Strength is a major component of fitness and is essential for any given sport including endurance sports. Most strength and conditioners now understand and implement such strategies to aid elite sporting performances. Recent studies have found reason to focus on strength training to compliment endurance sports such as cycling and running (1, 2 and 3).
Strength training will not make most people big and bulky like hypertrophy training (body building techniques) but will make one able to lift a progressively heavier weight over time whilst maintaining exactly the same muscle mass. In addition it will increase a cyclist’s power output, create a shift in muscle fibre types, and improve cycling economy. Ever wondered why other cyclists can turn on serious amounts of explosive speed and leave you for dead in a race in a split second? There are physiological explanations for this. But 1st lets delve into what strength actually is?
“Strength is an essential component of all human performance and its formal development can no longer be neglected in the preparation of any athlete” (Mel C Siff - Supertraining). Strength defined is a “product of muscular action initiated by electrical processes in the nervous system of the body.”
Defining strength for sports can be difficult as there are different types of strength.
Maximal strength is the ability of a particular group of muscles to produce a maximal voluntary contraction in response to optimal motivation against an external load.
Absolute strength is an involuntary muscle contraction when the muscles receive a sudden external load for example walking down the stairs and missing the last step but still being able to deal with the situation.
Absolute strength has also previously been defined as the overall weight one can lift in repetition.
There is also speed-strength and explosive-strength which we can discuss on another day.
If one would like to improve and develop strength for their given sport there are some factors to take into some consideration before hitting the gym and lifting some heavy weights:
In order to gain the maximal return of your efforts these factors above will need to be addressed.
Whatever you do don’t literally jump into plyometric training (as some old school running coaches suggest) before you have established sound strength gains. Strength builds the foundation of plyometric training, failing to do so may lead to joint pain in the lower back, knees and hips. Tendons and ligaments need to be strong before exposing them to high amounts of force (typically 7x your body weight). This will also boost your stretch shortening cycle much more than simply starting plyometric training with no prior strength training.
One thing is for sure though, strength training will not significantly boost your VO2 max (ability to utilise oxygen when exercising) (1). This will be boosted with your actual endurance training getting out on the bike for long periods of time.
Other aspects to consider is periodisation of your training programme. When to incorporate the overall plan across the year so your body peaks for specific races.
Exercises such as the back squat, split squat, and reverse lunges are great for developing those neuromuscular adaptations. I would advise against the deadlift as this can be devastating especially under loads of 85% of 1 rep maximum for 5 reps. Do that wrong and your season is over. You need special attention and guidance for that lift.
Furthermore the clean and jerk alongside the snatch are highly effective exercises (again under supervision) in developing explosive strength.
We work with some up and coming cyclists that have started to implement such training protocols - click here to see. We also provide a specialised Bike Fit Package from our sister company NJD Sports Injury Clinic - click here for our short video. Personal Training courses - click here.
Thanks for reading!
Garth Spencer BSc and MSc