I really enjoy cooking. The act of mixing ingredients in the proper quantities at the right time to form “a whole greater than the sum of its parts” is a very rewarding experience. For some recipes, like in baking, you have to be meticulous in measuring ingredients, temperatures, and techniques. In others you can be a bit more off the cuff, tasting as you go, and adding in ingredients as needed. Both are enjoyable, but completely different processes. It is a mixture of this science and art that truly make the masterpieces. A master chef has to have rock solid techniques, but also preserve the creativity to work outside the box to create new flavors, dishes, and experiences. This is very similar to how we approach training athletes.
In endurance athletes, the ingredients are (but not limited to) the sport specific workouts, nutrition, lifestyle factors, and strength training. The quantities of these ingredients, when we introduce them, and how they are mixed is what makes the magic happen. Traditionally, endurance training was entirely focused on the sport specific workouts (for example: cycling for cyclists) with a bit of nutrition sprinkled in. Now we know that the core has to be sport specific, but the other components are what can take an average athlete to a great athlete.
Change happens slowly in scientific athletic training. Anecdotally we had been seeing how much these ancillary components were making huge differences in athletes, but it has been only recently that these results were confirmed in studies. Part of the reason I wanted to write the Ultimate Guide to Weight Training for Cyclists was to present a modern plan for adding in strength training to a typical cyclists training plan that combined what was being confirmed in scientific studies and what we were seeing working with athletes “in the field”. Since the book has come out we have seen more studies published that provided even stronger evidence to the effectiveness of strength training for the endurance athlete.
Most recently Inigo Mujika et. Al. published a study in April of 2016 titled “Effects of Increased Muscle Strength and Muscle Mass on Endurance-Cycling Performance.” In that study they concluded that “Lower-body heavy strength training performed in addition to endurance-cycling training can improve both short- and long-term endurance performance. Strength-maintenance training is essential to retain strength gains during the competition season.”
This confirms earlier studies done that had shown increases in efficiency and time to exhaustion (Sunde et. Al. “Maximal strength training improves cycling economy in competitive cyclists.”). In the last year we have seen three relatively large, well conducted studies showing the benefits strength training for the endurance athlete.
While a strength training program designed for a specific athlete to address their own weaknesses is ideal, a well-rounded strength program designed for endurance athletes that utilizes the latest techniques and strategies should result in positive results in almost all endurance athletes. That strength program should be integrated with their own sport-specific periodized training, and should be focused on developing maximal strength.
Just as in cooking, when you add it and how much you add is just as important as what the specific ingredient actually is. For strength training, the non-competitive season is the perfect time to add in the gym work in a relatively larger quantity. Don’t wait until the start of the new year, or when racing begins in the spring to start hitting the weights. For most endurance athletes, the fall is the best time of the year to begin a strength program since we have the time to build a strong foundation before the racing begins.
I am a bit biased, but if you are looking for a way to add in strength training to your endurance training I can’t recommend enough The Ultimate Guide to Weight Training for Cyclists. Since its release last winter I have received numerous stories from athletes telling me how well the program has worked for them and how much their cycling has improved.
Even if you don’t follow my strength program, getting into the gym and working on overall strength will only help your performance and overall health. Go lift some weights!