Why Should I Lift Weights in the Off-season?
By Jeb Stewart BS, CSCS, Coach -
www.peakscoachinggroup.comIt is always
humorous to hear the myriad mythological reasons athletes conjure up to avoid
this stepchild of the endurance-training world.
From the possibility of weight gain and the
decrease of leg speed, to the infamous lack of time and fear of injury,
endurance athletes find more excuses for not lifting weights than teen-agers do
to avoid doing their chores.
The irony is that this simple and relatively
painless activity can not only be fun, but also may be the critical link to
give you the extra edge that goes so far in enhancing performance once the
racing season rolls around.
There are the obvious reasons for
incorporating weight training into your pre-season regimen. From maintaining or
building up some of that vital lean mass that gets catabolized in the racing
season, to gaining the strength necessary to turn over the gears to produce
significant power on the bike, weight training produces a plethora of benefits
for the endurance athlete.
Never mind the fact that weight training can
also boost the metabolism, help regulate hormonal balance, and improve
How many times have you needed that extra
kick at the end of the race? Weight training can play a major part in helping
the athlete find the necessary power at the end of a fatiguing event that their
otherwise lesser-trained competitors may not be able to muster. This slight
advantage could mean the difference between the podium and getting dropped!
One of the other, more commonly heard
reasons for not heading to the gym is the oft-heard "I am a
cyclist/triathlete/runner, not a bodybuilder. Why should I lift weights? I do
not want to get big and bulky!"
This is where having a coach -- or at least
someone vaguely familiar with strength training protocols designed in the
current century -- comes in handy.
Just because you lift weights, does not mean
you are going to get "big." The truth is, most people do not have the genetics
to develop the size and bulk that many bodybuilder types carry around. For
those that do have a propensity in this direction, common sense and awareness
of proper set/rep/rest and weight schemes come in handy.
Endurance sports rely on very specific
muscular actions and combinations of functional movement patterns. Many of the
traditional weight-training exercises do not even necessarily benefit endurance
athletes, and can often be avoid entirely.
This is where it is important to consult a
coach or strength and conditioning professional to get the guidance necessary
to keep you heading in the direction of your goals and not wasting time with
exercises that may not only be of little benefit to you, but may actually
hinder your performance.
A knowledgeable coach or fitness
professional can guide you in setting up a strength-training program that
includes the appropriate set/rep/rest and weight schemes, performed over time
with progressive resistance, that will give you the stability, strength, and
power gains that will boost your performance and take you to the next
Finally, one of the most beneficial reasons
for anyone to incorporate strength work into their training programs --
especially endurance athletes -- is rarely talked about among the general
public. This not-so-well-known but critically important benefit is the effect
strength training can have, if done properly, in correcting muscular and
postural imbalances. This is a huge one for endurance athletes.
The very nature of the posture found in
cycling lends itself to turning the athlete into a hunchback with rounded,
protracted shoulders and a forward head -- which causes all kinds of
dysfunction, like cervical problems and head and neck aches, not to mention
making many of us look like hunchbacks!
Runners and swimmers do not make out much
better and often end up with postural abnormalities, muscle imbalances, and
strength discrepancies that lead them to decreased performance and often
season-ending injuries that could have been otherwise avoided by incorporating
the proper corrective and preventative strength exercises into their
The repetitive movements involved in our
sports reinforce muscular imbalances: some are overused and others become
weaker. The ticket is to be as smart about your approach to weight training as
you are to your training on the bike, in the pool, or on the road.
Using the same principles of specificity and
progressive overload, the athlete can work on strengthening what is weak and
what is functionally necessary for the movements involved in their sport. They
can leave out many of the bodybuilding-type exercises primarily aimed at
hypertrophic (size) gains in parts of the body that just aren't crucial to
performance in their sport.
The other key element in the off-season is
getting in involved in a proper integrated flexibility training program to
complement the strength work and stretch the shortened overused muscles that
make up the second half of the imbalance equation.
I agree that much of what is traditionally
done in the gym has little or no relevance to what we do in our sports.
However, there is much better knowledge out there today and incorporating this
in the off-season and some of the in-season can make a huge difference in an
athlete's performance and in the longevity of their career by decreasing the
likelihood of pain and dysfunction, and performance-limiting injuries.
Hopefully, by now, you are at least curious,
if not convinced, that getting involved in a scientifically based, safe, and
sport-specific strength-training regimen will help you in your athletic
endeavors when the season rolls around.
My hope is that any misconceptions you may
have had about weight training prior to reading this article are now in
question, if not completely dispelled, and replaced by a desire to improve your
overall athletic performance by incorporating proper strength and flexibility
work into your annual training plan.
So step into the 22nd century and do not let
strength training be the bogeyman that keeps you from going to the next level
Seek out a knowledgeable, certified, and
experienced coach or strength and conditioning professional to help you put
together an off-season program that will help you enjoy a longer athletic
career and reach a peak level of performance this year!
Jeb Stewart is a Masters degree candidate
in Exercise Science, Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, USA
Cycling Expert Level Coach and a partner with The Peaks Coaching Group. For
more information on subjects related to endurance training or for any of your
coaching and training needs, check out Jeb and the rest of the coaches from the
Peaks Coaching Group.