In Part 1 of this series on my END|Strength methods and hybrid training I talked about the trade offs and compromises an athlete can expect from training for both strength and endurance simultaneously. I talked about the various athletes who are training this way and how they must train and I spoke what types of athletes, like some military personnel, who can benefit the most from this type of training. In Part 2, I addressed running and its fundamentals and some of the basic considerations of adding running strength training. From shoes to how to train for different distances, I talked about how strength athletes can easier incorporate running into their training with minimum compromise to their strength and without losing hard earned muscle. This article, Part 3, is all cycling, its benefits and how to use it in your training. The next one will be on swimming and the final in the series will tie them all together with training specifics for the triathlon. A triathlon is a swim, a cycle, and then a run. So these articles may seem completely backwards, I am introducing them in this order, by the varying degree of ease to begin, cost, and skill needed to do well. Running is the easiest and most affordable endurance sport,all you need is running shoes and some ground to run on. Though I highly suggest a coach too. Cycling can easily be expensive, and swimming, if you do not know how, may require a good bit of coaching and an addition cost of a pool access if your current facility does not have one and open water is less practical, even scary, for you to learn in.
The Physical Benefits
The benefits of aerobic exercise are well documented so I will not bore you with the turbo-nerd side of physiology. In recent years, the so-called “functional fitness” crowd attempted, with quite a bit of success, to convince folks they could have the same benefits and adaptations that only steady state aerobic and endurance work provides (disclaimer, I owned a CrossFit affiliate for 8 years). A dislike of a certain type of training should not have turned into a misinformation campaign. I have found powerlifters, though typically not in the least interested in aerobic or endurance, at least acknowledge the benefits of it, even if only in jokes about not doing it, EVER. From fat burning to increases in blood flow to muscles, decreased cortisol to improved energy, aerobic exercise does have its benefits. The cycle is my favorite for aerobic conditioning, and more.
When a lifter wants to drop a weight class, aerobic training can speed up the process exponentially with little effort and strength lost, if done properly! That is what I am here for, that, and to help those still rare crossovers to the Hybrid world.
The most interesting thing about cycling for any strength athlete is the lack of eccentric loading on muscle tissue and the very little trauma it causes to tissues. Translation: you can expand and develop aerobic conditioning without worry of hurting yourself (unless you crash, of course) and not lose muscle mass. That is less the case with running since every time your foot strikes the ground, you experience large impact force and to compensate and stabilize the hip, knee, and ankle the muscles fire, but briefly lengthen to absorb impact just before the concentric contraction the provides the propulsion forward. Bodybuilders should definitely take note. I recommend cycling even over walking on the treadmill, for maintaining muscle during dieting and contest prep and taking the pressure off the knees/hips during those times of increased injury due to caloric/nutrient deprivation.
The only real concern with cycling can be almost entirely a quadriceps dominant activity with some glute recruitment. To get the hamstring’s involved, you have to perform a full pedal stroke that includes an upwards pull on the pedals as well as pressing downwards. So it is important to use clip less pedals and bike shoes,using these is oddly and often referred to as “clipping in”. It allows for the rider to pull up on the pedal during the upstroke with the hamstring and psoas / hip adductors. Learning to use the entire leg throughout the entire stroke is more efficient and reduces the chances of developing an imbalance. Many do not feel comfy with clip less pedals. They, for all intent and purpose, attach you to the bike. It takes only an outward twist of your heel to disconnect. So it may take a few times to practice. It is worth it.
As I mentioned above, cycling can get very expensive. Invariably, once your get a bike, you find yourself wanting another bike. A bike that can do something, or more so, go somewhere your current bike cannot. Choosing your first bike is the most important one. You can get that carbon fiber frame, dual suspension downhill bike after you have mastered riding around the neighborhood and know your new hobby is something you are going to continue doing. So choosing the bike you will actually ride is probably the most important thing. If you purchase a road bike, but live in a busy city and you do not feel comfortable riding in and around traffic, you may never take the bike out. Or you may never get proficient with clipless pedals and take a fall at every stoplight. There’s nothing better for the ego than tipping over at less than 1 mph because you cannot get your feet free from the pedals. If that is the case, then maybe locating a park with trails nearby so you make the mountain bike the one you happily put miles on. If you plan on riding some of both, cyclocross bikes are beefed up road bikes with more aggressive tires. They are equally adept to road or dirt and are a lot of fun. If you are going to do 100 mile road races, you should get a road bike, if you are going to do triathlons, it only makes since to get a tri-bike. Some bike shops or other cyclists will talk you into a road bike b/c it is more comfy, etc., then add a forward/extended seat post and aero bars to make it “like a tri-bike”. But after your first triathlon, I assure you, you will want a tri-bike. So just get the tri-bike and learn to get comfy in the not so comfy, forward leaning/ass up aero position.
An entry level mountain bike that will last, with disc brakes and good for general aerobic conditioning begins at around $500. Top end mountain bikes, both hard tails (front only suspension) and full suspension (bikes with front and rear suspension), can easy sell for $2500 to as much as you might want to spend. I recommend a “hard tail”, or front only suspension bike. They are more affordable and can be ridden on anything a full suspension bike can, and are lighter than a comparable classed full suspension bike. They can be ridden all over. If you want, you can race a cross-country mountain bike race. Mountain bike races are not only in the mountains. Think trails, they can be found in the area you live like just about everything else with a Google search. Mountain bikes are found in 26′, 27.5′, 29′ wheel / tires. 26′ were nearly the only height tire for the longest time. In the early to mid 2000s, the 29′ wheels gained popularity because of their “rolling speed” and their ability to run over larger objects. Now the 27.5″ bikes, a happy medium, are the go to size for most cyclists. Riding trails tend to work more of the entire body since you have to stand and sit to negotiate obstacles and turns more than a road ride. Trails are also void of cars.
A good road bike is easy to get onto at around $600 also. It won’t be the lightest, but for most readers of this, a few lbs on a bike will equal metal over carbon fiber, and that mean you big, strong guys and gals won’t break it (as easily). On that, too many people spend hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars lightening their bikes by grams, when they could drop lbs of body fat instead. The latter is cheaper and will improve race times far more than replacing your aluminum handlebars with carbon ones. Road bike are great training tools. They are comfy to ride and can be put on a stationary trainer (more on trainers below) in your home so you can watch your favorite Netflix shows while getting in your aerobic or cardio work.
Triathlon bikes are well known for their uncomfortable, “aero” riding position. The seat is nearly directly over the cranks and pedals and bars are lower. It places the rider in a lower shoulders, higher butt position to orient the torso as parallel to the ground as possible to reduce the surface area of the body leading directly into the friction of moving through air. Like trying to lighten a cycle, many new riders get caught up in trying to “get aero” far before they are ready. New riders need to easy into the aero position and remember that just like you may never squat like the top lifter, you may also never ride like Kona [Ironman World Championships] qualifiers. If you are a bigger rider, you may never, no matter how parallel you get to the ground, be aero. Sorry big fellas.
Cyclocross bikes are cool. I have never had one, but I have always wanted one. They are very similar to road bikes, only beefed up to ride on trails. With a tire switch and a gear change they can be great road bike. They beefier frame construction makes them responsive and able to stand a bigger, stronger athlete like the ones I figure are reading this.
A couple of years ago, fat tire bikes began to gain popularity in the two wheel market place. They have come a very long way since the first fat tire bike where hand built by bolting or welding two regular size wheels next to each other. I picked one up back in the January and let me tell you, it is fun. You can run over almost anything, riding one is like being a kid on their first bike. The fat tires allow you to ride on pavement, trail, mud, sand and even on snow. I really enjoy being able to ride pretty much anywhere. I take mine to the beach most often, but it is just as fun on the trails as my mountain bike. So while it may seem like a specialty, or niche, cycle, it is actually the most capable of any. Its versatility alone make the fat tire bike worth while. If you are not racing mountain bikes, but just riding trails for the conditioning, I suggest you forego the traditional mountain bike, and get the fatty tired bike.
Stationary trainers are great for when the weather is bad or during winter. Like riding trails, trainers also keep you out of traffic. Getting hit by car most often negates the positive effects of any cycling. You can set it up with your bike in your home or in the garage. If you put it in front of your TV you can zone out to your favorite shows. Another variant of the stationary trainer is the Computrainer. You will typically find them at a local cycle training center. They are expensive,more than many bikes, so putting one in your home would be something a pretty serious cyclist might do. The Computrainer is a stationary trainer linked to a computer and monitors. The trainer simulates real road courses or a designed course. I highly recommend a Computrainer.
Even if you choose to use a stationary bike already in your gym, the benefits of the mobile variety are still there.