By Menachem Brodie
The question of whether to lift or ride first is one that nearly every rider who is using strength training has asked themselves. While we may not think that the order has an huge impact, it can in fact be a pretty large factor in whether you stay healthy, or open yourself up to an injury — especially for riders over the age of 50.
When it comes to understanding that the order and timing of your strength training session alongside your riding matter quite a lot, we need to highlight two things about our sport of cycling that are pertinent:
- Riding posture / position being held for long periods of time
The average semi-serious recreational rider will spend upwards of 6 hours on their bike each week, and many more hours in a sitting position. These positions are taxing on the bodies tissues, especially those of the spine, and over time will lead to changes in how the tissues are able to perform their jobs.
While these changes affect all riders, in particular, those over the age of 50 are especially so, as they have 5+ decades of life, bad and good movement habits, and stresses on the tissues, which means the margin of safety tends to be lower than your younger counterparts.
Certainly, a quality bike fit helps us to decrease the severity of these changes, but it does not render null the forces of nature and time on the body.
Do What’s Most Important (Strength Training) First
If we look at the nervous system and tissues of the body as being the primary benefactors of strength training, and strength training done consistently year-round, with proper work-rest to allow for the adaptations to take place, we can understand that strength training should take a higher priority than our riding for those 2 or 3 times a week which we schedule it. This is the first reason why strength training should be done first.
Building a Better Base for Longevity
Strengthening the muscles and other tissues of the body through resistance training, not only helps us to maintain and even build lean muscle mass- which is a key determinant in life expectancy, but it also has a number of positive effects on the internal (hormonal) environment of our body. Namely, an increase in human growth hormone (HGH), and testosterone, two vital hormones that help us stay spry, recover quickly, and keep our body in great working shape.
Decreased Risk of Back Injury Due to Residual Tissue Creep
What many often miss when planning their strength training after their riding, is that due to our riding position, the passive tissues (and muscles) in the back have been placed under a long, slow stretch, for a prolonged period of time. Being in this position leads to what’s called “tissue creep,” which simply means the tissues have stretched out due to being in that position for a long time.
While only 30 minutes of riding (sometimes less) is needed for this effect to take place, what’s most important is the fact that it can take upwards of 30 minutes to return most of the tissues resting length, and upwards of 2 hours to fully get back in place!
This means loading the spine for squats, deadlifts, and other strength movements can leave you at a great disadvantage, and even open you up to a higher risk of injury. This is due to the spine not being able to get as stiff and stable as it needs to be in order to protect you from injury and help you build strength because of tissue creep.
For professional riders, and younger riders, there may be a little more flexibility (pun intended) in when and how they do their strength training. But for the masters athlete and especially those who just love riding their bike and want to stay healthy and well for many years to come, it’s pretty black and white.
That being said, many of us find a piece of us is “missing” if we’re not on our bikes first thing in the morning. If this is you, or if you find that riding helps motivate you to get the strength training done, aim to have at least 3 to 4 hours between riding your bike and performing strength training.
Ideally, placing strength and riding 8 to 12 hours apart is the best approach. But for many, the evenings mean family time, work, or time to relax.
While consistency is the key to progress, and finding what works for you will be best, we must bear in mind the state of the body when planning our sessions, and be smarter. This will mean lower weights, more rest between sets, and possible even shorter sessions a little more frequently throughout the week.
Menachem Brodie is a USA Cycling Expert Level Coach and Certified Strength & Conditioning coach with over 15 years experience working with cyclists & triathletes. He has presented internationally on the topic of Strength Training for Cycling Performance, and is the author of the most comprehensive and in-depth book on the topic “The Vortex Method: The New Rules for Ultimate Strength & Performance in Cycling”.