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It seems that a current thread among many cycling and triathlon discussion boards is to stop strength training because strength training does nothing to improve performance. If it doesn’t improve performance, then it is obviously a waste of time.

 

I pulled three studies from the medical research journal PubMed. The three studies and the conclusions are below. Additionally, I pulled a paragraph from a recent column. After you take a look at the information (be sure to make it to number 4), we’ll continue the discussion of whether or not you should give up strength training.

 

1. Koninckx E, et al, “Effect of isokinetic cycling versus weight training on maximal power output and endurance performance in cycling.” Eur J Appl Physiol. 2010 Jul;109(4):699-708. Epub 2010 Mar 7.

In conclusion, at low cadences, maximal sprint power output improved in both training groups. However, in the isokenetic training group, a disturbed pedaling technique compromises an improvement of maximal sprint power output at high cadences. (Note: this study was done on 18 “trained” cyclists.)

 

2. Levin GT, et al, “Effect of concurrent resistance and endurance training on physiologic and performance parameters of well-trained endurance cyclists.” J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Nov;23(8):2280-6.

In conclusion, although concurrent resistance and endurance training in well-trained cyclists enhanced 1-repetition-maximum strength, it did not improve overall cycle time trial performance and in fact was shown to reduce 1-km final cycle sprint performance compared with a control group performing their normal cycle training. (Note: this study was done on 14 well-trained male cyclists.”)

 

3. Bentley DJ, et al, “Correlations between peak power output, muscular strength and cycle time trial performance in triathletes.” J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 1998 Sep;38(3):201-7.

CONCLUSIONS: Peak power output and WDmax (a power measure not defined in the abstract) are useful variables in assessing cycle performance in triathletes. However, the importance of muscular strength of the lower limbs may be minimal in overall cycle performance during a short course triathlon race.

 

4. Exercise training helps stop muscle strength and endurance from slipping away. But it seems to also do something else, maintains Mark Tarnopolsky, a professor of pediatrics and medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario (who also happens to be a top-ranked trail runner). Resistance exercise in particular seems to activate a muscle stem cell called a satellite cell. With the infusion of these squeaky-clean cells into the system, the mitochondria seem to rejuvenate. (The phenomenon has been called “gene shifting.”) If Tarnopolsky is right, exercise in older adults can roll back the odometer. After six months of twice weekly strength exercise training, he has shown, the biochemical, physiological and genetic signature of older muscle is “turned back” nearly 15 or 20 years. (Excerpt from “The Incredible Flying Nonagenarian”)

 

In just four examples, you can see the information is conflicting. Conflicting information and advice can be very frustrating. As with any self-care or self-coaching recommendations given in the media – you have to decide what to do. Here are some things to consider when deciding whether or not to strength train:

 

Yes, consider supplementing your endurance training with strength training if:

  • You have an upcoming hilly event, but you live in a location where there are no hills.
  • You are an ectomorph (thin body type, small muscles, low strength) looking to improve sport performance.
  • You are an athlete over the age of 40 that has trouble keeping body strength.
  • You have had past injuries that need a strength training maintenance program.
  • Your sport performance is negatively affected by stopping a strength training program.
  • You feel your overall quality of life is positively affected over the long haul. (For example, once per week strength training can prevent some athletes from having nagging problems with knee and back pain.)

 

Consider eliminating strength training from your endurance sport program if:

  • You are under the age of 30.
  • You supplement your endurance sports with power or impact sports (basketball, hockey, soccer, etc.)
  • You live in a hilly location that allows you to do sport-specific strength training.
  • You are hard-pressed for time and can barely manage to get in the endurance training required to complete your goal events.
  • You have added a strength training program (one that is appropriate for endurance athletes and not body builders) in the past and found it didn’t improve your sport performance, quality of life or provide any injury prevention benefits.
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