Yoga or weights? At Bikeitalia we have been dealing with biomechanical visits since 2015 and more than 1500 cyclists have passed through our LABs scattered throughout Italy. Most of our customers are cyclists in their “spare time”, meaning they have commitments, work and family. However, they do not disdain to train well on their bikes and to participate in races such as the granfondo or the marathon. Yet when it comes to complementary cycling workouts, many of them hit a dead end. Should I become more flexible? Should I build more muscle? Better Yoga or Weights? In this article I want to try to show what is, in terms of time and effects on the pedaling gesture, the best complementary training for the cyclist.
Yoga or weights: a comparison
Let’s start with a general definition of the two training methods:
- Yoga: is a discipline of Indian origin with more than 3,000 years of history. It was born as a spiritual discipline but in the West (it became popular from the 1980s) it was “watered down” and became a kind of dynamic training for flexibility and joint mobility. In a Yoga session there are postures, called asanas, which are held for a few minutes and which improve muscle elasticity;
- Weight : in short, strength training. It is resistance training, where heavy objects (barbells, dumbbells or kettlebells) are lifted for a set number of sets and repetitions. The goal is to create anabolic stress in the muscle tissue, which thus becomes stronger and hypertrophic (increase in volume).
Both solutions have advantages and disadvantages and allow to work on two fundamental points of the cyclist: flexibility the first and power the second.
Unfortunately the time we have is tight, we would like to do everything but it is not feasible. If we had to choose between Yoga or weights, which activity should we focus on?
The smart cyclist chooses the weights
Unfortunately, the weights win across the board. If we now compare the advantages and the repercussions in terms of motor transfer on the pedaling gesture, weight training is definitely the most functional choice.
#1 Yoga or weights: muscle elasticity
Many cyclists are convinced that the hyperelasticity of a yogi is advantageous for cycling. The answer is no. There is a specific relationship between the muscle length of the sarcomere (the basic contractile unit of muscle) and the force it can release. The sarcomere expresses maximum muscle tension when its length is about 2.2 nanomers, or when the muscle length is physiological. A muscle that is too shortened or even hyperelastic produces less muscle tension, which would result in a decrease in the power expressed.
Stretching for cyclists
Too strength training can improve muscle elasticity and joint mobility as much as yoga. In the studio “Resistance Training vs. Static Stretching: Effects on Flexibility and Strength” (The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 2011) athletes were divided into two groups. The former trained strength with traditional exercises such as squats and deadlifts, the latter instead trained muscle elasticity with static stretches. After 30 days, both groups had acquired the same joint mobility, as if we were training with weights using wide ranges of motion, our range of motion will inevitably improve.
#2 Yoga or weights: joint stabilization
Janda’s Law is a physiological law that states that the body stabilizes it before moving a joint. This means that the stabilizing muscles of a joint are activated just before the more dynamic ones are activated, so that the joint moves in a controlled manner. To give an example, when we step on the pedal, before the rectus femoris muscle (which is an extensor of the knee) is activated, the vast muscles are activated, which are patellar stabilizers. A delay in this muscular synergy is one of the causes of knee pain when cycling. Strength training, when performed with free weights and not with machines, it leads to significant joint stabilization, with excellent transfer to motor movement.
#3 Yoga or weights: injury reduction
Many cyclists believe that the best way to avoid cycling injuries is to stretch. But science does not agree with this statement. In a meta-analysis titled “Strength training as superior, dose-dependent, and safe prevention of acute sports injuries and overuse: a systematic review, qualitative analysis, and meta-analysis“(British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2018) Strength training has been found to reduce injuries by up to 66% in athletes. In contrast, stretching has been shown to have no effect on injury reduction. Indeed, as we saw in the previous paragraph, weight training improves joint stability and makes the muscles more resistant to repeated stress.
#4 Yoga or weight: motor transfer
Motor transfer is the ability of an exercise to improve a completely different motor movement. In this case, what, between the asanas of Yoga and the exercises with weights, improves the gesture of pedaling? Unfortunately for Yoga (and stretching in general) the motor transfer is not as high as that determined by, for example, a squat.. In fact, this last exercise has a lot in common with pressing on the pedal: it uses the same muscles, the same joints and improves the intermuscular coordination of the gesture, which translates into a more reactive nervous system capable of to correctly activate the motor units when we have to push.
Muscle building in cycling
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If we only looked at the side of performance and the time available, the challenge between yoga or weight training as the best complementary training for the cyclist, would be won hands down through strength training. Should we give up yoga? No. It is an activity that allows you to know your body, to deepen your knowledge, to improve your recovery and your sleep. If you already do yoga and love it, you don’t have to stop just because this article says so. But if your goal is exclusively cycling performance, then you should replace the yoga mat with a pair of kettlebells.
Sand you too have little time available and want to maximize it by training in a structured and targeted way, you can join the “Train with Bikeitalia” service. More than 80 athletes train with us every month.
After a preliminary interview and a road test to assess your physical condition, our trainers (specialized in cycling and certified in physical education) will provide you with a monthly training plan on rollerblades, on the road, indoors (even at home) and stretching, because we believe that a cyclist should train holistically. The program is built on your skills, characteristics and goals. We believe in the seriousness of our service to offer the possibility “Money Back Guarantee”. If after one month you are not satisfied, we will refund the full amount paid, no questions asked.
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