Basics of Lifting for the All Around Athlete
You’re convinced - getting your deadlift and squat game on is going to level up that sprint, breathe fresh life into those always achy legs that never seem to have quite as much left in them at the finish line as you’d hoped, and take your racing to the next step.
Wait, what’s that, you say? Deadlifting makes me feel like a bus rolled over my back while I was in bed last night. Those 10 minute core workouts you assigned make me want to vomit. My shoulders may fall off my body after I crushed them doing standing overhead press. Wait… shoulders? Why do I need shoulders to cycle?!
And that’s when it hits -- learning to lift for power in the midst of being dedicated to a sport, or multiple, is learning a whole new discipline in itself. This is going to take some work, and with it, some intentional focus and newfound appreciation for what stimuli your body can adapt to. Moreover, it can be a little scary! Your body is going to ache in some brutal new ways, and it will take a bit of time to learn how to embrace good aches vs. pain.
But you know what? You can do this. Pretty soon, my bet is you’re going to enjoy it - especially when you reap the rewards on the bike.
With that said, here’s 3 things a novice lifter should keep in mind.
1) The best way to get stronger is to not get injured.
Too often, we get a month into our routine, and our bodies are starting to feel GREAT! We’ve adapted to the series of new exercises and we feel ready to PILE on the weight. This is when we go into the gym and decide we’re going to try to go for a 20 lb. PR 5x5 on the Deadlift AND squat. For four weeks straight.
Here’s the issue with your adrenaline fueled hype train. Odds are, if you’re reading this blog, you’ve got some nice beefy strong cycling legs and have some history of sprint training on the bike. You’ve been working power in your legs for a loooooong time! Therefore, your legs can handle the training stimulus that we’re stacking on you. After all, legs are amongst the largest muscle groups in the body, and the primary muscles you’re working with on a day to day basis as a cyclist.
However, it’s all about the BIG picture. Training for Power means training compound lifts. We use multiple movements that oftentimes engage the whole body, including all of those tiny stabilization muscles, tendons, and ligaments that are being loaded with an individual lift. The point of power training isn’t just to push your legs - it’s to catch your whole body up to speed while optimizing your body composition for performance, all with (when following the right protocol) minimal weight gain.
So after a month or two of basic anatomical adaptation, your legs can CRUSH these PR weights that you stack on since your body recognizes the basic movement pattern and you’ve been able to create some level of neuromuscular adaptation. Your lower back? Knees? Elbows? Not so much.
Take it slow. 6 months of slow ramp up beats out the person who has to take 2 weeks off in the middle of their off season due to injury every single time.
Feel like you might have another set of heavy deadlifts in you? Well let’s think about it this way:
Scenario 1: The Overachiever looking for an Overuse Injury
Let’s call you an intermediate lifter. You’re repping 225 for 5 reps after having slowly worked your way up from starting at 135 a few months ago. You feel GREAT and want to add a 6th set in to your 5x5 workout (5 sets of 5 reps). I have no doubt that you can complete this lift.
HOWEVER, you’re adding in 1,125 lbs worth of unprescribed weight into your workout that we didn’t plan before! And you need to be able to crush your sprints this weekend! As you can see, with these big, compound movements come some sneaky huge numbers if you’re not careful. Adding this sort of additional stress is also where we might start to see some nagging injuries forming. I’m not arguing to never add a set on your best days. It’s just important to see that single set within the larger context.
Put that nagging ego aside and set yourself up for success!
Scenario 2: Adjusting a Workout towards a PR in a responsible way
Same as above - intermediate lifter doing a 5x5 at 225. On the 5th set, you realize you have more to give, so you up the weight to your target weight for next week: 235. You complete the set with a new PR under your belt! Crusher!
Even better, you planned properly and you’ve only added on 50 lbs to your planned training load for the workout.
Which above scenario sounds less risk averse and more likely to set yourself up for success in the rest of the week’s workouts?
NEVER push beyond the pain point - or set yourself up for a risky situation. Just like you don’t hit every run, ride, or rock climb at 105% intensity, you can’t hit every workout in the gym with the goal to set 10 new PR’s. Sustainability and Consistency will drive incremental improvement - plain and simple.
2) Lifting for Power is just like learning to use a Power Meter: Lift by Feel
Odds are, you’re starting with lifting weights weekly, maybe twice a week in the offseason. For an endurance athlete who handles a high training load, I certainly wouldn't recommend more than one major lifting day a week while in season.
Regardless, start to learn to actively respond to your workout just like you actively respond to the numbers you see over the course of a ride. Again, big picture.
There are going to be days when you feel dead tired heading into the gym, but when warmed up, start to feel GREAT. There are other days when you’ll hit the gym feeling great, but suddenly realize you just “don’t quite have it” when you’re going for that last set that’s written into your program. Listen to your body.
Always continue on with your workout (unless you feel pain), but remember - it’s completely OK to lower your weights a little bit on an “off week”. Just adjust in the moment and talk to your coach about it afterwards! Maybe we were too ambitious. Maybe you need a rest block! Maybe you just needed to come into the workout on 8 hours of sleep instead of 6.
There are endless variables that could affect how you feel heading into the gym, just like there’s endless variables that will affect your performance on a bike. Completing your workouts with consistency but also some leniency (again, we can’t always lift for PR’s) will build the foundations for your continued growth
3) Never lift through Pain
Mentioned above, but this one is plain and simple. There’s bad pain and there’s bad pain. Remember the golden rule; The best way to get stronger is to not get injured.
Aches are not pains. If you are lifting through any sort of pain - dull or sharp, not to be confused with that all too familiar BURN, something could be up.
Talk to your coaches and get to the bottom of it.
What questions do my novice lifters out there have? Feel free to reach out with any and all questions. Cyclist, adventure racer, mountain biker, triathlete, or multisport — we’ll have the answers.