Coach – “I’ve added 3 x weekly strength sessions to your schedule”
Athlete – “Won’t strength training make me fatigued? Gain weight? Be detrimental to my ‘main’ training?”
Coach – “Strength training will make you faster!”
Strength training is often viewed negatively by endurance athletes who are under the misconception that it will cause them to gain unnecessary muscle mass and/or have negative impacts on endurance benefits. Thus, inducing a decline in race performance. However, research shows quite the contrary is true.
One study (Sunde et al., 2010) examined the effects of maximal strength training on cycling performance. The cycling performance factor tested was cycling economy. Cycling economy is widely regarded as a strong predictor of cycling performance, with an increase in cycling economy strongly correlating to an increase in performance (Hausswirth & Lehénaff, 2001). Cycling economy can be defined as the amount of oxygen used at a set power output. Therefore, increasing cycling economy, decreases the amount of oxygen needed at said power output, increasing exercise time until exhaustion and hence improving cycling performance.
This study consisted of two groups. One group, who continued their standard endurance training and a second group who added an additional strength session (3 times per week) alongside their standard endurance training. The strength session consisted of 4 sets of half squats at 4 rep max. Individual’s oxygen consumption at 70% Vo2 max (cycling economy) was measured pre and post training.
Results showed that the strength training group significantly improved their cycling economy by 5%. The endurance training only group showed no significant improvements. A 5% increase in cycling economy arguably relates to a 5% increase in a timed performance (Hausswirth & Lehénaff, 2001). To put that into real money, an individual with a 20 mile cycling personal best of 60 minutes, who then undertook a strength programme, could improve their time to 57 minutes. That’s a 3 minute improvement from just 3 strength sessions a week! In addition, it is important to note that the weight of the individual’s did not change significantly over these 8 weeks.
Other studies had similar findings reporting a 3-11% increase in economy in sports such as running and cross country skiing, when a strength training programme was carried out (Storen, Helgerud, Stoa, & Hoff, 2008).
So if you are looking to take minutes off your cycling performance, then it’s easy to see that strength training is definitely something you should be considering as part of your regular training routine!
Hausswirth, C., Lehénaff, D. (2001). Physiological demands of running during long distance runs and triathlons. Sports Med, 31(9), pp.679-89.
Støren, Ø., Helgerud, J., Støa, EM. & Hoff, J. (2008). Maximal strength training improves running economy in distance runners. Med Sci Sports Excerc 40, pp.1087–1092
Sunde, A., Støren, Ø., Bjerkaas, M., Larsen, MH,. Hoff, J. and Helgerud, J. (2010). Maximal strength training improves cycling economy in competitive cyclists. J Strength Cond Res 24(8), pp.2157–2165
Stuart is an Exercise Physiologist at Faultless Fitness. Having studied sport and exercise science at degree level in the UK and postgraduate level in the USA he has been exposed to a wide range of experiences and is hoping to use this knowledge to help individuals improve their quality of life. He also has a keen interest in helping athletes improve sporting performance!