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 Strength Conditioning for Cycling 
The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Keeping Fit by . View all columns in series


Research indicates that one set of properly performed strength exercise is as effective as two or three sets. It is therefore recommended to perform one set of each exercise. Each exercise set should be completed within the anaerobic energy system, approximately 60-90 seconds. At about one and a half minutes per exercise and a half minute between stations, the above training program should take just over 30 minutes per session.


Of course, the exercise resistance should be sufficient to fatigue the target muscles within the anaerobic energy system. For most practical purposes, this requires about 75 percent of maximum resistance. Empirical evidence clearly indicates that 75 percent of maximum resistance provides a safe and productive training stimulus.


Research demonstrates that most individuals can complete between eight and 12 repetitions with 75 percent of their maximum resistance. However, persons with low-endurance muscles (sprinters) typically perform fewer than eight repetitions and persons with high-endurance muscles (marathoners) typically perform more than 12 repetitions. Because cycling is an endurance activity, most cyclists should attain excellent strength gains training with approximately 10-15 repetitions per set.

It is important to understand that each set of strength exercise must be performed to muscle fatigue for maximum benefit. This is sometimes referred to as temporary muscle failure, meaning that you continue exercising until your muscles can no longer lift the resistance. For best results, the training intensity must be high and the exercise progression must be consistent.


I recommend a double progressive system of strength development. First, train with a resistance that you can perform 10 times until you can complete 15 repetitions. Second, when you perform 15 repetitions increase the resistance by about five percent. Stay with this resistance until you can complete 15 repetitions, and again increase the weightload by about five percent.


During a strength training session you fatigue the exercised muscles. This serves as a stimulus for strength development provided you allow sufficient recovery and building time between workouts. Research shows that two or three properly spaced training sessions per week are effective for improving muscle strength. Cyclists who schedule two strength workouts per week invest only one hour of time for excellent improvements in muscle strength. Research with young people reveals approximately 70 percent more muscle strength after two months of twice-a-week resistance training.


There is a myth that strength training at fast speeds develops fast muscles, whereas strength training at slow speeds develops slow muscles. This is categorically untrue. Muscles respond to sensible strength training by becoming stronger. Speed is developed by practicing your athletic event with emphasis on increased movement velocity and proper technical execution.

From a practical perspective, it would be difficult to perform leg strength exercises faster than you pedal a bicycle, as that would require about 90 repetitions per minute. It is therefore advisable to train in a controlled manner to maximize strength development and to minimize injury risk. Research has demonstrated excellent strength gains from exercising with moderate to slow movement speeds (four-second reps, six-second reps, eight-second reps, and 14-second reps). Because our muscles are stronger in negative movements than positive movements, I prefer to lift the weight in two seconds and lower the weight in four seconds. This six-second training protocol provides more work during the stronger phase of each repetition, and requires about 60-90 seconds of continuous muscle effort to complete an exercise set of 10-15 repetitions.

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 About The Author
Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., is fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, MA. He is strength training consultant for numerous national organizations, such as the American Council on Exercise, the......moreWayne Westcott PhD
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