By Kevin Kolodziejsk
An Explanation of a Study, Actually, That Reveals One in a Roundabout Way
Does a deceptive main title make me a dishonest columnist? Especially when it’s in a font far larger than the explanatory subtitle to add to the subterfuge. Read on, my friend, and decide.
I haven’t eaten any form of fish since the last day of August in 1979, the day I became a lacto-ovo vegetarian. But what you just read at the top of the screen . . . it’s me feeding you a big, fat red herring. Not an actual piece of smoked fish, mind you, but an intentionally false clue. I use the phrase “sports supplement” in conjunction with “surefire” merely as an attention grabber. Yet this article contains no mention of creatine, coenzyme Q10, idebenone, glutathione, grape seed extract, or ashwagandha — some of the supplements I could rightfully and insightfully comment upon since I use them daily to enhance my health and my exercise, 70 percent of which is done on two wheels.
A Dirty Little Trick? Not By My Dictionary
According to the Meriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary I forgot to return to my classroom when I retired in a rush, “supplement” is most likely used in reference to “something that completes or makes an addition” when used as a noun. While you may have other reasons for doing so, or — shame on you — not do any at all, most cyclists lift weights and do so specifically as a way to supplement their cycling. And guess what? It does exactly that when performed in the proper manner — which definitely is not once or twice a day with a glass of water and preferably with meals.
That’s why I fed you a red herring, dietary beliefs be damned. If that makes me an underhanded hypocrite, I can live with that. As long as you keep reading.
Weightlifting: The Most Versatile Way to Exercise
In the health-and-fitness column I’ve been writing for newspapers since 1989, I make the claim in bigger print you just read once or twice a year. And when I do, I always emphasize that it’s true for all people. Whether you’re 18 or 80. Whether you want to build muscle or maintain it. Whether you’d like to lose body fat or gain fitness. Whether you need to improve your mood a bit or battle a bout of full-blown depression.
That versatility holds true for cycling-based weightlifting, too. Whether you’re pounding the iron to produce more power to become an absolute crit monster or repping out with lighter weights to stay strong at the end of a long group ride. That’s why it makes sense to share a study found in the September 15, 2022 issue of the European Journal of Applied Physiology and explain its lifting-for-cycling implications.
How the ‘Negative’ Leads to Positive Weightlifting
Japanese researchers recruited 42 young adults who had never lifted weights and had them do hardly any weightlifting at all. Two times a week for five weeks, 14 recruits did just 3 sets of 10 repetitions of just one exercise, the dumbbell biceps curl — and only with one arm, their dominant one. Two other groups of 14 did even less and with only their dominant arm: 3 sets of 10 half-reps.
One half-rep group only did what’s called the positive phase of the lift, the lifting of the weight from the start point to the most upwards point, which creates about a 50-degree angle between a raised forearm and a straight upper arm. (Researchers would then take the dumbbell from the subjects and return it to them once their arm returned to the start position.) The other half-rep group did the opposite, what’s called the negative phase of the lift, receiving the dumbbell at the most upwards point of the biceps curl motion and lowering it. (Researchers would then take the dumbbell and return it to the subjects as soon as their arm reached the top position.)
Three to nine days after the last weightlifting session, the researchers measured the subjects’ trained biceps muscles and had them repeat the initial baseline strength test.
They found the subjects who only performed the negative half-reps had gained nearly as much strength as those who did full reps — and the size of their biceps muscles actually grew a bit more. While those performing the full reps increased biceps muscle size by 5.4 percent, the negative-only group averaged topped that by 1.8 percent.
The Significance of the Study for Cyclists
These findings do not mean you should find a partner at your gym and start doing entire weightlifting workouts where you only lower the weight. But they certainly help dispel a notion held by too many gym goers, a notion that makes many slight-of-build cyclists less than enthusiastic about lifting weights. That when it comes to the amount of weight you use, heavier is better.
But for you that isn’t true, because, in a manner of speaking, you are trying to game the system. You’re trying to make your muscles stronger without adding the typical amount of muscle size that the muscle heads are striving for.
That’s why focusing on the negative phase of weightlifting movement serves a cyclist so well. Moreover, focusing on the negative phase of weightlifting movements makes your rep speed slower, which lessens the amount of weight you can use, keeping you from bulking up while reducing the risk of injury.
But don’t fret about the reduction in weight. A number of studies have found that light weights are just as effective for what a cyclist hopes to accomplish — as long as the lifting is done to the point of muscle failure.
Kevin Kolodziejski began his writing career in earnest in 1989. Since then he’s written a weekly health and fitness column and his articles have appeared in magazines such as “MuscleMag,” “Ironman,” “Vegetarian Times,” and “Bicycle Guide.” He has Bachelor and Masters degrees in English from DeSales and Kutztown Universities.
A competitive cyclist for more than 30 years, Kevin won two Pennsylvania State Time Trial championships in his 30’s, the aptly named Pain Mountain Time Trial 4 out of 5 times in his 40s, two more state TT’s in his 50’s, and the season-long Pennsylvania 40+ BAR championship at 43.