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Cycling efficiency: strength training is key for masters

June 8th, 2011

The links between strength training and efficiency in sports like cycling and running have been studied for over a decade, but a study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology offers a new twist: the role of strength training becomes increasingly important as you get older.

Researchers in France studied nine masters cyclists (average age 51.5) and eight younger cyclists (average age 25.6), and measured their “delta efficiency” before and after a three-week strength training program focused on knee extensions. Each workout consisted of 10 sets of 10 bilateral knee extensions. While the younger cyclists improved their cycling efficiency by 4.1%, the older group improved by 13.8%.

Traditionally, researchers have figured that the big decline in endurance performance with age comes from lower maximal oxygen consumption, which seems to reduce performance by about 10% per decade. The new study suggests that the muscle loss that accompanies aging could also play a key role in endurance, perhaps because inefficient fast-twitch muscle fibres have to be recruited earlier in an exercise bout. That would explain why the older athletes saw a bigger jump in efficiency when they improved their strength, even after only three weeks.

You’d expect the same thing to apply in running. Bottom line: another reason that I need to get more consistent with strength training!


  1. Brie
    June 8th, 2011 at 17:35 | #1

    I want to know why these tests are mostly done on cyclists? Is there some kind of advantage over using runners as ‘specimens’?

  2. alex
    June 8th, 2011 at 17:57 | #2

    Hi Brie — one reason is that with lab exercise bikes, you can control (or measure) power output directly, and whereas with running you can only control the speed of the treadmill (which means power output can only be inferred based on knowledge of individual body shape and efficiency). So the data analysis tends to be easier and more reliable with cyclists — unfortunately for runners!

  3. June 9th, 2011 at 00:49 | #3

    There are at least a few studies like this that include runners and other non-cyclists as specimens:

    Johnston R, Quinn T, Kertzer R, Vroman N. “Strength Training in Female Distance Runners: Impact on Running Economy.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (1997), 11(4), 224-229.

    Støren O, Helgerud J, Støa EM, Hoff J. “Maximal strength training improves running economy in distance runners.” Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2008 Jun;40(6):1087-92.

    Losnegard, T., Mikkelsen, K., Rønnestad, B. R., Hallén,
    J., Rud, B., Raastad, T., “The effect of heavy strength training on muscle mass and physical performance in elite cross country skiers.” Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, Volume
    21, Number 3, June 2011 , pp. 389-401(13).

    P.S. I’m compiling these types of references at zone5endurance.com. Thanks for the tip on this study!

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