Fitness Types: Cycling and Strength Training

For the last couple weeks I’ve been thinking of a couple fitness goals for the summer: (1) to train for a century ride and (2) to start Rippetoe’s Starting Strength barbell training program. Now I’m a bit concerned about how these two goals might affect each other if I try them both. Is it possible to make both work, or do I need to focus on just one of them?

It can be done though generally there is some compromise involved. It depends partly on your goals. If you want to build your strength to your absolute potential, aerobic training will be detrimental and vice versa.
You can train for a century and build impressive strength.

I ride a handcycle and trained for/rode a century while benching in the 250-275 range. I currently ride 120-140 miles a week with a max bench press of 315.

Rippetoe’s program relies heavily on squatting (and to a lesser extent, deadlifting) that tax the thigh muscles dearly. I’m not much of a cyclist but my thighs get sore from both squatting and cycling hard or long. Wouldn’t think of hopping on a bike a day after a squatting session. YMMV.

I’m not looking to push anything to an absolute potential. Right now I’m fairly out of shape (haven’t done weight training in several years, but I cycle short distances regularly). Basically I’m just looking for a way to get into good overall shape.

I’ll tell out my experience which is more on the lifting side. I trained for the power lifts, squat, deadlift, bench - and did some variation of them each workout. You’re expected to do all three in competition and I didn’t want to break them up in training. I thought cycling would be too much on a day following deadlifts and squats. While I found that to be true of road cycling, I found I could do long slow cycling on an exercise bike and it actually helped my legs recover from the heavy lifting day. FWIW the next workout after that would be a light lifting day - front squats, overhead press, stiff-legged dealift. So, YMMV but I found the cycling and strength training went fairly well together but I had to vary the intensity of the workouts to make it work.

Do you ride it for a special reason, or the cool factor? Where are the brakes on that thing?

Frankly, I find it hard to get a good workout on a cycle. The problem is that cycling is so efficient you have to be going pretty fast to get any kind of cardio workout. And where I ride, traffic, intersections and what-not tend to limit my speed far more than my cardio fitness. Plus, it’s so much easier to rest on a cycle that it takes a lot of mental discipline to keep pushing at every moment; unlike say, medium distance running.

If your knees can take it, IMO you’d get a lot more benefit, fitness-wise, out of 20 minutes running than you would a couple hours of cycling.

Now, I’m not saying cycling is bad. If you’re biking to work or on errands, that’s free fitness; even if not high-quality it’s better for you than sitting in a car.

I was disabled several years ago in a bicycle/pickup truck collision.

The brakes are both on the front wheel, go up from mid-shin in the photo.

Quercus, I used to commute to work and I used the stops at lights/signs to get extra work. As i came to a stop, I left the bike in a slightly higher gear and hammered away from the start, really got the heart rate up until the next stop.

I also found that given the same heart rate/perceived effort, the aerobic benefit was similar. I think the perception that you need to ride far longer for equal benefit is that without the impact of running, the legs don’t feel as fatigued.

Do you have to take your hands off the crank to use them?

I cycle and lift weights. You can do it, but since you’re out of shape it’s going to suck at first. Just resolve yourself not to give up.

Pat, are you paraplegic? I knew you rode the handcycle from other threads but I just thought you had bad knees or something. Cheers to your gusto. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to bench 315 and I haven’t been hit by a truck.

When I need to brake, I stop pedaling with the cranks near the bar, the levers are within finger reach. Same with shifting though I do need to take my hand off the cranks for just a moment.

Part of my left hamstring and sciatic nerve is gone, only partial function in leg.

Balls. You must have absolutely no motivation or ride really slowly. If it’s easier for you to run hard than ride hard, fine. I don’t see how “going pretty fast” is any sort of detriment. The guy wants to ride a century, we’re not talking about riding around the block.

Dude, not even close. You’ll get more intensity per minute while running, but 20 minutes of anything is still pretty close to nothing.

He’s considering a century ride, 100 miles. That’s five hours of hard riding, if you’re fit. That takes a lot of endurance, your muscles need to take a beating and recover quickly, and you need to be able to supply them with enough oxygen to not fatigue.

As for answering the OP: no, I don’t expect your two goals will interfere with one another in any way. Generally speaking, strength training off of the bike doesn’t translate to strength on the bike. A squat may seem similar, but it really isn’t, it requires none of the speed, fluidity or repetition that climbing a hill does. Weight lifting can be very helpful in the off-season, to maintain many of the smaller stabilizing muscles that can be ignored through a season of hard cycling. The goal is primarily injury prevention, or avoiding losing muscle mass during the winter.

As mentioned above, a light effort bike ride can be excellent for recovery after the previous day’s hard lifting (or hill climbing intervals). Just don’t expect to be able to put in a race-level effort every day.

I am not a fitness trainer, but base is an important factor in the goals your setting, so a few thoughts:

  1. You might consider doing aerobic (cycling) work on your legs, and anaerobic (lifting) on the upper body.

  2. You will need to make rest and recovery part of your plan.

  3. It’s easy to get a good workout on a cycle; climb hills, push big gears, go fast, go long.

As a biker, this frustrates the hell out of me. I ran for years and I’ve never been in as good a shape as I am since I switched my cardio almost exclusively to biking. The meme has gotten to the point that cycling is “not high quality” exercize now? You get more out of 20 minutes running than a couple hours biking? No way, man. Jeez. You’re coming off like you’ve never ridden more than 5 miles in your life.

If that’s your goal, then go for the low weight/high rep workout at the gym. I do a lot of biking and I lift weights, and that’s what I do. Training for a century is easier than you might think, as long as your schedule allows you to ride several times per week. Plan your long rides for Saturday or Sunday, and ramp up the miles each week. Start out with 20 or 25 miles, then ramp up to 75 or 80 several weeks before your century. Give yourself a break about a week before the big ride to let your muscles recover.

You need to define “a break” before offering this advice.

It’s smart to limit intensity and distance before attempting a 100 mile ride (especially if you’re a newbie), but taking a week off will only set you up for a miserable ride.

Ride daily, just take it easy.

Thanks for the advice so far guys. I have a couple questions if you don’t mind clarifying:

What counts as a light effort ride? I haven’t yet started a real cycling training schedule, but I’m comfortable on 20-30 mile rides with cruising speeds around 15-18 mph. 18 requires effort to sustain over periods, and much faster than that requires a lot of effort I find.

The ride itself is a charity ride with advise from some trainers (the program is Team in Training, for the curious). The kick-off meeting is Saturday, and I think I’ll be getting a training schedule then.

The weight lifting program I’m interested in is big on working as many muscles in a lift as possible–using the whole body as a single unit. As I understand it, to Rippetoe, the squat is the single most important strength training exercise, since it works so many muscle groups. I worry that if I drop the anaerobic stuff for the lower body that I’m going to be missing out on the most important part of the strength training. The program also focuses on 5-rep sets, and increasing your weight quite quickly during the first 9 months or so of training.

I know Rippetoe’s name but I’m not familiar with his programs at all. 5-reps sets as popularized by Bill Starr and others have been around for years though and I’m sure the principles are the same. Bill Starr had many trainees combine cycling and lifting and while he felt the cycling limited their top weights in the heavy lifts they could still reach quite nice goals as runner pat has said. A 300 lb bench and 400 lb squat are reasonable strength goals even while training for long distance cycling.

Squats are a great lift. It’s not uncommon to see lifters increase all their strength numbers in proportion with the squat. The nice thing about 5 rep sets is you can keep your technique solid. With higher reps, even though the weight is lighter, the mind wanders and form suffers.

I think with combining the two goals you’ll want to “leave some in the gym”. That is, don’t leave the weight room exhausted. You need to work hard but keep something in the tank. Olympic lifters, who for my money are the strongest guys on the planet, usually train every day but never train to 100% intensity. They may train 95% on a heavy day, then 75% the next day. The lower intensity days help them recover faster and also allow technique to be honed. They keep track of the total weight lifted to roughly calculate intensity. For instance a lifter may enter the gym one day with a target of 14 000 lbs total in Clean & Jerk. I think Discipline’s advice of riding daily but taking it easy is very good.

Also, speaking as a guy currently recovering from a back injury, remember to keep your back flat throughout the lift. Mine rounded over during a deadlift and I’ve lost a week and will lose much more because of it. Technique counts, so does focus. Good luck.

For me, light effort was about 110-130 heart rate(max HR 187). That’s 59-69% of max HR.