Does strength training make me a better cyclist?
Running a marathon is a different stimulus to the body than lifting heavy weights in your local gym. Therefore, it is often said that when you combine both, one stressor will inhibit the adaptation to the other one. So is this true? Will I run or cycle slower if I include strength training in my training regimen? Or is it just the other way around? Will the strength training be beneficial for endurance performance?
In recent years, much research has been done on this topic; for example Rønnestad and co-workers tackled this question in an elegant study (2). They divided 23 well trained cyclists (VO2max > 66ml/kg/bw) in 2 groups. One continued its normal cycling program (E) and one group included, on top of their normal cycling training, heavy load resistance training (E+S), also called ‘concurrent’ training. The resistance training targeted the mainly the lower body and was performed on the same day as and before the endurance training. To test whether concurrent training was ‘better’ than endurance training alone, both groups were subjected to pre- and -posttests. For strength the authors measured 1RM on half-squat. For endurance capacity they let the subjects cycle 180min at an easy pace, followed by 5-min of all-out time trail.
The results showed that the E+S group only progressed in 1 RM half-squat. The E group did not, nothing new. More interesting are there results for endurance capacity. when we compare pre-and post-intervention period only the E+S group had a significant lower relative oxygen uptake (VO2), heart rate, lactate and Rate of Perceive exertion (measurement of ‘how hard it felt) at the end of the 180-min lasting cycling session. Furthermore, and this is particularly relevant, the E+S group improved by 7% in mean power output (Watts) at a 5-min time trail, compared to no improvement in the (E) group.
So how can this be explained?
- It has been shown (1), that with concurrent training the proportion of typeIIA (oxidative fast fiber) fibers increases in expense of the proportion type IIX (fastest, most anaerobic fiber a human being has). So the muscle gets a little bit more oxidative, in this way favoring endurance performance.
- Concurrent training improves movement economy to a greater extent than endurance training alone. This means for a same amount intensity (running, cycling,…) less oxygen is required. This is also demonstrated by the data in fig 4.
Endurance athletes: include heavy load resistance [3x(5-12RM)] training in your training regimen at least 2x/week. Resistance training should be prior to endurance based training and on the same day. Plan your training so that sufficient rest can be provided, because adding resistance training in your training week is adding a severe extra load to the athlete. Beware of overreaching!
1. Aagaard P and Andersen JL. Effects of strength training on endurance capacity in top-level endurance athletes. Scand J Med Sci Sports 20 Suppl 2: 39-47, 2010.
2. Ronnestad BR, Hansen EA and Raastad T. Strength training improves 5-min all-out performance following 185 min of cycling. Scand J Med Sci Sports 21: 250-259, 2011.