Why Strength Training Is A Must With Bekah Rottenberg

If you’re anything like me, you LOVE getting out on the bike but maybe you don’t like strength training quite as much. But the unfortunate truth is that we NEED to be doing strength training in addition to riding our bikes.

In this podcast interview, I chat with Bekah Rottenberg about why strength training needs to be a non-negotiable part of our routine. Bekah, who is a mountain bike skills coach and strength training coach, likes to say “you can’t be strong on the bike until you get strong off the bike.”

She shares the different types of movements we should be doing, common myths around strength training, and how it can improve our confidence, coordination, and mind-body connection.

bekah rottenberg

Listen To The Interview

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Stuff We Discuss In This Episode

  • The importance of strength training for mountain bikers, including its impact on improving performance and preventing injuries.
  • Discussion on muscle imbalances common in mountain bikers, such as tightness in hips, hamstrings, and upper back, and ways to address these issues.
  • The significance of the mind-muscle connection in mountain biking and how strength training enhances this connection.
  • How strength training builds confidence and coordination, and its role in developing mental and physical strength.
  • Differentiation between strength training routines for various cycling disciplines, such as mountain biking, road cycling, and gravel riding.
  • Explaining what constitutes the core muscles and the importance of core strength in cycling.
  • Debunking common myths about strength training, including fears of bulking up and the necessity of soreness for a good workout.
  • Strategies for incorporating strength training into busy schedules and overcoming mental barriers.
  • Differentiating between circuit training and strength training, emphasizing the importance of focusing on building muscle.

Connect With Bekah

👉 Instagram: @brave.endeavors
👉 Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bekah.rottenberg/
👉YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmk3DFlDFhRvK5aSWwRVNlw
👉 Website: www.bravendeavors.com

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About The Host

kristen bonkoski

Kristen Bonkoski is the founder and owner of Femme Cyclist.

An avid cyclist for a few decades now, she took to cycling during her late teen years — a time when she needed something to help boost her self-esteem and confidence.

Mission accomplished, the sport has become an important part of her life.  Kristen’s favorite disciplines are mountain biking and bike commuting, although you can also find her cranking out a century on her road bike and touring with her husband and son.  If it has to do with two wheels, she enjoys doing it.

Kristen is a certified USA Cycling coach, and she runs Rascal Rides, a website about biking with kids.

IG: @femme_cyclist

Full Interview Transcript

Transcript has been edited for clarity.

Kristen: Bekah, thank you so much for being here. Today we are going to discuss strength training, which I think is a great topic for this time of year. Before we dive into that, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Bekah: Hi, thank you for having me. My name is Bekah Rottenberg. I run Brave Endeavors Mountain Bike Skills and Strength Training. I coach kids and adults on the bike, and I’m also a personal trainer. I work with people in person, but I also have an online strength training program specifically for mountain bikers. It’s called Build class. You can participate live on Zoom or use the on-demand recorded version, Build Solo.

Kristen: As a mountain biker, why is strength training important to you, and why are you trying to get other women into strength training as well?

Bekah: Oh my goodness, yes. I need to go back to when I was mainly a mountain biker. I started racing mountain bikes in 2009, aiming to get faster by riding more. I worked my way up into the pro field and did pretty well at the local level. One day, at the Oregon Super Enduro, I was exhausted at the end of the race and couldn’t have gone any faster, yet others outperformed me. The following year, I started strength training, joining a gym, which was transformative. I’ve found, and this is from working with hundreds of women, that we get stuck in a cycle of doing more of the same thing. But often, if we shift focus and strengthen our bodies, it improves our riding.

Kristen: You mentioned earlier imbalances that most mountain bikers have. Could you elaborate on that?

Bekah: Sure. There are two main types of imbalances. First is muscle tightness, particularly in the hips, hamstrings, and upper back, leading to rounded shoulders. People often address this through stretching or yoga, which is good but limited. Tight muscles are often weak muscles. Strengthening these muscles can help them elongate and feel less tight. For example, sitting all day at work and then on the bike can lead to tight hips. Another issue is more of a disconnection than an imbalance. We’re often focused on our hands and brain, but mountain biking starts from the feet up. I teach balancing the weight on the feet and maintaining level pedals. In my strength classes, we focus on creating an even pressure through the feet and building a mind-muscle connection, translating to improved performance on the bike.

Kristen: That’s interesting, especially the mind-body connection. We often associate that with practices like yoga, but not necessarily strength training.

Bekah: Absolutely. The mind-body connection is crucial. You can’t strengthen a muscle until you connect with it. For instance, being able to activate your glutes while sitting or standing is essential before trying to use them while biking. We’re often quad-dominant, but it’s hard to use your glutes while biking if you can’t do it off the bike. I always emphasize being strong in your body first, then translating that strength to the bike.

Kristen: That makes sense. You also mentioned improved confidence and coordination. Can you talk about those?

Bekah: Sure. I focus a lot on building confidence with the athletes I work with, both kids and adults. Confidence builds when you do what you say you’re going to do, like committing to a workout routine. This helps build confidence ‘nuggets’ that you can draw upon in other areas of your life. Challenging yourself physically and mentally in strength training, recognizing your strength and power during difficult exercises, shifts your inner dialogue positively, impacting not just your performance on the trail but also in everyday life.

Kristen: It’s important to challenge ourselves in new ways, like strength training, especially if we’ve already found confidence on the bike.

Bekah: Definitely. Regarding coordination, consider a wheel lift on the bike, where timing and upper body movement are key. Off the bike, I incorporate coordination challenges in a safe environment to enhance body awareness. This helps in translating movements like a hip hinge and explosive pedal stroke to biking. Exercises like the bear swing through, where you’re on opposite hand and foot, improve brain-body connections in ways we don’t typically engage in.

Kristen: What should strength training for mountain bikers entail?

Bekah: Strength training should focus on five fundamental movements: squats, hinges, upper body pushes and pulls, and core work. This includes linear and anti-rotational core exercises. The balance of reps, sets, and intensity is scientific, while choosing specific movements and keeping the routine interesting is more of an art.

Kristen: How often and how long should mountain bikers train?

Bekah: A minimum of two hours a week is ideal. This is based on the Super compensation curve, where the body initially weakens post-exercise, then strengthens in response. One hour a week maintains strength, while three hours a week leads to gains. However, exceeding three hours without ample recovery can lead to marginal gains or even a decline in performance.

Kristen: Should we focus on strength training for biking or general life? Is there a difference?

Bekah: My approach targets both. Getting stronger generally improves mountain biking and overall life quality. Mountain biking is a full-body sport, and strength training helps in various daily tasks like lifting heavy objects. The five movements I mentioned are comprehensive, catering to both biking-specific and general strength needs.

Kristen: For our listeners who are road cyclists or involved in other cycling disciplines, is there a difference in strength training routines?

Bekah: Good question. Regardless of the cycling discipline, any form of strength training is beneficial. It’s about moving your body intentionally, under time and load, to improve muscle strength. This is different from the cardiovascular work on the bike. For gravel, triathlon, or road cyclists, any strength training will help, though a mountain bike program might include more upper body work. A specific road or gravel program would still incorporate upper body movements for balance and core strength, which is vital for power production and preventing issues like upper back pain.

Kristen: You’ve mentioned the importance of core strength. Can you define what the core is?

Bekah: Absolutely. The core isn’t just about the abdominals or having a six-pack. It includes all the muscles between our knees and shoulders, attaching to the spine and pelvis. Their main function is to stabilize our torso, preventing back pain. These muscles help us use our major muscles like the lats, glutes, quads, and hamstrings effectively. Core strength isn’t just about doing planks and crunches. Exercises like squats, deadlifts, and hip thrusts also provide tremendous core benefits.

I’ve edited the provided section of the podcast transcript to clean it up, removing filler words and repetitions while preserving the original conversation. Here’s the revised version:

Kristen: What are some common myths or misunderstandings about strength training?

Bekah: One big myth is the fear of bulking up, especially among women. This is unlikely because extensive cardio sends a signal to the body to be energy-efficient and not add bulk. Also, bulking up requires eating in a caloric surplus, which many people don’t do. Everyone’s genetics are different, so some might gain muscle faster, but it’s important to celebrate those gains as they power you through your rides. Another myth is the belief that soreness is a sign of a good workout. Soreness is just a response to a new stimulus and doesn’t necessarily indicate workout quality. Regular workouts shouldn’t leave you excessively sore. Lastly, there’s a misconception that you must go to the gym for a good workout, but effective workouts can be done at home with minimal equipment.

Kristen: So, the idea that strength training will make you too sore for cycling is a myth?

Bekah: Exactly. Another misconception is that stretching or doing more mobility work is always the solution. Often, a tight muscle is a weak muscle. Strength training, like sinking into squats or working on shoulder mobility, can improve flexibility and mobility, negating the need for separate mobility sessions.

Kristen: What advice would you give to women who struggle to find time for strength training or don’t enjoy it?

Bekah: It’s common to prefer being outdoors or find strength training boring. It’s about understanding the rewarding outcomes, like a clean mouth from brushing teeth or savings for a fun trip. If someone says they don’t have time, it often reflects a need to prioritize themselves. We tend to invest in others before ourselves, but investing in your own well-being is crucial. Strength training is more time-efficient than cycling prep, and in the long run, it saves time and enhances performance.

Kristen: Yes, strength training can be more efficient than prepping for a bike ride.

Bekah: Absolutely. And regarding the notion that it’s not fun, I understand that feeling. As a former collegiate athlete, I grew tired of gym workouts. But it’s about consistent effort, like brushing teeth or saving money. Once you start seeing the results and feeling stronger, it becomes motivating and satisfying. Consistency in workouts leads to noticeable improvements, which in turn makes the process more enjoyable.

Kristen: I’ve found that once you start a routine like strength training, it becomes easier and more enjoyable to maintain.

Bekah: Absolutely. Consistency is key in enjoying and benefiting from strength training.

Kristen: Is there anything else you think women should know about strength training?

Bekah: It’s never too late to start strength training. It’s important to differentiate between circuit training and genuine strength training. Dr. Stacey Sims emphasizes lifting heavy with long rest periods to signal muscle building. Circuit training often becomes more cardio-focused, while strength training should challenge your muscles to the point where you can’t do a few more reps, focusing on muscle fatigue rather than cardio exhaustion.

Kristen: Does Dr. Sims suggest incorporating exercises like burpees or plyometrics?

Bekah: Yes, she does. However, for cyclists who already get high-intensity work on the bike, it’s important to separate strength work from plyometric or high-intensity exercises. Cyclists can fulfill their high-intensity needs through cycling, while plyometrics can be included in gym sessions or through specific biking drills.

Kristen: Before our final questions, could you remind listeners where they can connect with you and the services you offer?

Bekah: Sure! You can find me at ridingbrave.com and on Instagram at braveendeavors. I have videos on YouTube for mountain biking and strength training. My main strength training offering is the Build class, accessible via my website or Instagram. It’s a live Zoom class on Mondays and Wednesdays, 6-7am Pacific time. In January, I’m offering a free promotion to start the year strong. I also offer skills clinics and programs for kids in Hood River.

Kristen: What bikes do you ride?

Bekah: I ride Trek bikes. I have the Fuel EX, an all-mountain bike, the Top Fuel for coaching, the Rail e-bike, and the Checkpoint gravel bike. I love them all and advocate for e-bikes to get more people cycling.

Kristen: Where’s your favorite place to ride?

Bekah: My favorite place is Squamish and Whistler. The terrain there is endlessly interesting, fun, and challenging.

Kristen: What do you love most about riding your bike?

Bekah: There are two aspects: the social element of meeting new people and the adventure of exploring new places and pushing limits. Mountain biking has been an incredible way to make friends and experience adventures.

Are You Listening To The Femme Cyclist Podcast?!?

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A podcast for women who love bicycles! We we celebrate all forms of riding and all forms of women, so whether you’re a road cyclist, mountain biker, or bike commuter, you’ll find your community here. Each week we’ll week bring you interviews from inspiring women, and offer tips and tricks to help you thrive on the bike.

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