There’s an ever-growing amount of research that goes back approximately 20 years that demonstrates the performance enhancement and injury mitigation benefits of strength training in endurance athletes. Cycling is included.
Cycling, in all of its forms (track, mountain bike, road) is essentially about the ability to generate power. Yes cardiovascular capabilities are important, but maximal strength is integral to optimal performance.
Strength Training Benefits on Cyclists:
- Reduced energy demand (less relative force per pedal stroke) therefore reduced fatigability
- Improved neuromuscular function
- Increased maximal voluntary contraction (MVC)
- Increase in rate of force production
- Greater economy of movement (i.e. lower muscle activity when matched for VO2 Max and Peak Aerobic Power
- Increased power at 4 mM/L (the onset of blood lactate accumulation)
- Increased contractile strength of Type 1 Fibres – allowing ‘sparing’ of Type 2 Fibres providing greater late sprint effort.
- Increased musculotendinous unit stiffness – “less energy leaks”
Debunking the Myths
- “I don’t want to bulk up and slow down” Endurance cyclists won’t gain large amounts of weight through strength training. Concurrent strength and endurance training typically will prevent it. Usually, any small gains in lean muscle mass will be offset by larger gains in power output. “I’ll get stronger by just riding my bike” Yes – bike-specific training is important, but studies compared strength training and cycling vs cycling-only programs and found greater improvement in cycling performance with strength & cycling programs! Studies also show that many of the benefits from strength training for cyclists come from neural adaptions to high external loads (due to greater motor unit recruitment). Compare this to bikes, where the body is exposed to repetitive, low external loading.
How Do I Perform Strength Training?
The cyclist should aim for maximal high-fore low-velocity (HFLV) strength training on the basis of quality movement patterns – squat and deadlifts are integral for long-term programming!
As always, it’s important to develop relative strength before pursuing gains in absolute strength. What does this mean? Ensure side-to-side imbalances are addressed before trying a heavy back squat or 5RM Deadlift!
Strength training can be even more effective if you can mimic the lower body positions found in cycling e.g. Bulgarian split squat.
Training sessions should be approximately 2x/wk – one strength focused and one power focused. During race season, 1x/wk is adequate to maintain strength.
Importantly – don’t mix strength & endurance exercise – it can limit strength gains!
Ronnestad et al, 2015 Bazyler et al 2015 Joyce & Lewindon 2014 Aagaard et al 2012 Bieuzen et al 2007