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Strength Training

There’s no question about it, if you do strength training, you will become a faster and stronger cyclist. You will become a significantly better climber, time trialist, and sprinter by going to the gym just once or twice a week. [1]

You can expect to see improvements in your lactate threshold, anaerobic power, and maximal sprint ability. You will also see reduced and delayed fatigue when completing long, tough rides, and your body will use less energy to go further. [2]

Furthermore, the best available evidence indicates that you will not increase your weight, or sustain any negative physiological adaptations. However, it is important that you understand the proper training intensity and volume distribution to avoid gaining weight, because it is possible. [3]

The key is lifting heavy with low repetitions. When you lift heavy, your nerves will adapt to recruit your muscles better and with more control. If you do low repetitions each set, you will minimise hypertrophy and weight gain. As illustrated in the figure below, practically any rep range will induce hypertrophy at least a little bit. In the 4-5 rep range, however, the neuromuscular adaptations are worth it, especially considering that concurrent endurance exercise further decreases hypertrophy and weight gain. [4,8]

How many sets and reps you do throughout your season will change. In the offseason, you should be doing 12-16 total sets twice a week, as strength gains follow a strongly correlated dose-response relationship. As soon as you introduce intensity on the bike, you can reduce your strength training volume to 12-16 sets once a week. Even 12-16 sets will maintain your strength. [5]

How you lift will also change during your season. At first you will train maximal strength, then after you build a strong foundation, you will focus on explosivity and power. [6]

So what would one full season look like?

First Week, 2 sessions. Ease into it. Listen to your body and don’t do too much.

- 3 x 4-6 squats at 50% 1 rep max and 2-3 minutes of rest [7]

- 3 x 4-6 deadlifts at 50% 1 rep max and 2-3 minutes of rest

Offseason (the part of your season without intense intervals), 2x per week:

- Increase weights every session, do Muscular Strength 2-4

- Once you cannot further increase weights, likely 1-2 months in, do Muscular Explosiveness 1-3 or Muscular Power 1

Build and Competition, 1x per week:

- Muscular Explosiveness 1-3 or Muscular Power 1

Based on various studies, if you don't weight train, you could be missing out on a performance gain of 3-8% [8]. You can access our static strength plans on the workouts page in the SandboxCycling app.

Notes

[1] The information in this document comes from a review in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. While the review was not systematic and did not appraise the methodological quality of the studies it included, it contains multiple studies to support most points. This review indicates that men and women experience the same effects from strength training for cycling.

[2] The complete list of positive physiological effects the review found strength training supports: exercise economy, anaerobic capacity, lactate threshold, reduced or delayed fatigue, maximal strength, and muscular explosivity.

[3] The authors found no evidence for increased body mass, reduced VO2 max, and negative tissue-level muscular adaptations. The consensus of the studies in the review state that VO2 max is not affected by strength training.

[4] Across 5 studies included in the review, the authors found that on average, the cross-sectional area of the quads of each participant increased by ~4.5%. However, there was not an increase in body mass of the participants. Participants who did the same regimen without endurance training saw an average increase of ~10% on the cross-sectional area of their quads.

The figure is from page 17 of the Basics of Strength and Conditioning Manual by the National Association of Strength and Conditioning. This pdf is a great resource.

[5] This meta-analysis indicates that muscular strength improvements follow a graded dose-response relationship. It also finds that the weekly frequency of your strength training has much less of an impact on your strength gains than the total volume you complete per week.This review specifies that muscular strength can be maintained by 1 weekly training session, and that it cannot be maintained when you only train once every 2 weeks.

[6] This systematic review shows that maximal strength training is the foundation of maximal muscular strength, power, and explosivity. The authors recommend that you begin with a strength-oriented program and as you plateau, introduce explosive and power exercises. This review corroborates the findings.

[7] This systematic review and meta-analysis reveals that 3-4 minutes is the best rest interval for sets. The empirical evidence shows that you must rest for a minimum of two minutes to benefit from the next set, and if you rest beyond 5 minutes you won’t benefit from the extra rest. The authors find that rest changes based on the exercise and person.

[8] The 3-8% estimate comes from the systematic review in [6], which also explores how aerobic and neuromuscular signalling pathways interact in athletes who engage in both endurance and strength training. This interaction may explain why concurrent training results in less hypertrophy.