QUESTION: I’m a 45 year old male that has been riding 4-5 days a week for the last 7 or 8 years consistantly. My concern is that as I age I am losing bone density based on the fact that I’m participating in a non-load bearing activity. If I don’t do any other activities should I consider vitamin supplements or should I pick up a load-bearing activity like running? — Bill B.
RBR REPLIES: Your question is a good one for a male rider at your age and with your history of cycling. The short answer is weight-bearing activity. Bone mineral density has been in the headlines a lot of late.
A study (Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Vol. 25, Number 3, March 2011) noted that the high percentage of male master cyclists with low bone mineral density, when combined with the likelihood of fractures resulting from crashes, warrants greater attention. They specifically suggested, “Coaches and health professionals interacting with cyclists need to promote alternative exercise such as weight training, plyometrics, and other high-impact activity to complement cycling training to help minimize bone loss in this population.”
Running certainly can have a positive effect on skeletal health. If you’re in your off-season and live in an appropriate spot, cross-country skiing and/or snowshoeing might be a more beneficial form of cross-training.
Effective weight training, not simply the act of lifting weights, is the single best solution to the issue you raised in your question. It helps your riding as well. A recent study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology reported significant results with master cyclists engaged in short-term resistance training.
Note, the exercise (knee, or leg, extension) used in this study is considered by nearly all professionals to be useless. Despite the fact that neither the protocol used (10 sets of 10 reps with 70% of 1RM) nor the duration of the study (three weeks) were appropriate for true strength gains, these master cyclists’ Delta Efficiency (DE, “the most relevant indicator of muscular efficiency in cycling, and thus one of the best determinants of endurance performance”) was significantly increased in masters compared to younger cyclists, where improvement was considered only a trend.
Sitting on a resistance training machine (as listed above) does not impact bone mineral density. Ground-based, multiple joint exercises, such as deadlifts, cleans, and squats have been repeatedly shown to positively impact skeletal health.
Sensible resistance training, applied throughout the year in a periodized manner, will improve skeletal health and improve your cycling performance. It takes only 30-45 minutes, two to three times a week to achieve these goals.
Coach Harvey Newton is a former national and Olympic Team coach for USA Weightlifting. He is an avid road cyclist who raced extensively through the 1980s and is a long-time advisor to USA Cycling on strength training.