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Strength training and the importance of leg exercises: novices, experts and clubs cyclists

Strength training may improve cycling performance through increased leg power, a greater ability to cope with local fatigue and improved upper body stability. However, this has yet to be proved in research. In beginners and club level cyclists, more cycling is probably the best way to improve performance. Taking time out from cycling to do strength training will probably lead to a decline in cycling efficiency and skill level.
Strength training for cycling – does it really help?

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Strength training is standard practice in sport; most athletes and their coaches know that improved strength, power or muscular endurance is likely to lead to improved performance in competition. However, recent evidence suggests that, except for those at the very top of their sport, the same may not always be true for cyclists. James Marshall explains

Top cyclists such as the Tour de France competitors have a full sports science programme helping them, including nutrition, physiology and psychology. However, apart from training on the bike, the average clubman or woman will probably limit him or herself to a bit of resistance training down at the gym, especially in the off-season. This article aims to answer the following two questions: Is strength training relevant for the beginner cyclist? How does strength training affect performance in elite sprint cycling and road racing?

 

 

Strength training for the novice cyclist

The ability to produce a greater amount of force, to delay fatigue and to control the bicycle are all beneficial when looking to improve cycling performance, and strength training can help all three of these components.

Working with weights for the lower body – eg two days per week of four sets of 5 Repetition-Max (5RM) squats – will help improve leg strength as tested in the squat. Repeated lifting of weights, with less recovery time – eg a circuit of squats, lunges, step- ups all at 15-20RM with 10 seconds of rest – will improve local muscular endurance. The use of weights and stability exercises in the upper body and torso will improve body strength and stability in these areas. But can this help the beginner cyclist improve their cycling performance? Strength training inevitably leads to increased strength, but that is only relevant if it helps improve cycling!

A study carried out in 1995 compared the effects of a) single-joint strength training b) multiple-joint strength training and c) a sprint cycling programme in beginner sprint cyclists (1). The sprint cycling performance was measured by how much power they could produce in five seconds on a cycle ergometer.

All three groups followed their individual programmes for eight weeks, followed by a specific six-week programme of sprint cycling. The two strength-training groups improved their 10RM by 41-44%, with no significant difference between the two forms of training. However, all three groups improved their sprint performance by 4-7%, with no significant difference between the three groups.

It appears, therefore, that for newcomers to a sporting activity, doing that activity may be enough stimulation to initiate a change and improve performance. In the study above, it may be that after only eight weeks of strength training the improvements in the 10RM test were mainly skill based, and the cyclists did not actually get stronger, but just better at doing the strength exercises. It would be interesting to see if after a further eight weeks of strength training whether they got stronger in the 10RM test, and then see if that improved their sprint cycling.

 

 

 

Strength training for club cyclists

If beginner cyclists are able to improve their cycling through practice alone, how about club cyclists who are quite proficient at cycling but may need to be better conditioned? A recent study looked at introducing either a strength-based weights programme, or a muscular-endurance weights programme on club cyclists, three times a week for 10 weeks (2). Testing was based on 1RM on four leg exercises, and lactate and VO2 levels during a progressive cycle ergometer test.

Compared to a control group who did no strength training, the two strength-trained groups again showed improved 1RM scores on the strength tests. But neither group showed any improvement over the control group on the lactate and VO2 levels during the cycle ergometer test. This led the authors to conclude that strength training did not improve the cycling performance of club level cyclists.

However, the cycling test of both of these studies was conducted on an indoor ergometer, in a fixed position. Cycling, especially downhill or mountain biking (DOMB) requires great stability in the upper body. That, and remaining in a position bent over the handlebars for long periods of time in endurance cycling mean that pressure is placed on the lower back.

Whilst strength training has not been conclusively proven to improve cycling performance, certain exercises may be beneficial in allowing the new and intermediate cyclist to spend more time in the saddle, without incurring postural and overuse injuries in the upper body and lower back. Postural exercises performed twice a week for 15 minutes can help establish a base level of strength in the upper body and torso, helping the cyclist adapt to the added demands of their sport.

Go through the five exercises in order; start with one set and then progress to two sets with 30 seconds rest between exercises, and two minutes rest between sets. If you have any previous lower back pain consult your doctor or physiotherapist before commencing this routine.

 

 

 

Advanced level cyclists

If beginner and club level cyclists are best able to improve their cycling performance by simply doing more cycling, what about those at higher performance levels? Elite cyclists would probably find it hard to increase their volume of training and, indeed, excessive volumes of training are linked to overtraining in endurance athletes (3). Are they better off looking at improving and making their current training regime of cycling more efficient, or can weight training offer real advantages?

One potential disadvantage of weight training may be the increase in muscle mass that results. An increase in size could hinder the cyclist by increasing the air resistance they face as they cycle at speed; the greater the speed, the greater the drag of wind resistance. Even where drafting is allowed, a larger ‘frontal’ cross-sectional area will make efficient drafting harder.

The other resistance faced by the cyclist is that of gravity; a greater mass means that there is gravitational force to overcome when there is any kind of incline. While this is not an issue for a track cyclist on a perfectly level track, it becomes a major factor for road cyclists, especially where the terrain is hilly. Any strength-training routine must therefore result in an improvement in leg power or leg cadence greater than the increase in gravitational or air resistance produced as a result of increased size or mass. To date, no research has been published that analyses this cost/benefit ratio in elite cyclists.

For endurance cyclists, increasing the legs’ ability to resist fatigue is important. Whilst the majority of work may rely on aerobic metabolism to provide the energy for the race, about 13% of the energy required comes from anaerobic metabolism (4). This energy source may be called upon at crucial times, such as the sprint to the finish line, or racing up a hill. The legs themselves may be working maximally, producing lactic acid, but because the rest of the body is working sub-maximally, it can redistribute this lactic acid to the liver, heart and upper body muscles, where it can subsequently be metabolised.

If the legs can become more proficient at dealing with an increase in lactic acid, by removing it quickly from the system, then more work can be done at a higher intensity, allowing the cyclist to sprint for longer. This is the theory behind circuit-type training of the legs, but as yet, there are no studies in elite cyclists that specifically assess this type of training.

However, these peripheral adaptations have been shown to take place after High Intensity Training (HIT) in well-trained cyclists (average peak VO2 = 64.5ml/kg/min) after only four weeks of training at two sessions per week (5). Cyclists were split into three different training groups and a control group.

All three training groups showed an improvement in their 40km time trial, anaerobic capacity, peak VO2 and ventilatory thresholds, but not their total plasma volume (PV). The fact that the PV did not change but the performance measures all improved, indicates that the changes were in the legs, not in the central system. The fact also that three different high-intensity training routines all led to improvements shows that it was introducing the intensity that led to improvements in performance. Moreover, it may be that sequencing the different routines every four weeks would lead to further positive changes.

 

 

Explosive leg training

A recent study in New Zealand looked at combining HIT with explosive leg exercises, in an attempt at using specific power exercises to improve mechanical efficiency and anaerobic power (6). This study took place within the cyclists’ competitive season, with the exercise protocols replacing 20% of their normal existing road training.

The cyclists were tested for 1km and 4km power as well as peak power and oxygen cost. After five weeks of training (12 sessions lasting 30 minutes each), all the power indicators had increased, and the oxygen cost of cycling had decreased. Remember that these improvements occurred in the competitive season, when the cyclists were already well trained and supposed to be in peak form.

Not all the improvements can be due to an increase in central aerobic power; indeed, the 1km trial is mainly anaerobic in nature so an alternative explanation must be found. It is likely that the explosive leg exercises stimulated the neural system by rapidly activating the motor units within the muscles. This may have led to a quicker rate of peak force development when cycling, resulting in greater acceleration and sprint performance.

 

 

Summary

Strength training may improve cycling performance through increased leg power, a greater ability to cope with local fatigue and improved upper body stability. However, this has yet to be proved in research. In beginners and club level cyclists, more cycling is probably the best way to improve performance. Taking time out from cycling to do strength training will probably lead to a decline in cycling efficiency and skill level. The exceptions are abdominal and lower back exercises that can help prevent lower back pain.

Once skill and aerobic fitness levels have improved through normal cycling training, performance can be improved through introducing high intensity training even during the competitive season. This is a very specific way of inducing load onto the legs that forces local adaptations to take place. Just doing ever-larger volumes of cycling may well lead to overtraining.

For elite level cyclists, introducing explosive strength and body weight exercises is likely to improve sprint and short hill climbing performance. Traditional strength exercises, however, may be detrimental in that they increase muscle mass and size, adding to the air and gravitational resistances that cyclists need to overcome.

The important thing to remember is that new stimuli force the body to adapt and improvements in performance are made. New training methods should not be used in addition to existing training. Instead, try to keep one or two sessions a week aside for variety. These may include strength training, HIT or core work.

James Marshall MSc, CSCS, ACSM/HFI, runs Excelsior, a sports training company
References

   1. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 1995; 27(5): Supplement abstract 1013
   2. MSSE 2004; 36(5):Supplement abstract 396
   3. MSSE 2000; 31:676-683
   4. MSSE 2000; 32:1002-1006
   5. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 2005; 19(3):527-533
   6. JSCR 2005: 19(4):826-830

 

 

 

This article was taken from the Peak Performance newsletter, the number one source of sports science, training and research. Click here to access these articles as soon as they are released to maximise your performance.

 

Articles on training-related topics represent the personal opinions of the author based on their own experience and research. TriZone.com.au provides these for your review and consideration, but does not endorse any particular recommendations of the authors.

 

Karl is a keen age group triathlete who races more than he trains. Good life balance! Karl works in the media industry in Australia and is passionate about the sport of triathlon.

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Peter Robertson’s Gamagori Memories inspire Australian Talent Academy Young Guns

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Triathlon Australia’s National Talent Academy “Young Guns” won’t have to look too far for inspiration when they line up in Sunday’s ITU Triathlon Asian Cup in Gamagori.

It was in 2005 in the picturesque Japanese coastal city of on Mikawa Bay that one of the legends of Australian triathlon, Peter Robertson created history when he won the last of his three World Championships.

After victories in Edmonton and Queenstown in 2001 and 2003 “Robbo” stuck to his two-year cycle to dig deep again and take a third and deserving world championship victory.

Now seven years on Robertson, 36, is one of several coaches on the NTA Young Guns tour in charge of an exciting new generation of Australian triathlon stars.

Melbourne-based Robertson has been appointed along with the likes of Craig Walton, Chris Lang and Keiran Barry to steer an exciting group of youngsters who have already made a big impression.

Queensland’s Sarah Deuble, who is coached by Dan Atkins, has already chalked up two wins from two starts in the Mooloolaba Oceania Cup and at last Sunday’s ITU Triathlon Asian Cup race in Amakusa and is looking for a third.

“I’m really enjoying my first experience with the Japanese races,” Deuble said. “Obviously Amakusa was great fun, winning the race there. I hope I can continue to race well again this weekend in Gamagori.”

Deuble was 20 seconds behind in the swim and then went on to dominate the bike and run.

Bree Jones at Amakusa

Sydney’s Bree Jones had a great start and lead to the first turning buoy but was forced wide and wasn’t aggressive enough to hold position so lost time to the lead three Japanese athletes. A four-women second pack lead by Jones and included Kirralee Pride with Deuble was further 20 seconds behind and out by herself.

Onto the bike the Japanese trio tried to form a lead while the group formed behind and included all three Aussie girls. They were caught at the 15km mark.

The group completed the bike together with Deuble making a very smart, very sneaky move at the end, finishing the bike about 100m off the front, the bike course finished with a moderately steep downhill with a shallow turn mid-way through.

She positioned herself on the front for the dismount line but the Asian athletes all braked for the downhill and Sarah managed to roll off the front.

Deuble then built a lead from there and raced out of sight, finishing 1min clear of Japanese pair Kirra and Sato who ran together until the last kilometre where Kirra managed to get a small break on the last small rise before the finish.

“On the last hill of the bike I managed to break away from everyone and had about a handy lead on the field going down the hill but then I didn’t realise that the dismount line was so close so when I got to the line I had to fully slam on my breaks to not go over it as I still had to get one of my feet out,” Deuble said.

“By the time I did this the main pack had all caught me so I was a little disappointed about that but I still managed to be third out of transition onto the run.

“Then on the run I started off at a nice comfortable pace and just eased into the first 1km and then at about the 2km mark which was this long gradual hill I pulled away.

“From then on I led the whole way although I started to struggle at about the 8km mark with a really bad stitch.

“Over the last 2km I just tried to push through the pain as best I could and finally at about 500m to go the pain finally subsided and I was able to finish strongly.

“Overall I was really happy with how I raced, I was just annoyed at my dismount but apart from that everything else ran smoothly.

“My transitions were nice and fast so hopefully coach Dan Atkins will be pleased with that.”

Mitch Keally wins Bronze in the Men’s race

In the men’s race it was Shane Barry and Taylor Cecil who led out of water with a five to seven second lead to a group of men including former Commonwealth Games athlete Mitch Kealy (who would go on to finish third) Marcel Walkington, Kenji Nener and Kane Simpson.

Michael Gosman was a further 10sec back with another Japanese athlete. Sam Speachley was 1.10min down on the leaders.

On the mount line Kim (Korea) ran into the back of Walkington who broke his rear derailleur resulting in a DNF.

This group formed a lead pack of 12 men on the bike that worked well together to build a 2 min plus gap on the chasers.

Onto the run a lead group of 10 formed straight away with Michael Gosman falling off the pace out of transition.

Mitch, Taylor and Shane ran at the front until the 4km mark where Svarc (CZE) and Goldsmith (NZL) formed a small break on the steep downhill.

Goldsmith built a strong lead from there and looked well in control from the 8km mark and was never headed.

Svarc built a small lead but that was cut in the last 1km as Mitch and Taylor finished strongly dropping Shane over the last rise on the course a bridge with 1km to go.

Svarc held on while Kealy and Taylor had a sprint finish for 3rd (the race finished on a tartan track for the final 300m) with Barry fifth, Shaw sixth and Nenner seventh and Simpson ninth – giving Australia six of the top ten.

As for Robertson he can’t wait to get back to the Gamagori course with so many great memories.

“After winning the world champs in 2005 in Gamagori I can’t wait to return this time to watch and support the young guns from Australia!” said the duel Olympian.

“The Japanese always put on great events and I sure Gamagori will once again be exciting racing. A little less painful for me this time around though!”

 

 

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Australian Triathlon Olympic Team Voting Results

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We ran a poll on Trizone a couple of weeks ago to get some feedback from the Australian triathlon community. 474 people voted on who they wanted in the Australian Triathlon Team for the Olympics. It was interesting to watch the voting. Macca and Atkinson were the overwhelming favourites to fill the remaining two men’s spots. Brendan Sexton received  around about 12% of the men’s votes. Interestingly Macca received 1% of the vote to fill one of the female spots.

For the record Brad Kahlefledt and Emma Moffatt are already in the team.

In the women’s voting things were heavily weighted towards Erin Densham for obvious reasons. However voting for the third spot was interesting. It was all Emma Snowsill for the first few days then over a 2-3 hour period on a Thursday afternoon there was a plunge on Emma Jackson and she swept to the lead and remained there until we closed the poll.

The talk is that Snowy will get the 3rd spot and it is pretty obvious that Erin Densham is the number 2.

A lot of people are questioning why Ashleigh Gentle’s name is not being mentioned. The word is that she is still young and not quite consistent enough but is definitely being groomed for the Olympics in Rio 2016. Along with Emma Jackson and whoever else we will have an incredibly strong female Olympic team in four years time.

In the men’s team things are not quite as straight forward. Courtney Atkinson has come good recently and with his past form will get the nod for spot number two. To everyone it looks like Chris McCormack should get the nod ahead of Brendan Sexton. However the inside talk is that Sexton has met more of the selection criteria over the last year.

In Sydney during the ITU it was obvious who the triathlon public wanted to see in the London 2012 team. Everytime Macca came past the cheers were huge.

Sexton seems to be struggling to get out of the water and is then struggling to get back in to the race.

A dark horse would be Aaron Royle. If it wasn’t for a major mistake in T1 Royle could very well have placed top 10 in Madrid. Coming out of the water with the leaders Royle then proceeded to follow them through transition forgetting that he was around number 49 not 9. So he had to double back to get his bike and missed the front pack. In saying this Royle has not had the opportunity over the last year to meet selection criteria.

Let’s see what happens this weekend.

Click here to see the voting results

 

 

 

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Triathlon Australia’s Newest Board Member Mick Maroney wants to Connect Triathletes with the Board

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The appointment of Dr Mick Maroney to the Triathlon Australia board recently has been met with a positive reaction from the general triathlon community in Australia. A professional in the sport in the late 80s and 90s Mick Maroney brings a true ‘triathlon’ representation to the sport’s governing body.

Mick Maroney on his way to yet another title in Sydney

Maroney has replaced Michelle Gallen on the TA board. “I have jumped at this great opportunity. Whilst it is an 18 month term I hope to be involved at this level for a lot longer. I would like to eventually be involved in the High Performance area in TA post London.”

Maroney is adament that he wants to be a conduit for communication between the general Australia triathlon community and the board. “I am passionate about the sport as everyone who knows me is aware of. I want to be someone that triathletes in Australia feel they can come to and talk about anything that is going on in the sport.”

Many newcomers to triathlon will not be so familiar with Mick Maroney, especially if they are from outside NSW. These days you will see Mick racing the NSW triseries, TriShave Sprint Series and world ITU age group championships. In 2009 and 2011 Mick won the ITU world sprint championship title for his age group and regularly wins NSW sprint race and always his age group. At 45 he is still showing the young guys and girls how to race. He has been heavily involved in the junior development of the sport.

In 1989 Maroney won the Noosa triathlon title and was selected the following year in the elite team. He then went on to race domestically and made the unselfish decision to travel the world and support his young sister in her swimming endeavours. You can find photos of Mick standing with Fidal Castro in Cuba when Susie Maroney famously swum from Florida to Cuba amongst many other great endeavours.

Out of school Mick followed his father’s (deputy police commissioner ) footsteps in to the police force. This lasted for only a couple of years before he realised it was not for him. He went on to do triathlons professionally for a few years.

In 2001 he stepped down from racing completely and didn’t take it up again until 2006 when the children were getting a little older.

Maroney came from a swimming background. “When we started we knew nothing about triathlon. I spent all my time reading magazines from the US trying to work out what to do. A long with a number of other pioneers of the sport we developed a bunch of guys in Cronulla like Troy Fidler, Greg Welch, a young Chris McCormack, Craig Alexander, Brad Bevan occasionally turned up along with Peter Roberston, among others.”

People like the great Scott Mollina where his idols and what got him in to the sport. Something that a lot of newcomers to the sport don’t have. The past greats of the sport were what attracted people to triathlon. These days it is more about lifestyle for most people.

After pulling back from the sport and supporting Susie in her endeavours Mick became a fireman. “While my colleagues were watching Foxtel I was studying to get a degree so that I could become a teacher. I wanted to get a career that would be ideal for family life and triathlon coaching.” He now teaches PE full time and also lectures at university in Educational Psychology. Mick received a Doctorate in Education Psychology after doing extensive studies and papers on adolescent development.

I took the opportunity to ask what everyone wants to know. Is the way that TA selects the Olympic team is working? “The process is a collaborative process and is put together by a number of parties. TA really only looks at the process to make sure that it is followed. The selection committee makes the policy in collaboration with coaches and athletes. TA oversees its implementation.”

Could TA communicate this better to the triathlon public so that there is less ‘TA bashing’ taking place?

“The board is a representation of the membership. Some information bandied about is incorrect. The board has copped a bit of flack when all it is doing is following a process. The communication process could be improved no doubt. But that is more my opinion as a triathlete.”

“The board doesn’t say this person should be in and this person shouldn’t. The board simply makes sure that process is followed.”

On the board because he thinks he could make a difference. “I hope that people in the sport will come to me and tell me what they are not happy with so I can make a difference. It is alright to complain after but what about tell me earlier if there are things you are not happy about. We need to hear from people on what is working and what isn’t.” Mick hopes this will happen.

 

 

 

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Inaugural Port Stephens triseries a Huge Success

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The end of season and inaugural triseries race at Port Stephens last weekend was a great success with Elite Energy holding their usual three race format and putting on a great triathlon festival. A race for everyone is what seems to make these events so great. The weather was perfect and the times the main races were held was ideal for Sydneysiders and those travelling to the race on the day.

How warm was it for mid May? You did not need a wetsuit and in the Sprint race there really was no advantage. With the rip dragging everyone out to the first buoy it was really only and couple of hundred meters of swimming before we had to stand up and run another couple of hundred meters in calf deep water. That was hard!!

Kieran Roche winning the Olympic Distance - Photo Credit: Victor Lee

In the main race of the day Kieran Roche and Caroline Sweeney took the overall Olympic distance honours. In the men’s open category Roche pulled away on the bike from second placed Sam Douglas and was never headed. He ran a 36:42 to cap off a successful race.

First time to the open category was Wollongong’s Nathan Miller racing in the Mark Scott stripes. Miller headed out of T2, along with Shaun Vidler, ahead of Ben Hammond. Hammond fell off the pace in the bike leg towards the end but had enough of a run in him to get over the top of Miller and take third place.

(Victor Lee’s photos from the day can be viewed here)

Upstaging them all though was age grouper Adam Conquest who’s race time put him in second place overall. Conquest is known for his very strong bike but backed it up with a run that was faster than the open guys to have the third fastest run time overall. The three fastest runs of the day all went to age groupers. Balmoral’s Owain Matthews posted a 34:59 to continue his impressive start to the sport of triathlon. The renowned runner from Great Britain is loving the multi discipline sport. He is still playing with the balance between the bike and run. Jarred Adams posted the second fastest run with a 36:14. Adams works with Mark Newton at Jet Cycles and is part of the coaching team that looks after Douglas and Roche.

In the women’s race there was again a lack of open females racing. This is no slight on Elite Energy as there have been a distinct lack of open females racing this season everywhere. Brook Langereis was down to race open but with no other open female entrants she changed to her age group which she duly won.

Caroline Sweeney eventually took the overall title. This ‘Wonder Women’ (full time worker, mother of two pre schoolers, violinist in the Willoughby Symphony Orchestra) has made a fairly decent comeback to the sport of triathlon after taking time out to have her two children. Although Sweeney’s swim was almost three minutes behind Langereis she was able to use her strong bike / run combo to finish almost three minutes ahead of Langereis.

Julie Uebel finished third overall.

In the Sprint race we were lucky as always to watch the ability of 45 year old Mick Maroney as he claimed the overall fastest time of the day. He decided to redline all day and see how long he could keep the pace up. Until the end as we found out. He pulled out one of his fastest runs of the year in doing so.

Cameron Roberts and Luke Chalker rounded out the overall podium. In doing so Roberts won the 16-17 age group and Chalker won the 14-15 age group. Roberts ran a 16:46 for the 5kms and rode very well.

In the women’s race South African Anel Stewart had a solid hit out and was the fastest female on the day with Balmoral’s Hannah Lawrence second overall and Michelle Wiseman third. Stewart has raced at ITU level and on her day is a very fast triathlete. Lawrence is a solid age grouper with some good potential. Loves racing and is always positive and outgoing.

Elite Energy puts on triathlon festivals that we love going to. The atmosphere and vibe from the team is always great. From a couple of events (including Husky of course) three years ago to over 10 triathlon festivals next year is a significant growth curve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Australian Triathlon Olympic Team Makeup – Have your say!

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Triathlon on TV in May – One HD

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Channel Ten’s One HD has 10 triathlon programs still to run in May. Saturday May 12 at 1pm sees Ironman Melbourne with a repeat on Sunday at 4:30pm. The San Diego round of the ITU will be shown on Wednesday, Thursday and with highlights early Friday morning next week.

 

  • Sat May 12: Ironman Asia-Pacific Championship, 1-2pm
  • Sun May 13: Ironman Asia-Pacific Championship, 4.30-5.30pm (repeat)
  • Wed May 16: ITU World Championship Triathlon Round 2 San Diego Womens Race, 12-2.30pm
  • Thur May 17: ITU World Championship Triathlon Round 2 San Diego Mens Race, 12-2.30pm
  • Fri May 18: ITU World Championship Triathlon Round 2 San Diego Highlights, 6-7am
  • Mon May 21: ITU World Championship Triathlon Round 2 San Diego Womens Race, 6-8.30am (repeat)
  • Mon May 21: ITU World Championship Triathlon Round 2 San Diego Mens Race, 8.30-11am (repeat)
  • Wed May 23: ITU World Championship Triathlon Round 2 San Diego Highlights, 2-3am (repeat)
  • Sat May 26: Ironman Australia 2011, 6-7am
  • Sat May 26: ITU World Championship Triathlon Round 2 San Diego Highlights, 7-8am (repeat)

 

 

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