Strength Training for Runners and Cyclists

 In Flex Blog

Runners and cyclists often love scenery going past, and would rather do a few extra laps on some hills than hit the gym. As Physiotherapists, we often talk about the benefits of additional core stability work. In this blog we are going to talk specifically about the role of resisted strength work in your training program.

Won’t strength training make me heavier and slow me down?
A common fear amongst endurance runners and cyclists, is that resistance training will be counterproductive to performance, especially when some may have noticed that increasing weekly kilometres has led to leaner muscles, or that being lean is advantageous to their sport. However, exercise science demonstrates clear benefits of adding in heavy resisted and power based exercises. Aside from seeing direct strength and power improvements in the muscles trained, recent meta-analyses demonstrated athletes have improved performance across a range of other measures:

– Improved running and cycling efficiency
– Improved power output / sprint speed
– Improved speed at lactate threshold in cyclists
– Improved performance on time trials

This means you can run/cycle faster up that hill, and maintain your faster pace for longer before hitting fatigue. These muscle adaptations to resisted training allow you to have more energy in reserve when you’re hitting the pavements and trails outside.

Regarding weight gain, this is where it gets interesting. Studies following athletes combining a moderate amount of heavy resistance training with their usual endurance training have found that participants were able to improve the cross-sectional area in their target muscle groups without increasing their overall body mass. This means you are able to improve your strength:weight ratio, which is pretty useful for performance.

And what about preventing/supporting injuries?
Like any repetitive activity, endurance running and cycling can lead to overuse injuries, either through direct overload of tissues or via a muscle imbalance around a joint. Improving your body’s strength and efficiency means you are reducing the toll that exercise takes on your muscle and joint structures. There is also evidence that strength training improves the resilience of the structures targeted.

For example, common running-related injuries such as patellofemoral pain are addressed by working on lower limb and core strength. Aside from performance, another goal of working on these target groups first is to prevent the need for rehabilitation later!

Which muscle groups do I work on?
Despite these two modes of exercise being quite different, there is considerable overlap in a supportive strength program.
Have you always felt wobbly on a single-leg squat? The role of core stability cannot be understated and should be included in your conditioning program. Hip muscle activation and strength, specifically the glutes, provides a supportive base from which your legs can work, plus helps distribute the load demands more evenly throughout the leg.

Other key muscle groups to target in strength training for cyclists are the multi-joint muscles that control pedalling, including hamstrings, hip flexors/quads and calves. For runners, additional areas of importance are the adductors (groin) and deep abdomen.

There are a few fantastic exercises, such as variations of squats and lunges, that can be modified to best support your body either on your feet or two wheels. Otherwise, more isolated resistance training of the leg muscles can be completed using machines.

How do I fit strength training into my schedule?
Training cycles can be structured around seasonal load demands and weekly routines allowing for adequate recovery. Individual needs will vary, and this is best discussed with your Physiotherapist.

What services does Flex have to offer?
We have a specialised strength and conditioning program, spearheaded by our wonderful Physiotherapist Michael Paulka, Running Analysis with Ella Hanna and Bike Fit Cycling Assessments with our cycling physio Rosie Moore. To book any of these services please follow the link here.

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