Question: I’m a former wrestler, 5-foot-8, 165 pounds with 8% body fat and very large arms and chest. Despite my small stature, I need to buy XL jerseys and cut the cuffs to get them over my arms. Does this muscle hurt my climbing? — Jim D.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: Excessive upper-body muscle is definitely a detriment to cycling performance, especially on hills.
Your arms don’t do much work when you’re climbing in the saddle. They’re just along for the ride. Their weight holds you back like extra weight on the bike.
Seen with their jerseys off, most elite riders are shockingly scrawny from the waist up. They’re thin endurance athletes by heredity. Cycling doesn’t develop upper-body muscle. Nor does training for the sport demand arm exercises.
There are physical exceptions in the pro peloton, of course, and most of them are sprinters. They use their muscular arms to their advantage by pulling on the handlebar forcefully in sprints.
At your height and weight, I doubt that your upper body is hurting your performance much. Given your low body fat, it would be nearly impossible for you to reduce your upper body via dieting. If cycling is going to be your main sport, you should stop upper-body weight exercises so you’ll gradually lose some muscle bulk.