10 Strength Training Tips for Endurance Cycling!
Strength training plays a vital role in Endurance cycling. If your training consists solely of time in the saddle, it’s time to sit up and take note - you could be missing out on important performance in the crucial late stages of your races and time trials.
The benefits of strength training for endurance cycling relate to your ability to use existing muscle more efficiently. Strength training has been shown to improve endurance performance by increasing the maximum strength of slow-twitch muscle fibres, thereby delaying activation and recruitment of less efficient type II muscles fibres. This will allow you to reserve, and benefit from, these more powerful fibres later in a race. The improvement in cycling economy induced by strength training will also reduce the amount of oxygen required by the muscles during submaximal cycling, therefore increasing the availability of oxygen in the blood. Strength training leads to the conversion of the fast-twitch type IIx fibres into the more fatigue-resistant (yet still capable of producing high levels of strength and power) type IIa fibres, giving you an extra gear when you need it! Here are 10 strength-training tips to help you improve your cycling performance:
1. Train for absolute strength - heavier weights, less reps, and longer rests.
2. During resistance training, make sure you use movement patterns similar to the pedalling action on the bike e.g. step ups, lunges, squats.
3. The concentric phase of a movement should be performed as quickly as possible, while the eccentric, non-cycling-specific phase should be performed more slowly (lasting 2-3 seconds).
4. Start strength training after the end of a competitive season, when endurance training has lower priority.
5. Reduce the volume and intensity your endurance training during the first 2 to 3 weeks of strength training.
6. Complete any high-intensity endurance training sessions early in the day, ensuring a recovery period of a least 3 hours before performing resistance training to limit molecular interferences at the muscle level.
7. Fully refuel between the morning high intensity endurance training session and the afternoon strength session to replenish depleted glycogen stores in the muscles and liver. Meals should consist of mostly carbohydrate with some protein. Refuelling should begin within 30 minutes post exercise and be followed by a high-carbohydrate meal within 2 hours. Aim for a carbohydrate intake of 1.5g/kg bodyweight within 30 minutes and then every 2 hours for 4-6 hours. After which, resume your typical, balanced diet.
8. Complete 2 strength-training sessions a week with multiple exercises focusing on the most important muscles for the pedalling action – namely the gluteus and quadriceps muscles at the start of the push (power) phase, before being joined by the hamstrings and calf muscles a quarter into the revolution and through the pull (upstroke) phase. This highlights the importance of equally strong quadriceps and hamstring muscles.
9. To avoid detraining effects during the competitive season, perform 2 to 3 sets of 5 repetitions at a load with which you can perform a maximum of 8 to 10 repetitions.
10. Resistance exercise should be supported by readily digestible, leucine-rich protein as soon as possible after training to maximise muscle protein synthesis (e.g. whey protein).
Remember that introducing strength training will most likely require you to reduce your endurance training volume and intensity to avoid overtraining. A review article in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2010 concluded that replacing a portion of a cyclist’s endurance training with maximal resistance training is likely to yield better time-trial performance and increase maximal power. It is important to note that strength training should be focused on in the off-season and tapered off back to full endurance training 4 weeks before racing to ensure optimal function of the aerobic and anaerobic systems.
Yamamoto LM, et al. The effects of resistance training on road cycling performance among highly trained cyclists; a systematic review. J Strength Cons Res. 2010 Feb; 24(2): 250-6.