Cycling and Strength Training

By August 17, 2015 Training No Comments
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Cyclists have little exposure to differing training modalities. Programs usually focus on time on the bike and varying intensities. This works well for most cyclists and people progress month to month but are they getting the most out of themselves?

The Idea behind this article is to identify areas of scientific research that can be applied to pro’s as well as everyday athletes. It should give you the ability to look at your own training and to ask yourself, how do I stack up?

Traditionally strength training and endurance cycling performance hasn’t been seen as compatible by cyclists and coaches aside from the diehard track sprinting population.

However a growing body of literature is becoming available discussing a range of benefits, these include improved economy, improved TT performance, increase time to exhaustion at maximal aerobic power, improved power at VO2 max, and increased power during last 5 min of a 3 hour time trial (Bazyler 1015).

Strength training improves cycling efficiency in master endurance athletes

 

“The addition of a strength training program for the knee extensor muscles to endurance-only training induced a significant improvement in strength and cycling efficiency in master athletes.”

 

During their 2011 study Louis et al. found that strength training was able to alleviate all age related differences in Delta Efficiency in cycling and Maximal Voluntary Contraction torque in master level athletes.

Protocol:

Two groups of endurance athletes 9 master (51.5 + or – 5.5 years and 8 young (25.6 + or – 5.9 years). The study tested the effect of a 3-week strength training program, all subjects engaged in a strength training program of the knee extensor muscles consisting of 10 x 10 knee extensions @ 70% with a 3 min rest period between sets with 3 sessions per week.

Results:

Prior to the completion of the training protocol maximal voluntary contraction torque (MVC torque), force endurance and delta efficiency were significantly lower in the master athletes. Significant improvements were seen with strength training. MVC torque improved 17.8% in masters and 5.9% young. Prior to training the mean difference in DE when comparing young to masters was +10.7% post intervention the difference was +0.15%.

Conclusion:

This is the first study to compare the effect of strength training on endurance parameters in training matched young and master level athletes. The improvements in MVC torque and DE verify the beneficial effect of concurrent strength and endurance training in master athletes.

 

Strength training improves performance and pedaling characteristics in elite cyclists

 

“25 weeks of concurrent endurance and strength training resulted in larger improvements in cycling performance and performance-related factors”

Protocol:

9 cyclists performed endurance training and heavy strength training (ES) and 7 performed endurance only (E). The study was included 25 weeks of strength training for ES including 10 weeks of 2x per week followed by 15 weeks of 1 session per week. The exercises performed included half squat, unilateral leg press, standing unilateral hip flexion and calf raises. Weights were performed utilising the RM method subjects progressed from 10RM during the first 3 weeks through to 4RM at the end of 10 weeks. 3 sets of each exercise were always performed with a 2 minute rest period.

 

  Day 1 Day 2
Week 1-3 3 sets 10RM with 2 min rest 3 sets 6RM with 2 min rest
Weeks 4-6 3 sets 8RM with 2 min rest 3 sets 5RM with 2 min rest
Weeks 7-10 3 sets 6RM with 2 min rest 3 sets 4RM with 2 min rest
Weeks 11-25 3 sets 5 reps at 8RM 2 min rest OFF

 

Testing:

Day 1) Measurement of lean lower-body mass

Day 2) Maximal strength test and 30s Wingate test

Day 3) Incremental cycle tests for determination of blood lactate profile followed by a VO2 max test

Day 4) 40 min all-out trial

Tests were conducted before and after the 25 week intervention

 

Results:

Maximal strength: ES increased maximal half squat strength by 20±12%, whereas maximal strength remained unchanged in E.

Lean lower-body mass showed no significant change

30s Wingate: No significant change. ES peak power tended to increase by 2±3% whilst no change occurred in E. No change was observed in mean power.

VO2 Max and Wmax: No significant change in VO2max in either group, Wmax increased in ES 3±3% whilst there was a non-significant reduction of 3±6% in E.

Power output at 4 mmol-L-1: No significant change

40 min all-out trial: Mean power output during the 40 min all-out trial increased in ES 6.5±5.7% whilst no change occurred in E.

Conclusion:

25 weeks of concurrent endurance and strength training resulted in larger improvements in cycling performance as well as earlier peak pedal stroke torque.

 

Strength Training improves cycling performance, fractional utilisation of VO2max and cycling economy in female cyclists

 

“Heavy strength training improved cycling performance, increased fractional utilisation of VO2max and improved cycling economy”

The Protocol: 19 well trained female cyclists were divided into 2 groups E and E+S, the strength intervention for the E+S group lasted 11 weeks and included 2 strength training sessions per week. No significant differences between total training volumes existed between groups and no difference between the intensity distributions.

Testing:

Day 1) Muscle biopsies of m. vastus lateralis

Day 2) MRI Cross sectional area of thigh muscles

Day 3) Incremental cycle tests for determination of blood lactate profile followed by a VO2 max test and 1RM leg press

Day 4) Wingate and a 40 min all-out test

Testing was completed pre and post with 3-7 days between test days.

Exercises:

The E+S group completed 4 exercises at each session designed to increase cycling performance. The exercises performed included ½ squat in a smith machine, single legged leg press, single leg hip flexion and ankle plantar flexion. The cyclists were instructed to perform the concentric phase with maximal power an acceleration whilst the eccentric phase was completed slower over 2-3s. The progression of sets and reps over the 11 week period were as follows.

  Day 1 Day 2
Week 1-3 3 sets 10RM with 2 min rest 3 sets 6RM with 2 min rest
Weeks 4-6 3 sets 8RM with 2 min rest 3 sets 5RM with 2 min rest
Weeks 7-11 3 sets 6RM with 2 min rest 3 sets 4RM with 2 min rest

 

Results:

E+S improved 1RM strength in single leg press by 39% and quadriceps CSA by 7.4%.

E+S showed a proportional decrease in type IIx muscle fibers with a concomitant increase in Type IIa. The changes to 40 min all out test performance were correlated both with changes in muscle fiber type and changes to CSA.

40 min all out test: E+S saw a 6.4% improvement in mean power output whilst no change occurred in E. This test also tended to show an increase in fractional utilisation of VO2max in the E+S group.

E+S displayed a decrease in VO2 whilst cycling @ 150w. This showed a significant correlation with the changes in muscle CSA.

Conclusion:

This study demonstrates the benefits that concurrent heavy strength and endurance training can have on cycling performance and economy in highly trained female cyclists. In addition this is the first study to demonstrate improvements in fractional utilisation of VO2max the most likely modes for this increase were changes to muscle CSA and a shift towards a Type 11a muscle fiber type.

 

Further thoughts

The above studies represent some of the most recent papers published on the subject of strength training and cyclist. All three studies show improvements in parameters of cycling performance. Whilst the individual changes vary from study to study the common underlying themes remain.

Cycling efficiency and economy improve with the addition of strength training in masters, elite and female cyclists. Performance improved in both elite and female cyclists after 11 weeks of strength training.

Heavy strength training appears to be an appropriate addition to a cyclists program to improve performance and performance related characteristics independent of the cyclist’s current level of expertise as the changes were see in both elite and masters level athletes.

In conclusion strength training remains an evidenced based addition to cycling training which has been proven to improve performance across a range of populations. Further investigation into the efficacy of strength training for the time crunched cyclist would provide an interesting insight into the mix between low volume endurance and strength training.

If you would like any additional information about the above studies or how this information could be utilized to help improve your performance on the bike please feel free to contact me at hamish@sydneycyclingcoaching.com.au

 

Bazyler, C. D., Abbott, H. A., Bellon, C. R., Taber, C. B., & Stone, M. H. (2015). Strength Training for Endurance Athletes: Theory to Practice. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 37(2), 1–12.

Louis, J., Hausswirth, C., Easthope, C., & Brisswalter, J. (2012). Strength training improves cycling efficiency in master endurance athletes. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 112(2), 631–640. http://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-011-2013-1

Rønnestad, B. R., Hansen, J., Hollan, I., & Ellefsen, S. (2015). Strength training improves performance and pedaling characteristics in elite cyclists: Strength training in elite cyclists. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 25(1), e89–e98. http://doi.org/10.1111/sms.12257

Vikmoen, O., Ellefsen, S., Trøen, ø., Hollan, I., Hanestadhaugen, M., Raastad, T., & Rønnestad, B. R. (2015). Strength training improves cycling performance, fractional utilization of VO 2 max and cycling economy in female cyclists: Strength training and cycling performance. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, n/a–n/a. http://doi.org/10.1111/sms.12468

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