Are you a cyclist looking to take your performance to the next level? Perhaps there are a few important races you’d like to target next year? Need some advice? Look no further, I have all the answers you need to achieve those results you’ve been craving.
Resistance training is a modality of exercise well known by us sports scientists because of its benefits to performance in almost ALL sports!
If you’re a cyclist and don’t currently undertake resistance exercise as part of your training plan, I can understand why (being a cyclist myself) …you’d rather be out spinning the pedals in the winter sunshine than stuck in a gym lifting weights, right? But sacrifice a couple of hours on the bike for a couple of hours in gym and come race season you’ll definitely be thanking me!
Why is resistance training so good?
Resistance training elicits a number of beneficial adaptations to the nervous, muscular, connective tissue, cardiorespiratory and endocrine systems. These adaptations increase muscle size, strength power and endurance, which as you know are all important attributes of a good cyclist. I will explain some of these adaptations to you in detail, to help you gain a better understanding of why resistance training is so important.
Nervous system adaptations allow you to recruit more muscle fibres, increasing your strength and subsequently your power output. Not only this, neural defence mechanisms which stimulate fatigue may be desensitised, allowing you to train at a progressively higher tolerance level. In simple terms – you can train harder.
Changes in connective tissue include hypertrophy – hypertrophy simply means an increase in size. So, the strength and size of your ligaments and tendons will increase. These adaptations help support the increases we see in muscle strength and size, but also decrease injury risk by strengthening your muscles and associated joints.
Not only does resistance training directly improve performance, as briefly mentioned before, it can also reduce the risk of injury. In the long-term this will reduce restrictions on your performance. If you’re an athlete past the age of 45 you need to pay particular attention to this! Lifting weights maintains and develops your proprioception and balance pathways as well as developing postural muscles important for stability.
Not training your balance and coordination can lead to you putting stress on weak muscles whilst doing the simplest of movements. Resistance training also strengthens the muscles around joints, so if you crash in a race its less likely you’ll suffer a dislocation or torn muscle, PLUS your recovery time will be accelerated.
The adaptations I’ve explained to you above collectively enhance your sporting performance.
Specific to you
Your resistance exercise training programme will work best if tailored to the needs of your cycling discipline. For example, if you are a cross country mountain biker you’ll follow a resistance training programme with a strong aerobic component. This will result in increased capillary and mitochondrial density which in turn increases the oxygen supply to the working muscles. This will also ensure that unnecessary muscle mass isn’t gained. However, if you’re a track sprinter you’ll need a resistance training programme with a strong focus on explosive power. This will help develop your fast twitch muscle fibres and will result in transition of muscle fibres from slow twitch to fast twitch.
How has science proved it?
An 11-week study comparing the effects of heavy strength training combined with endurance training to endurance training alone found that adding heavy strength training improved cycling performance . A more recent study found that strength training increased lower limb lean mass and sprint performance in endurance trained masters road cyclists . I could talk all day about the science, but I’m pretty sure you’d get bored, so I’ll leave you with this thought…a systematic review in 2010 concluded that replacing some endurance training with resistance training will result in improved time trial performance and maximum power . A bold statement? I think you know the answer!
- Vikmoen O, Ellefsen S, Troen O, Hollan I, Hanestadhaugen M, Raastad T. Strgnth training improves cycling performance, fractional utilization of VO2max and cycling economy in female cyclists. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports 2016;26(4):384-396
- Vecchio LD, Stanton R, Reaburn P, Macgregor C, Meerkin J, Villegas J, et al. Effects of combined strength and sprint training on lean mass, strength, power and sprint performance in master’s road cyclists. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 2017
- Yamamoto LM, Klau JF, Casa DJ, Kraemer WJ, Armstrong LE, Maresh CM. The effects of resistance training on road cycling performance among highly trained cyclists: A systematic review. Journal of strength and conditioning research 2010;24(2):560-566
Heulwen graduated from the University of Birmingham in 2017 with a degree in Sport and Exercise Science. She is currently completing a Masters in Musculoskeletal ageing and health.