Shedding weight is one of the top priorities for most mountain bikers. Riders will pay top dollar to shave a few grams off their bikes in the belief that the lightest ride possible will help them on the trail. While I will not dispute that, all things being equal, a lighter bike will tend to go faster than a heavier counterpart I will argue that there is a time when adding weight may be beneficial.
Of course I am talking about adding weight to the engine that drives your bike – you! Every so often I hear from a rider who is concerned that strength training will add weight or that they have gained weight on my program. In a sport that tells you “lighter is better” seeing the number on any scale go up can be a bit unnerving. However, much of this concern is completely unnecessary.
The most important thing for you to worry about is your strength-to-bodyweight ratio. For example, if two riders can both deadlift 300 pounds but one weighs 200 pounds and the other weighs 175, the lighter rider has a higher strength-to-bodyweight ratio. The higher your strength-to-weight is the more functional strength and power you will have on the trail.
To better illustrate what I am talking about, let’s say that you currently weigh 160 pounds and your max deadlift (one of the best indicators of MTB specific strength in my book) is 200 pounds. Not bad but certainly not where it can or should be.
Now let’s say that you finish the Ultimate MTB Workout Program and your deadlift has gone up to 250 (which would be a pretty small increase) and your bodyweight has gone up to 170 pounds (which would be a pretty big increase). Your deadlift strength has gone up 25% while your bodyweight has only increased by 6%. This effectively bumps your strength-to-weight ratio up which is what you want from your program.
I guarantee that on the trail you won’t notice the extra bodyweight since it has been more than offset by the strength gains. Every time you need to lay down some extra strength and power to the pedals you’ll be able to do it far better than when you were smaller and weaker. As you can see, there is far more to the performance equation than how much you weigh.
One of the reasons that a lot of riders find themselves putting on weight with my programs is that the workouts target areas that usually do not get emphasized in regular workouts. Exercises like the deadlift and its variations target the hips which are comprised of the big gluteus (butt) and hamstring muscles. These muscles do not get worked as effectively with squats and leg presses, two more common “mountain bike specific” exercises.
When you stress muscles that are not used to getting worked they will initially respond by growing. However, I will point out that not all muscle gain is the same. If you are using compound lifts like the deadlift and you are keeping your total volume low then whatever muscle you put on will be functional in nature. This type of muscle gain will actually add to your body’s ability to create strong, powerful movement on your bike.
But if you are following a bodybuilder type program (using machines, doing 3 sets of 8-12 reps and/ or training separate body parts on separate days) then the muscle you put on will not be as functional. This type of training tends to “pump up” a muscle more than make it stronger, meaning that it is not necessarily able to better help you on the trail.
Obviously there is a point of diminishing returns as you don’t want to add too much weight and any weight gain you get needs to be from muscle and not fat (fat is always “non-functional”). However, adding 5-15 pounds of muscle from a good strength training program is not unusual or anything to be alarmed about as long as your strength gains outpaces your weight gains.
One last thing to keep in mind is that muscle is the best “armor” you can have on the trail. If your arms and legs look like they would snap in two from the slightest fall you are far more likely to get hurt when you crash. Mountain biking is far more physical than road cycling (the single biggest outside influence on mountain bike training) and therefore requires a more physical rider. Adding some functional muscle will make you faster, more powerful and decrease your injury potential. When you look at it that way, seeing the number on the scale go up isn’t so bad after all.