a former world-class track & field athlete and the founder of Swol Headquarters. He graduated from the University of Fordham with a Master’s degree in Science. Matthys is a certified sports nutritionist and personal coach of several professional athletes.  Matthys has been involved in various clinical studies within Track & Field including one on the factors associated with muscle recovery and HIIT.

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