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I've read (and it seems intuitive) that cycling exercises some muscles more than others. Other than the obvious lack of an upper-body workout from cycling, are there specific muscles that tend to be disproportionately weak in cyclists? Can an imbalance of muscle strength lead to injury? Should cyclists perform weight training to strengthen specific muscles?

Related questions: Effective 'equipment minimal' leg strength training for cycling?' and I feel long rides exclusively in my quads, should my calf muscles be doing more work?

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migrated from bicycles.stackexchange.com Mar 27 '13 at 15:05

This question came from our site for people who build and repair bicycles, people who train cycling, or commute on bicycles.

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Just to clarify, I'm specifically interested in lower-body muscles, where an imbalance might possibly lead to injury. –  amcnabb Mar 26 '13 at 19:26
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It may be wise to see a sports therapist for some exercises to strengthen the "non-cycling" muscle. The knees, in particular, can get messed up if the muscles get "out of balance". This isn't necessarily weight training -- a lot can be done with simple "stretches". –  Daniel R Hicks Mar 26 '13 at 21:55

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I've asked this implicitly of two qualified personal trainers. (One of the two usually trains Olympic athletes, so I trust his judgement.) Each time I said that I was interested in weight training to balance out the extra workout that my quads get (not just in the lower body, but to bring up my upper body strength too). Both of them said it was a reasonable concern, but put me on a programme which was all-round weight training, and didn't focus specifically on my 'neglected muscles'.

They each had an additional piece of advice to offer. One of them recommended I take up swimming, which is a good all-round workout (and gives you a choice of different strokes to work different muscle groups). The other looked at my posture and said my pelvis was rotated from its usual position, and that this is a common complaint in cyclists who get a lot of miles in. He gave me what I'd describe as balance exercises: stretching in particular positions, without any weights.

That said, they gave me the impression that if your all-round fitness is reasonable, a normal amount of commuter cycling (a few miles a day at a relaxed pace) won't do enough to your muscles to cause a problem. To imbalance your muscles enough to cause a risk of injury, you'd have to be a bike courier, get no other exercise at all, or be training for a race.

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Can you provide the strokes that work the different muscle groups. As someone with Patellar chondromalacia I'd be interested in this. –  will Mar 27 '13 at 13:54
    
The legs during cycling perform a quite similar movement pattern as the bipedal locomotion pattern. Our evolutionary history somewhat have "placed" massive muscles where they need to be. This is something that is being reviewed when talking about "round pedal stroke": the non-antigravitational muscle groups (posterior thigh mostly) should NOT be too demanded in the upstroke, because they don't have good efficiency in high power production: youtube.com/watch?v=dNpvASJDpms –  heltonbiker Mar 27 '13 at 16:23
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I got the impression will was asking about swimming strokes (given that I mentioned them), rather than the pedal stroke. Regardless, this should be asked (and answered) as a new question. –  Dan Hulme Mar 27 '13 at 20:50
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If you cycle a lot for significant periods of time, you can lose a lot of upper-body mass. If you are trying to be a competitive cyclist, this can be a good thing. If you are worried about your long-term health, it can leave you weak and prone to osteoporosis. I lift fairly seriously a few times a week to counter the effect of my cycling. I agree with Dan that you should do a general weight-lifting approach, not try to focus on a specific muscles. I have found that deadlift is a good exercise to counter some of the back issues I was having... –  Eric Gunnerson Mar 28 '13 at 3:52

I've heard/read olympic weightlifting trainers Glenn Pendlay and John Broz and various olympic weightlifting athletes -- Clarence Kennedy for example -- say (and I will try to cite these when I get a moment) that training anything other than the recruitment patterns utilized while performing the movement is a waste. And that makes sense. Becoming exceptionally good at something means practicing it, not practicing other things. You don't see oly lifters doing bench press, because nowhere in the movement they wish to master is a bench press included.

The same mentality should be adopted for any movement pattern. If you wish to be exceptionally good at throwing trash bags in the back of a garbage truck, be a garbage man, not a swimmer.

Now, say a portion of the movement is identified as a weakness. Continuing our oly lifting example, say (to simplify things greatly) the lifter is able to jerk more weight than he can clean, a partial movement pattern may be practiced to train the lifter on strengthening his or her weakness (in this case, the lifter would work more on the clean portion of the movement). The same mentality could be adopted for improving on weaknesses in any portion of the movement. In the case of pedal stroke, this would likely require some analysis on a dynamometer or from a professional.

This boils down to your goals. If you wish to be a competitive cyclist, losing muscle mass in every part of your body other than what is needed for pedaling is beneficial and desirable. That's the extreme end of the spectrum. If you wish to also play football on weekends, train other stuff.

In regards to injury potential, that's completely subjective. Are you worried about injuring yourself walking down the street, or trying to flip an 800lb tractor tire? If it's the latter, then, yes, your leg muscles may be so powerful that they can pull your spinal erectors if you have not practiced the muscle recruitment pattern of flipping a tire. The same is true for most things. Try sprinting at full bore after having only done body building movements for a whole year.

Should weightlifting be used to strengthen underutilized muscles? I think this is a poor question. How do you define underutilized? Do you mean underutilized in cycling? Do you wish to improve on your cycling? If you want to get good at weightlifting, lift weights. If you want to get good at pedaling, pedal. If you want to get good at pedaling on 100km courses that are entirely uphill, pedal on 100k uphill courses. Progressive overload is the essence of all training.

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