Maximal strength training improves cycling performance

Thursday, October 25, 2018

In endurance sports, like road cycling, aerobic endurance performance is related to VO2 max, lactate threshold, and work economy. Several studies now show that when combining endurance training with maximal strength training (ie high loads, few reps, focus on neural adaptations) athletes have improved work economy and efficiency.

The research

In a 2010 Norwegian key study, competitive road cyclists significantly improved cycling economy (CE) (average 5% improvement), work efficiency, and time to exhaustion at maximal aerobic power using an 8-week specific maximal strength training program. Note that this was in spite of a decrease in total weekly cycle training, and without change in maximal oxygen uptake, cadence, or body weight.

“A 5% improvement in CE should actually account for a 5% improvement in time performance over a given distance. Therefore, we advise cyclists at both recreational and higher levels to include maximal strength training as a supplement to their endurance training program.”

Sunde, Storen, Bjerkaas, Larsen, Hoff, and Helgerud. Maximal strength training improves cycling economy in competitive cyclists. J Strength Cond Res 24(8): 2157-2165.

But how?

In addition to normal endurance training, road cyclists should be doing 4 sets of half-squats, at 4 rep max, 2-3 times a week. That’s just 45 mins each week to ensure maximal activation of the neural-muscular system. If you’re not doing any strength training already, you should notice the difference in just 8 weeks!

The type of strength training is important to get these results; it must be the maximum load that you can do for those 4 reps. Other studies have shown a lower or no increase in work economy when the subjects do a mix of strength exercises, rather than focusing on maximal half squats, and of course your previous level of training will also make a difference.

In this short video, I’ll show you how to do this in the gym. I want to prove to you how easy it is!

If you want more advice, or you want to stop working around an injury that’s been bothering you, talk to one of our Physios who will help you get back on top.

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