How much weight is enough?

I am 70+ years old.  I ride outside 3x per week year round, averaging about 5K miles per year.  And when not outside or if preparing for a bike tour, then on the trainer with Suf.   I try to weight train in between outdoor rides.  I am not really trying to bulk up (duh) and my weight training is just to supplement my riding and to try to keep my bones from disintigrating any further.  So my big question is:  how much weight is enough?  If I lift 50 lbs in a bench press (2 sets of 25) do I need to try to increase that to get any benefit or can I just maintain at that weight and call it good.  The same question applies to all the exercises I do.  e.g. crunches - is 2 sets of 15 enough to maintain a decent level of fitness or do I have to keep trying to do one more etc.  Thanks for any references or suggestions.



  • Bob, long time strength and weightlifting coach (and cyclist) here, maybe I can help.  A great reference for you would be the book Barbell Medicine by Dr. J. Sullivan - especially for the principles and the "why" and "how" of strength training for older athletes.  (The older we get, the higher in priority it should become, for our cycling and for life in general - including things like bone density as you mention.)

    Its all good, and its all better than nothing - but Google around and take stock of how many folks in their 50, 60s, 70s, and 80s are having great results with a few basic exercises (for example, just deadlifts and presses), performed at relatively high intensity (loads heavy enough that you can lift in good form for 4-6 reps, no more), and moderate frequency (a couple of sessions per week is plenty), and moderate volume (three "work sets" of the heavier loads, after a progressive warmup with lighter loads, is enough to sustain improvement for years).   That system also makes for relatively short, efficient strength training sessions that are easier to program with regular cycling.  After a month or two of "getting used to it," the weight training will have very little perceptible impact on your ordinary, 3-4 times per week cycling training - but will be having massive effects on your strength, mobility, and overall sense of well being - it is powerful medicine indeed.  Learn technique, be safe, gradually begin to increase the weights as you improve - its common sense and generally pretty obvious when it is time to add weight - because the final reps of the sets become much easier - because you are getting stronger.  Let it be easy at first, and progress very gradually over  period of a couple of months.

     The specific exercises that would work for you in terms of enjoyment/motivation, technical/mobility sufficient to perform them correctly, and resources (what equipment and space you have to train) varies with every individual.  The essential is (1) a big compound (multi-joint) movement for your legs, hips, and spine, such as deadlifts, squats, leg presses, or various single leg exercises, and (2) a big compound movement for your upper body, such as a press, bench press, pushups etc.  You may find that you don't need to do any crunches or much other "core" movements if you are working hard in those two categories, because they require your "core" - the muscles that connect your collarbone, ribs, spine, and pelvis - to brace hard and stabilize the entire time you are doing them - which is their basic function on the bike, on a hike, or picking up a load.

    Hope that helps.

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  • James,
    I hope you don't mind but I have a question for you. I saw that you are a strength and weight lifting coach. I am sure you are familiar with Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe. I was wondering if you thought that program would work well with a Sufferfest Triathlon Training Plan. Since I can no longer swim I have replaced the swimming workouts with jump rope or a pullup/ab workout. I have lost a good bit of weight through Sufferfest and a caloric deficit but have lost a lot strength as well. I'm looking to get that strength back without gaining too much weight or losing my triathlon progress. Feel free to comment here or shoot me an email at if you don't mind. Thanks in advance.

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