You’re 1.5 hours into a 3 hour training ride and have exhausted the generic conversational topics such as sports, politics and the weather! Granted at this point you can still muster the energy to hold a conversation, what do you talk about? More often than not, training and how to train is a topic everyone has an opinion on, but few understand the scientific reasoning behind certain methods.
In this blog I want to talk briefly about whether investing in a strength training programme is worth it… As an athlete myself, I used to question the benefits of strength training. I used to think that strength training would only give me marginal gains in performance, so would much prefer to get some extra miles in on the road, rather than hours in the gym. I think a lot of people hold a similar opinion! Let’s address this topic through sport and science!
Firstly, let me mention an athlete anyone who knows anything about sport will have heard of…Mo Farah (I know not a cyclist, but everyone can relate to him). Farah has been for a long time, a good athlete, however in the last five years he has turned into a world beater and arguably one of the greatest distance runners of all time. His old coach Alberto Salazar has been quoted commenting that it isn’t the 100 + mile weeks he runs it’s the 3.5 hours every week he spends in the gym which are accountable for these gains in performance! When Farah went to Salazar he was the weakest athlete he had ever coached, Salazar made him strong 1!
A similar story is that of Bradley Wiggins. Training for the Tour de France involves countless hours pedalling on the road and climbing up mountains. It is thought that this training alone would make him a tour contender, however it’s the strength training aspect and hours put in the gym every week, which made him a Tour Champion!
So you’ve heard it using examples of two elite athletes but what about the science?
Numerous studies have examined the effects of concurrent strength and endurance training in comparison to endurance training alone. Aagard 2 shows an 8% increase in average bike speed with strength and endurance training that was not seen in an endurance training only group. Sunde and collegues 3 showed an 5% increase in cycling economy, not seen in the endurance only trained group. Finally, Ronnestad 4 showed a significant improvement in 40 minute time trial performance, endurance training alone didn’t result in a significant improvement.
Without going into too much detail of why these improvements were found (although I hope to write a blog on this in the near future), these researchers mainly attribute the increase in performance to a greater development of type 2A muscle fibres. Type 2A muscle fibres have a greater endurance capacity so resist fatigue, yet they are still able to produce large amounts of force. This enabled an increase in both maximal voluntary contraction and rate of force development, all leading to improved performance.
Worth investing in?
Dave Brailsford (Head of Performance for British Cycling) was constantly talking about marginal gains for the British Cycling Team and he is referring to the 1% gains such as weight of bike tyres or a softer pillow for a better night’s sleep. If we classify a marginal gain as 1-2% increment in performance (being generous) then it is clear from research that performance gains through strength training of 5% and above are a lot more than marginal!
A proper, personalised, precise strength training programme is worth investing in and this is where Faultless Fitness can help. Sport Scientists at Faultless Fitness will tailor strength training programmes to you, so you can get the improvements in performance you want and deserve!
(Side note: I’m not saying that strength training single handedly got Farah and Wiggans to where they are in sport, as lots of factors have contributed to this. However, I and other scientists believe strength training played a major role.)
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!
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