Why Women Should Do Resistance Training

printed in UltraMarathon Cycling Association

Consider a century ride you can do in 6-8 hours. If you have better strength-to-weight ratio, you will be stronger and able to push the pedals harder (with the same cadence). You will go up the hills or through the wind faster (due to the force you can apply on the pedals), and therefore do your 100-mile ride in less time.

Women should do resistance training throughout the year. Due mostly to hormonal factors, women tend to be about 50% weaker in their upper body and 30% weaker in their lower body than men. Through some sort of resistance training women can increase strength per pound of body mass and lean muscle mass. This is called strength-to-weight ratio. Unless your father and mother are Olympic weight lifters, the likelihood of you building too much muscle is pretty much a myth.

The benefits of a resistance training program will make your body stronger on the bike and more efficient. Resistance training will increase the size of your muscle fibers,increase muscle contractile strength (the action of moving your muscles), increase bone density and increase tendon and ligament overall strength.

This translates into more cycling power and pedaling economy. You will improve your physical capacity (overall strength) your economy (being able to be more efficient on your bike) improve your metabolic function (ability to take in more oxygen to your muscles and utilize it better and longer) and decrease injuries and make you feel better. Benefits for cycling will also include improving your lactate threshold (the point at which the lactic acid in your blood is greater than your body can metabolize) and your ability to pedal longer before before fatigue sets in.

Osteoporosis is a risk for cyclists in general if we don't do weight bearing exercise and is a particular concern for women. Bone density and strength is a function of the load the bone has to support. Studies show that it is the intensity of overload (how much we lift or carry) that produces bone strength rather than the duration of overload (how long we exercise).

Maximize the effects of your workout, or your time in the gym is wasted. In order for your muscles to get stronger must make your workout count. Do not use a weight that is too light. Many women new to resistance training lift weights that are far too light to make a difference. Start with a weight that you can lift 12-15 times before muscle failure. You want to feel mild discomfort in your muscles the day after your workout.

When you are working out get the most out of each repetition. Take two counts to raise the weight and four counts to lower it. Don't rush! Keep your rest time between repetitions to about one and one half seconds between sets rest two or three minutes.

Resistance training causes micro tears, which make the muscles sore. You want to feel mild discomfort in your muscles the day after your workout. I mean mild. It takes about 24 hours for the muscle to go through a process of repairing and then adaptation. The soreness is from these micro-tears, not from lactic acide. Lactic acid is removed from your muscles in 60 minutes and does not account for the sore muscle feeling after a hard workout.

You only want a small amount of "micro-tearing" or mild muscle damage to occur. A mild breakdown of muscle protein stimulates the rebuilding process in your muscles. This is how the muscle adapts for each new period of training or each new load of weight. You do not want to feel a lot of pain for several days. This will be the result of too much muscle damage that will take several days or weeks from which to recover. Go about 48 hours between workouts of each muscle group in order to allow full recovery of the muscle fibers.

The best exercises train the muscle you use on the bike: core, legs, lower back and, to a lesser extent shoulders and triceps (back of the arms). So don't spend all of your time doing biceps curls and neglect other important muscles like the triceps.

It is especially important to strengthen your torso (low back and abdominal muscles). You need these muscle groups to be strong in order to climb hills, maintain a good tempo, ride into the wind, power up hills, hold yourself up for long rides, and maintain good balance on your bike.

I prefer multi-joint exercises so I get the most benefit for my time in the gym. For example, a lunge or squat works multiple muscles that cross the hip, knee and ankle joints. A single-joint exercise stresses just one muscle that crosses one joint, e.g., the leg extension.

If you can mimic the movements and positions of cycling in your resistance training, that's even better.

At all times you maintain proper form when doing any type of resistance training. Do not use momentum to lift or lower a weight. Do not bounce and throw your weights or body around. This poor form can cause injury. You must maintain good posture, and muscle control. Now let's get started for a better cycling season.

As with any and all training programs, you must first check in with your physician/doctor to make sure you are in the appropriate condition to start a training program.

Once you have your doctor's OK and have hired a Personal Trainer or Coach with the appropriate credentials to understand the correct form, is with three sets of fifteen repetitions of the following exercises.

For lower body muscle groups: Pelvic tilts, leg raises, squats,leg press machine,hamstring curls, lunges and calf raises.

For upper body muscle groups: Back extensions using a machine or floor supermans, push ups or a chest bench press exercise, seated cable rows, upright rows, shoulder press exercises, and several abdominal exercises.