Kettlebell Training For Cyclists (Everything you need to know)


If you’re planning to add some strength training to your cycling routine, kettlebell swings can be one of the best choices you have.

Today I will unpack some of the benefits of doing kettlebell swings to help you improve your cycling performance, and (most importantly) share some cool data that I’ve managed to find online.

KB swings and cycling routine

You should add strength training to your cycling workouts

It is not a secret that adding extra strength training to your endurance workout can bring huge benefits.

In multiple studies that have been done over the last decade, it’s clear that adding additional weight lifting can positively impact endurance athletes’ (source).

But not all exercises are created equal. And to really boost your cycling game to the next level, without compromising on performance, you want to choose the strength exercises in s smart way.

Benefits

There is a number of benefits why adding more strength to your cycling will benefit you.

Doesn’t matter if you just getting started with your cycling routine, or if you’re a seasoned athlete. There is always room for improvement.

Everyone can benefit from doing some form of additional work.

  • For professionals, designing your workouts that are progressive in nature, studying your numbers, and seeing how they transfer into the actual performance are one of the best things you can do for yourself.

Even beyond just regular performance on your bike, lifting weights give you a better quality of life.

  • For recreational cyclists, adding more strength is just healthy. You can’t go wrong with that. And if cycling is your only form of workout, then you want to work on both fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers.

It’s all about muscle fibers

Muscle is not just a single unit. It’s a web of fibers. Think about your muscle like a city. The big city is made up of millions of people. And all those people represent different characteristics.

Same with your muscles.

In your muscles, you have mainly two types of fibers.

Fast-Twitch

  • Fast-twitch muscle fibers mean they contract faster, more rapidly, but are faster to get fatigued. The main source of energy for them is sugar (carbs).
  • Imagine when you pull as much weight as you can from the ground. That’s fast-twitch muscle fibers doing their work.
  • Or imagine you walk on the street and you tripped on the pavement. Your fast-twitch muscle fibers react fast and help you catch balance.

One of the main problems that the elderly have is a lack of balance and injuries from falling. That’s one of the reasons why it’s recommended to lift heavy weights.

As we age, we lose fast-twitch muscle fibers more rapidly than slow-twitch.

Slow-Twitch

  • Slow-twitch fibers are more aerobic, endurance-type fibers.
  • They contract slowly, and they don’t generate so much power, but they last for longer.
  • That’s why endurance types of athletes can run or cycle for hours. They use a predominantly slow-twitch muscle fiber.

They are typically smaller in size and use fat for energy.

What’s the difference?

Someone who is doing many explosive movements, like judokas or wrestlers, will have more engagement of faster twitch muscle fibers.

On the other hand, cyclists and runners will use mainly slow-twitch fibers.

But this doesn’t mean you just need one. Strength training supplies you with the variety of both that you use during any stage of training.

Just like a hybrid car can use both fuels, the best athletes got a good combination of both fibers.

For example.

  • If you do a steep climb or s spring, you switch into fast-twitch fibers. When you are doing a tempo race on a flat surface, you are utilizing slow twitch.
  • So the combination that you have within the muscles, will predict how well you are gonna perform, how fast you gonna go, or how long you can endure.

Also, remember that all muscles are not created equal.

For example.

  • The soleus muscle is purely fast-twitch. It is “silent” when walking. But during the running, it absorbs and generates the bulk of the force.
  • The hamstring is typically made of fast-twitch muscle fibers. It fires up quickly and rapidly.

That’s why you hardly hear about athletes who pull glutes or quadriceps muscle. It is usually the hamstring.

In fact, in soccer, most of the injuries are the hamstring injury.

See the picture below.

Picture from a study congress in Barcelona 2018
Barca Innovation Hub 2018

Speed and Stamina

  • Having more strength will definitely impact your speed. You have more power, and more strength so you can ride faster.
  • And if you are a competitive racer, being able to go faster should be on your bucket list.
  • But even if you are just a recreational cyclist, having more speed means you can get the most out of your workouts.

Strength training is not just the development of power. Having properly designed resistance training can lead to longer races.

What Is The Best Strength Training For Endurance Performance?

strength training for cycling

There is this misconception that the more strength training you do, the more muscles you will carry. And for sports like cycling, where you want to be fast and light, this can bring adverse reactions.

It just feels totally counterproductive.

So any additional hypertrophy may seem to slow you down.

This is true to some extent. Because you don’t need to carry extra 15-20 pounds of muscle if your goal is to ride faster, or longer.

Kettlebell swings improve your strength and build muscle

There are multiple ways you can add strength training to your weekly schedule that will improve endurance performance, without adding more muscle size.

You want strength. You don’t want size.

One of them is explosive training. Explosive training means low force and high velocity.

In other words, you don’t move a lot of weight, but you move it really rapidly.

Explosive training will add strength to your workout, without adding extra muscle size

The perfect example is the kettlebell swing.

  • During the set of 20-30 reps, you generate the explosive force from your hips that drive the kettlebell up.
  • And because the weight is not maximum, you can do a high volume of reps, so it won’t stimulate hypertrophy.

Another way to build on strength, without adding extra muscle size is heavy strength training 1-5 RM.

Here you simply train your muscles to be able to carry more weight. As the result, you can develop more force, with less effort.

It reduces the motor units necessary to produce a certain amount of force.

For example.

  • Let’s say you can ride for 20-minutes at a fast, competitive tempo. After that, your legs start to burn, and you stop.

The additional strength training with a heavy load can improve your time and ease your effort.

So you may either be able to go faster at the same time. Or you can maintain the speed, but go much longer until your legs burn again.

Kettlebell training does improve your cycling performance

Heavy kettlebell training reduces the effort it takes to perform at your current best

So it raises the bar. You become not only a better athlete but a more functional human being.

It also reduces the time to get to the peak force. This means you get into speed much quicker.

You recruit muscle fibers faster. So it makes you more efficient.

But that doesn’t mean every strength training will slow you down.

Nothing can be further from the truth.

Research shows that doing resistance training 2-3 times a week can multiply your results and add lots of benefits to your performance (source).

Strength training will not only get you faster on the bike, but it will also deliver a host of other benefits.

Keep in mind that strength training can come in many forms. This doesn’t mean you have to bulk up on muscles, do heavy bench presses, or 1RM deadlifts.

You can do a variety of bodyweight exercises, like squat jumps, and of course, kettlebell swings.

  • Kettlebell swings improve power, strength, endurance, also hip and spinal motor control.
  • It fires up both slow-twitch and fast-twitch fibers.
  • It also works on deficiencies. When you spend 10, 20, or even 30 hours per week on the bike, and you don’t do any other strength training, you definitely should work on some hip extension exercises.

Cycling is very quad and hamstrings dominant. So having a good kettlebell swing workout diminishes those deficiencies.

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Conclusion

  • For the best results, you should do kettlebell swings at least once to twice per week.
  • If you already spending 30-hour or more on the bike then I would reduce racing time and add some kettlebell training.
  • I recommend starting from 5-6 sets of 20-25 reps.
  • Focus on doing the explosive movement. Remember this is a hip hinge exercise so the vast majority of work should come from your hips.

Michal Sieroslawski

Michal is an exercise physiologist (MSc), nutrition coach, Ashtanga teacher, and fitness blogger. He shares his successes and failures to help busy men and women squash down 20, 50, or even 100 pounds of fat without leaving their home.

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