If You’re an Older Cyclist, There’s One Thing You’d Better Be Doing

June 15, 2021
Strength training for older cyclists is critical for bone density, increased performance, and injury prevention.

Three Things to Know About Strength Training for Older Cyclists

1. Focus on dumbbells, kettlebells, bands, suspension straps. 2. Start light and easy if you are new to strength training. 3. Focus on a full-body workout, with an emphasis on joint movement.

Strength Training for Older Cyclists is Critical for Performance, Bone Density, and Core Stability

I hate to see “older cyclist” in the headline and know it applies to me.

But the reality is that bicycling is a non-weight-bearing sport, which means your bone density and muscular strength don’t necessarily develop while you’re on the bike.

Strength training, lifting heavy things, builds your strength and endurance off the bike.

But lifting weights has additional immense benefits for cyclists over 50: increased strength, cardiovascular capacity, balance, bone health, and injury prevention.

Plus, it’s never a bad thing to have some strong-looking muscles, especially for cyclists who tend to have skinny arms.

Strength Training Benefits All People Over 50

Even if you’re not a bike rider, weight training for older people provides huge benefits: more endurance, balance, and speed, and better injury prevention.

Women, especially, benefit from strength training at any age. My 83-year-old mother does strength training twice a week and talks about how it helps her with movement and balance.

“When we talk about bone health and falls, we talk about three factors: fall, fragility and force,” says Matt Sedgley, sports medicine physician with the MedStar Orthopaedic Institute. “Participating in weight-bearing and resistance-training exercises help develop muscle mass. This may help treat fragility conditions like osteoporosis. So if you fall you have stronger bone density. It may also lead to more cushioning when you do fall.”

Washington Post

Strength Training Means Heavier Weights

We need to lift differently in our strength training for older cyclists.

I see a lot of older adults in the gym doing the same routine on the same machines every day with very light weights.

That’s something, but in the race against time, it’s not much.

The key is lifting heavy weights with fewer repetitions.

Older adults should build strength by gradually increasing their weights and reducing the reps.

In terms of actual exercise selection, following the NSCA’s (National Strength and Conditioning Association) recommendations of implementing multi-joint exercises at moderate intensities of 40-60% 1RM is a great place to start, and the efficacy of several different methods such as resistance bands, pneumatic machines, and plate-loaded machines have all proven to be both safe and effective. The NSCA’s position on resistance training in older adults recommends an individualized and periodized approach to resistance training, eventually working towards 2 to 3 sets of 1 to 2 multi-joint exercises per muscle group at 70-85% one-rep maximum (1RM) two to three days per week.

Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research

Cyclists Need More Bone Density

Strength training is a critical part of my bike training program as well as the coaching I provide for cyclists and runners.

While runners have some benefit in that they’re feet are striking the ground every step, cyclists do not naturally build bone density on the bike. 

As someone who has broken a lot of bones from crashes, I know the importance of bone health for cyclists over 50. 

Yet since cycling is a non-weight bearing exercise, we need strength training, including some plyometrics, to get and stay strong. 

How and When to do Strength Training

The challenge is always to figure out when to do strength training for older cyclists.

There are several things to consider: 

  • If it’s the off-season, you can lift weights to build a greater amount of fatigue
  • If it’s during the race season, you still can lift two to three days a week. You’re just lifting a lighter load and building less fatigue.
  • You can schedule your strength training in several different ways:
    • You can schedule your strength training and rides on the same day. The time of year dictates which goes first. In the off-season, lift first. 
    • You can schedule all of your hard work on one day. So that means strength training and intervals on the same day.
    • You can substitute a strength training workout day for a ride day.

Here’s What I’m Doing For Strength Training

I typically do a full-body workout, focusing on chest and shoulder push and pull strength and a lot of core work. 

I also do a lot of kettlebell swings, trap bar deadlifts, and Romanian deadlifts (straight leg) to build and maintain strength in my hips. 

Since I have 40 years of base training in, I usually lift two days a week fairly heavy instead of a ride, do two days of intervals, and ride two long on two other days. 

I often get a third day of kettlebell swings, cleans, and snatches in during the week. 

I’m also starting to build in some plyometrics, but not in the same way we’re used to. More on that later!

Three Things to Know About Strength Training for Older Cyclists

  1. Focus on dumbbells/kettlebells, bands, suspension straps. Do exercises that are multi-joint and multi-purpose. For example, doing a Pallof press with bands or an exercise ball works your chest and shoulder muscles as well as your core.
  2. Start light and easy if you are new to strength training. Your body needs time to adjust to the new demands you’re placing on it! For the first three or so weeks, you shouldn’t feel exhausted after a strength workout, not even “really tired.” You should be aware you used your muscles in a new way, but you should feel no worse than taking a good walk.
  3. Focus on a full-body workout, with an emphasis on joint movement. Cyclists need to focus on their hips and shoulders, and particularly their glute muscles.

Questions About the Benefits of Lifting Weights?

If you are a cyclist over 50, especially if you’re female, you really need to be lifting weights regularly. 

What do you need to know or understand to do strength training as an older cyclist?

Where do you need to start or what do you need to modify in your current program? 

Let’s talk! 

Schedule a Virtual Coffee to start the conversation.

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