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- Alex Hutchinson (@sweatscience)
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!