Cycling performance – Part 1: Why use Strength and Conditioning for cycling?
Here’s why S&C training should be a crucial part of any cyclists training regime…
VO2max is often considered to be the most important factor when predicting performance. But a comprehensive review showed that the best predictors of cycling performance were:
- Power output at lactate threshold (lactate threshold = point at which lactate removal fails to keep up with the rate of lactate production)
- Peak power output (ideally a power:weight ratio of at least 5.5 watts/kg in highly trained/elite cyclists)
- Percentage of type 1 muscle fibres in the quads
- but NOT VO2max as many would assume
Even short term studies (approx. 8-12 week interventions) introducing S&C training to well-trained competitive cyclists have shown improvements of 8-10% in time trial performance (1)!
Another study looked at competitive road cyclists involving an 8 week intervention to increase maximal strength with the inclusion of heavy squats three times per week, in addition to the subjects’ normal endurance training (2).
When compared to the group who used ‘endurance only’ training, significant improvements were shown with the control group (strength training included) in key measures of work efficiency (↑4.7%), cycling economy (↑4.8%) and increased time to exhaustion at maximal aerobic power (↑17.2%)! These are huge increases in such a short space of time and really cement the need to utilise proper S&C training to increase performance!
An interesting point that this study also made was that none of the subjects showed weight gain from the strength training intervention. This perception of bulking up is often deemed a factor holding cyclists back from strength training but the use of correct S&C training methods, as opposed to ‘bodybuilding’ methods will elicit ‘neural’ adaptation as opposed to excessive gains in muscle mass.
These studies used very basic S&C interventions which were not even individualised, so there is likely to be even more room for improvement with the correct coaching and guidance!
In addition to lower body training for cyclists, the upper body and trunk muscles are also crucial for performance. Cyclists require the ability to fix their torso and upper body in a stable position so that their legs can generate force efficiently. We’re not talking about serious amounts of strength here, just an adequate amount to anchor yourself in place without leaking force produced by the legs.
Summary: A well constructed and individualised S&C programme will increase your maximum power output, amongst other factors. You can then cycle at the same speed/rate, but at a lower percentage of your maximum effort. To put it another way, you can cycle at the same pace but with less effort, meaning you have the option to increase your speed with plenty left in the tank! Win win!
In our next blog, we will look at what cyclists should be doing in the gym to improve performance.
Check out the below videos from the training I currently do with cyclists Naomi and Lou at York Sport Centre, to improve strength and power!
- Jarvis, M. (2013). The Bike. In: Sarah Cole Strength annd Conditioning for Triathlon: The Fourth Discipline. London: Bloomsbury. p54-65.
- Sunde, A, Støren, Ø, Bjerkaas, M, Larsen, MH, Hoff, J, and Helgerud, J. (2010) Maximal strength training improves cycling economy in competitive cyclists. J Strength Cond Res 24(8):2157–2165.