/ Does cycling weaken your arms?

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JimR 24 Jun 2019

Does cycling weaken your arms? I’ve started cycling about 10 to 12 hours a week. I reckon it keeps me fit but think my arms have got weaker and have less endurance. I think that’s coz I’m not doing enough climbing but a pal says the two sports if not incompatible are certainly not complementary. I’m quite keen on doing a triathlon but am concerned it may adversely affect my climbing.. what do you think?

LastBoyScout 24 Jun 2019
In reply to JimR:

Road cycling/TT, maybe, as most of the effort is in your legs. Mountain biking, on the other hand, is much more of a full-body workout - at least, it is when I go and hammer around the local trail centre.

If you're doing a triathlon, the swim training should sort your arms out, anyway.

The thing to watch is flexibility - make sure you do plenty of leg stretches after cycling.

afx22 24 Jun 2019
In reply to JimR:

I don’t think cycling weakens your arms.  In fact I’ve been wondering if there’s a minor benefit.  Depending on your position on the bike, you might have around 40% of you weight going through your arms and shoulders, effectively pressing.  I’ve wondered if there’s an antagonistic benefit to oppose all the pulling we do while climbing.  It’s just a theory.

Backing off your climbing volume would certainly result in a loss of strength though, especially as we get older.  Modern thinking seems to be ‘use it or loose it’ and that become more applicable with age.

More of a risk might be the common theory that cycling shortens your hamstrings.  I have a background in cycling and have super tight hamstrings that really impact my movement on certain climbing moves.

cap'nChino 24 Jun 2019
In reply to JimR:

Very much depends. 

You may find that if you aren't eating enough (lots of proteins) then you may lose some muscle mass from arms (body breaking down muscle for fuel on top of fat but without knowing the cycling intensity this is hard to judge).

But much of the loss of strength will likely be down to lack of use, 'use it or lose it' as mentioned by another poster. I was riding similar volumes a while back and found my arm's size and strength shrunk massively, due to arm neglect (I was eating loads). I started exercising arms specifically and intensively at the bouldering wall and found the strength quickly came back. 

Initially climbing and cycling aren't particularly compatible as they utilise different muscles (Cycling = lower body, climbing = core and upper), but if you throw in some specific training exercises for the upper body the cardio aspect of cycling will end up benefiting your climbing and improve muscular endurance resulting in a net gain.  Regularly do high reps and sets of Press-ups, tricep dips, pull-ups, etc to build muscles up. The swimming for the triathlon will help upper body massively, too. 

Good luck with it all. Don't forget that proper diet throughout training and quality rest days will be just as important during your training period to get results. 

webbo 25 Jun 2019
In reply to afx22:

If you have 40% of your weight going through your arms and shoulders, there is something badly wrong with your position.

nniff 25 Jun 2019
In reply to JimR:

As above - use it or lose it.  It  won't make them weaker per se.  Losing weight through cycling will help.  Increased fitness and better recovery time will help.  You'll become better at rock-overs  and hanging around on slabs if you also work on your flexibility.   Good for winter climbing.  A lot of cycling and you'll have more leg muscle to carry up the crag, so bets work on your footwork

Phil79 25 Jun 2019
In reply to JimR:

I know in the past when Ive done lots of road biking (and running) and less climbing, I've felt a lot weaker in climbing terms (upper body strength/power). 

But that's mainly because I wasn't doing upper body strength training or lots of climbing, but rather lots of aerobic volume. So, I dont think its the cycling as such, its the lack of specific strength/endurance training targeting the upper body. 

If you have time and energy to do both, then you can probably maintain the two. 

felt 25 Jun 2019
In reply to JimR:

Just look at Dan and Si on GCN.

Ciro 25 Jun 2019
In reply to JimR:

A few years back I spent six months training up for a half iron man, then another six months training towards a full (until a knee injury stopped me). Once a week at the climbing wall kept me ticking over at the same grade, and when I went back to focussing on climbing had massively improved endurance and quickly progressed. 

The distance cycling actually shrunk my legs (I'd been commuting beforehand and tended to ride very sprinty so had built a lot of power in them) and my body composition was ideal for climbing by the end of it - I was calorie counting to try to prevent any further weight loss.

ianstevens 25 Jun 2019
In reply to JimR:

Cycling in itself won't make you lose upper body strength, unless your caloric and protein intakes are to low in which case your body will look to scavenge nutrition from the muscle tissue you're not using (i.e. your arms). It also won't help your climbing, as you get heavy legs (muscle development) which are only really a hindrance on the wall. Unless your cardio fitness is abysmal, its very unlikely that this is the limitation to your climbing so you'll see little benfit in a climbing sense by improving the CV system via cycling.

The real issue is that time cycling is time spent not climbing. Unless you have 20-24 hours in a week to really commit to both, chances are your rise in cycling is coupled with a reduction in climbing. Why would your body maintain your upper body (at the cost of nutrients, energy etc) when you're not using it, and effcetively sending the message that you don't need as much muscle in your arms. The "use it or lose it" mantra outlined above. With regards to less endurance, I'm sure I saw something about localised mitochondira numbers and muscle use somewhere, if I could remember where I'd link to it. Effectively, the drop-off rate of mitochondiral numbers in your cells falls quite quickly if you're not putting that body part under enough load by training (obviously there is a base number when you're "untrained"). Again, the story here is use it or lose it - but it will come back quicker if you go from trained to untrained than if you were never trained in the first place.

The two sports are, in my mind, very compatible - when you're tired from climbing, your legs have plenty of gas and vice versa. A cycling day is a rest from climbing, and vice versa, to a degree - I'd still aim for one proper rest day a week. The only difficulty is getting enough volume in of each, due to time and motivation limitations.  

JimR 25 Jun 2019
In reply to ianstevens:

Thanks all, sounds as if I need to do some work with my arms!

Lee Proctor 25 Jun 2019
In reply to JimR:

The last route I did was a three star 7c FA back in October 2014. At that time I had big arms and weedy legs. I completely gave up climbing afterwards and focused entirely on road cycling at a pretty obsessive level. I now have big legs and weedy arms. 

Neil Williams 25 Jun 2019
In reply to JimR:

Cycling does little or no exercise at all for your arms so if you're cycling instead of doing upper body work that'll be why you're losing strength.

It doesn't do them any *harm*.

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