Notes from the Grup­petto

Don’t sweat about get­ting swole

Canadian Cycling Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Bart Eg­nal

The weight­ing game

Late into this year’s off-sea­son, I snuck away for four days of solo rid­ing in the South Carolina hills. The days were filled with many switch­backs, quiet back roads and Con­fed­er­ate flags on pickup trucks. The nights were con­sumed with re­cov­ery mas­sages, glut­tonous eat­ing and lots of gos­sip about cy­cling. This ver­i­ta­ble force­feed­ing of all things cy­cling was made pos­si­ble by the Ho­tel Do­mes­tique, a cy­cling-fo­cused ho­tel started by Ge­orge Hin­capie. Prob­a­bly the most in­ter­est­ing and/or de­press­ing thing I learned about what it takes to be a pro­fes­sional cy­clist was a small fact that I heard about Hin­capie. When train­ing and rac­ing at the high­est lev­els of the sport, Big Ge­orge re­fused to pick up his chil­dren for fear that he would bulk up. That’s right: he left his kids on the ground to avoid de­vel­op­ing any sort of mus­cu­la­ture that would im­pede his abil­ity to climb.

The mes­sage in this story is pretty clear: wait un­til af­ter cy­cling to have kids. Ac­tu­ally, it seems cy­clists don’t weight train. Just look at ema­ci­ated climbers such as Al­berto Con­ta­dor or Chris Froome who ap­pear as if they might snap if you hugged them. Even “big guys” such as Tom Boo­nen wouldn’t be out of place among waifish run­way mod­els. It seems that do­ing any­thing to bulk up just isn’t smart.

Yet just as com­monly held be­liefs in cy­cling such as “don’t eat the mid­dle of the bread or you’ll get fat,” or “air con­di­tion­ing will make you sick even when it’s 40 C out­side” are grad­u­ally be­ing aban­doned, the think­ing on strength and con­di­tion­ing is evolv­ing as well. For the past year, I’ve been lis­ten­ing closely to peo­ple like for­mer pro An­drew Ran­dell, owner of The Cy­cling Gym, talk about why it’s so im­por­tant to build your body in prepa­ra­tion for rac­ing. “I to­tally wrecked my body from years of just rid­ing,” Ran­dell says. “The best way to avoid this is through strength train­ing.” Trevor Con­nor, Velonews con­trib­u­tor and the coach of my club’s race team, fur­thers Ran­dell’s ideas. “Weight train­ing im­proves the re­sis­tance of mus­cle fi­bres and de­lays re­cruit­ment when rid­ing. Weights or ply­o­met­rics will help you in the third hour of your big race.”

This past fall, I was duly in­spired and en­gaged Ran­dell to de­sign a sim­ple pro­gram for me. He pre­scribed some “sim­ple” ket­tle­bell ex­er­cises, such as squats and lunges, as well as some ex­er­cises with ropes and rings like pushups and chin-ups. He then in­structed me to try a few and film my­self so he could as­sess my form. I had a friend shoot footage on my phone, which I sent to Ran­dell. Min­utes later I got a mes­sage back: “You’d bet­ter stop now and just come in for some guid­ance be­fore you hurt your­self.”

When I went into the gym, it quickly be­came clear how few mus­cles cy­cling worked. I could sit on my TT bike and jam out 300 watts for 20 min­utes, but I couldn’t pick up a 20 lb. ket­tle­bell and do a proper squat with­out com­ing close to in­jur­ing my­self. When I did one-leg work, I found my sta­bi­lizer mus­cles were non-ex­is­tent. The chin-up bar had noth­ing to fear from me. My ten­dons screamed bloody mur­der when I tried to lift a hex bar.

Un­daunted, Ran­dell pa­tiently walked me through the proper tech­niques and recorded videos of me for fur­ther help. Then he sent me off into the world. I joined a gym near my work and started to go for weekly ses­sions of self-in­flicted hu­mil­i­a­tion. Sur­rounded by beau­ti­ful peo­ple with hairy legs, I lifted my small weights and de­vel­oped my scrawny body. Sud­denly an amaz­ing thing hap­pened – week by week, the num­bers went up. You see, when you have no mus­cu­lar strength, you can make gains very quickly. It’s like play­ing Candy­crush: you get a lot of lit­tle dopamine hits early on, and then you are hooked. As my mus­cles grew, so too did my ten­dons. I could ac­tu­ally hold things with­out my hands cry­ing foul. Now, my strength work­outs re­place easy ride days.

Now, in the midst of race sea­son, I’m work­ing out weekly to en­sure I don’t lose the gains I’ve made. And if I can’t make it to the gym, I just pick up my five year old to get my reps in.

“Sur­rounded by beau­ti­ful peo­ple with hairy legs, I lifted my small weights and de­vel­oped my scrawny body.”

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