Dumbbells & Pedals … Can They Work Together?

By Peg Labiuk | 05/02/11


We’ve teamed up with Marilyn Trout, certified USA Cycling Elite Coach to answer Voler Newsletter List members’ training questions. You can view her coach profile at http://www.linkedin.com/in/mountainpedalscoaching80903 Send your cycling inquiries to Marilyn, and for a limited time, if yours is selected to be answered in our Training column, Voler will send you a $20 gift certificate that can be used towards any purchase from the Voler Store at http://www.voler.com. To submit your inquiry, e-mail her at trout_mic@msn.com, and type “Voler Training Question” in the subject line of the e-mail.

The following tip is a reprint of a April 2009 question submitted by from Voler E-Mail List member Bill Cain. His training question that follows was answered by Peg Labiuk (nee Peggy Maass), a colleague of Marilyn Trout, and a certified NCCP level 3 coach with a career in international road and track racing. She is a World Championship medalist, World Record holder, U.S. Olympic Team member, former British national team coach and Kreb's Cycle co-founder (British Columbia, Canada).

Dumbbells & Pedals … Can They Work Together?

I do upper body weight training three times a week. Am scared to do legs because I read that in breaking down the muscle in order to make it stronger, you also lose the muscles' memory for pedaling. How long does it take for the muscle to lose the memory of the pedaling action, and how long does it take the muscle memory to recover?

Thanks in advance,
Bill Cain

Hi Bill,

Hmm, sounds like you got some information and need more to decide if lower body weight training is for you. First, let's sort out some of the information you have. Then we'll add some ideas, and weigh the evidence.

The muscle "memory" you refer to is a term used to describe the neuro-muscular pathways formed with repeated exercise. It's the information highway, if you will, that electrical impulses travel to prompt the muscles to move; the more training, the more pathways.

So, if you train pathways via weight training moves, you build those specific pathways. So, is it possible to train both strength and cycling? Certainly. The key is to train each, without burning out. Even pure strength training routines often alternate body parts, to give enough recovery time for muscle repair before overloading a muscle group again. There is a newer strength training school of thought called "Hypertrophy Specific Training". Bryan Haycock advocates strategic de-conditioning, but not to the point of muscle atrophy, so 9-10 days rest. After that, the body can adapt more quickly to increased training loads than if it only had 7 days to recuperate. After a few weeks of resumed training, the athlete could surpass the levels they finished at in the previous cycle. Over the long term, they would have better improvements even including the extra time off. This proves how beneficial rest is.

Applying this concept to your cycling, you'd have to not train for at least 10 days to de-condition. Training effects can be maintained by repeating the activity on average, once a week. So, as long as you keep cycling during weight lifting, you'll keep reminding your legs to go in circles efficiently. Those neuro-muscular pathways have been put in place and reinforced over many pedal strokes. It would take 9-10 days to de-condition them, but shorter than that to re-ignite the memory. If you were concerned about losing pedaling efficiency, I'd recommend doing a fast spin right after strength training. I heard the Australian National Track Cycling Team does heavy weights, then immediately goes to the velodrome for speedwork, using the dumbbell induced hormonal high to fuel another intense workout. Sprinters are an excellent example of cyclists who weight train throughout their season, with benefit to their powerful pedal strokes. Weight training is more important the more intense your cycling activity is. As we age, loss of quad strength is a concern. Depending on the importance of strength to your cycling endeavors and your age, weight training would be beneficial to you.

Since you are doing upper body weights, I have to think that you know the benefits and chose to do weights. I think the long lasting benefits of strength training far outweigh any temporary detraction from cycling you may feel. I would wager that you would never completely lose muscle memory for pedaling, except in the case of a head injury. That's why there's the old expression, it's as easy as riding a bicycle.


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