A lot of preconceptions and myths surround the concept of strength training for endurance athletes:
“You’ll put on too much weight.”
“It’ll make you a better time trialer.”
“You’ll make your legs sore.”
“You’ll increase your VO2max.”
“Strength training doesn’t help at all.”
Some coaches and athletes swear by strength training while others wouldn’t get within 10 feet of a gym, much less a dumbbell.
We don’t blame coaches and athletes for having different opinions. Even the research over the last few decades has been mixed. In fact, the research on concurrent training – doing endurance and strength training at the same time – is a surprisingly new field.
Leading the charge over the last decade has been a highly respected Norwegian researcher named Bent R. Rønnestad from the Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences. There is hardly a subject in endurance sports training where Dr. Rønnestad hasn’t published a respected study. But, his numerous studies and reviews have had a lot of impact on the question of concurrent strength and endurance training.
We talk with Dr. Rønnestad about the debate over a concept called the Interference Effect – that strength training can interfere with endurance gains and vice versa. And because this is Fast Talk we focus on whether strength training can improve endurance performance and explore the physiology behind why it does or does not help.
Joining this episode for the coach’s perspective is Coach Joe Friel. Does he recommend strength training to athletes?
Strength and conditioning coach Jess Elliot, founder of TAG Performance, explores the potential benefits of strength training with endurance athletes.
Finally, we ask Trek-Segafredo pro rider Toms Skujins if he incorporates strength training into his routine.
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Rob Pickels 0:04
Hello and Welcome to Fast talk your source for the science of endurance performance. I’m your host Rob pickles here, as always, with my co host, Trevor Connor. A lot of preconceptions and myths around the concept of strength training for endurance athletes, some say you’ll put on too much weight. Others say it’ll make you a better time trailer, it could make your legs to soar. Increase your view to max or conversely have no impact on your endurance parameters at all. Some coaches and athletes swear by it, while others wouldn’t get within 10 feet of a dumbbell. We don’t blame coaches and athletes for having different opinions. Even the research over the last few decades has been mixed. In fact, the research on concurrent training doing endurance and strength training at the same time is a surprisingly new field. Leading the charge over the last decade has been a highly respected Norwegian researcher named bent Rana stad from the inland Norway University of Applied Sciences. There’s hardly a subject in endurance sports training where Dr. Ron Erstad hasn’t published a respected study, but his numerous studies and reviews have had a lot of impact on the question of concurrent strength and endurance training. Today we talk with Dr. Rana stad about the debate over a concept called the interference effect that strength training can interfere with endurance gains and vice versa. And because this is fast talk, we focus on whether strength training can improve endurance performance and explore the physiology behind why it does or does not help joining Dr. Rana stad. We have someone who’s become a fast talk regular coach Joe Friel, who will talk about whether he encouraged the athletes he coached to strength train, we asked strength training and conditioning coach Jess Elliot, founder of tag performance, about the benefits of strength training with endurance athletes. And finally, we asked trek Segafredo pro rider Tom squinch if he incorporate strength training into his routine, so either grab a couple 25 pounders or 12 bouncers, and let’s make it fast.
Trevor Connor 2:11
We know you listen to fast talk to help you discover new ideas and think about your own training. But there’s a lot more we can do to help
Ryan Kohler 2:17
you at fast talk labs. We can help you solve questions and overcome personal challenges. Start with a free consultation, visit
Trevor Connor 2:24
fast Doc labs.com. And you can set up a time to meet with our coaches. Like our head coach, physiologist, Ryan Kohler is sitting in front of me right now. Brian is a level one certified USA Cycling coach and holds a Master’s in sports nutrition.
Ryan Kohler 2:38
Let’s talk I can help you with training workouts, nutrition or just push your thinking
Trevor Connor 2:43
schedule a free consult today at fast talk labs.com. Well, Dr. Rana said it’s a real pleasure having you on the show. I’ll say this and forgive me I’m gonna sound like a bit of a fanboy again, which I’ve done on the show before we are FANBOYS. It’s OKR. Yeah, so I actually use an app called researcher to keep track of new research coming out. And within that app, you can do searches, or save searches. And I have one of my favorite searches is I have five researchers that it alerts me whenever those researchers publish a new study. And you are one of my five researchers, I’m always excited when you have a new study that comes out.
Unknown Speaker 3:23
Thank you very much. Nice to hear.
Rob Pickels 3:26
I was just gonna say to you know, in the research, today, we’re talking about strength. But you have made some absolutely incredible sort of discoveries and in research in a lot of different topics. I know, Block Periodization has been one that’s been really interesting for me. So, you know, listeners definitely look up everything that Dr. Ron starts doing, because it extends so much further than just the conversation today.
Trevor Connor 3:49
So today, though, what we’re going to focus on is concurrent strength and endurance training. So meaning, because of our show, we’re gonna focus mostly on endurance athletes, but you have an endurance athlete, that’s not only spending time doing their endurance work, but they’re also incorporating strength training into their routine. And Dr. Ronstadt. You’ve done a lot of research on this. But before we even get into your research, I really enjoyed you wrote a chapter where you talked about the history of all this. And one of the things I found surprising, you talked about Dr. Robert Hickman, but really pointed out that the research on concurrent training didn’t even start until the 1980s.
Unknown Speaker 4:31
Yeah, yeah, I think and that’s especially that’s study by a robotics and in the 1980. I think we learned a lot from that study. And I think, if anything, actually, on what we know today, I think we mostly was actually shown in that study, because he had a group performing strength training and not a group performing in During training, and then a coherent group performing both, both the training programs, and just briefly, for the first five, six weeks, the adaptations are similar in terms of the strength training. But then, as the last weeks of this 10 week study, prolonged, the became a difference between the strength training group and the concurrent training group. So, in my opinion, that tells us that, okay, when you are untrained, you get the same adaptations by concurrent training as strength training alone. And when you get more trained strength twice, you the endurance training seems to reduce the strength training adaptations. And also, it’s important not just to know this, but the kind of training this untrained people were performing. Because they trained a lot. And they trained, the strength training was five times a week.
Trevor Connor 5:57
Oh, boy, that’s a lot. Yeah, yeah,
Unknown Speaker 6:00
for sure it is when you’re untrained. And then when you go into the US training program, that was six sessions per week. And it was all sessions were there. Like, all out to fatigue all sessions. So you take into account that these people were untrained when they started, it’s actually amazing that there were no inhibiting effects during the first five, six weeks.
Rob Pickels 6:28
That’s almost an overtraining, study it on train people on that one, but it definitely an interesting beginning work on the strength training side of things.
Unknown Speaker 6:37
Yeah, for sure.
Trevor Connor 6:39
So what was interesting is, so he really defined this interference effect. And we’ll get to that more a little bit later in the show. But he seemed to show that yes, the endurance work does seem to after about six to eight weeks, as you pointed out, inhibit strength gains. But it doesn’t seem like strength training, inhibited endurance work at all, like endurance adaptations, which is interesting, because you have a lot of coaches that say endurance athletes shouldn’t be doing strength work, because it’s going to hurt them.
Unknown Speaker 7:11
Yeah, yeah, I totally agree. And also, if you if you notice the improvement in the auto Max in this untrained people performing concurrent training, they actually had like 20 to 25% increase in people to max in 10 weeks. So no sign of inhibiting the development of vO two max for
Rob Pickels 7:32
sure. Yeah. And was that a similar increase in the concurrent group, then compared to maybe the the endurance only group?
Unknown Speaker 7:39
Yeah, yeah, exactly. So they had similar improvements.
Trevor Connor 7:42
That’s impressive. So I know, you have researched into this looking at whether there are benefits of strength training for endurance athletes. So this is the first really big question that we want to ask you. What were your conclusions? Is there a benefit for endurance athletes to include strength?
Unknown Speaker 8:00
Yeah, my brief answer would be yes. And then it’s always a follow up that it depends on what our results seem to indicate that the injurious performance can be improved by performing heavy strength training. For cyclists, we are mostly investigated cyclists, both female and male cyclists seems to improve their their endurance performance,
Rob Pickels 8:23
in her view, looked at in different age groups as well, like a younger population versus masters.
Unknown Speaker 8:29
Now, we have mainly focused on well trained cyclists at the age from in the 20s. So but in the literature, the evidence for effect is maybe even more clear in the master athletes on the bit older athletes.
Rob Pickels 8:47
Interesting. So in in your particular research, we have positive effects, regardless of gender, we have positive effects may be regardless of the training status as well.
Unknown Speaker 8:58
Yeah. So it seems to me that there is a potential to increase your, your cycling performance by adding strength training.
Trevor Connor 9:07
So I know there was some research earlier on 80s and 90s that looked at whether strength training could help endurance athletes and had concluded it really doesn’t because they were studying vo two Max and economy and it doesn’t seem like strength training will help vo two Max, there’s mixed results on economy. So I guess my question to you and this is what I found really interested in your research is where are the benefits? How does strength training help endurance athletes?
Unknown Speaker 9:36
Yeah, probably. It’s we have the determining factors for endurance performance, and probably that it seems like there is a small benefit on on different places that ultimately adds up making the performance better in my point of view, so take for instance, the book economy, cycling economy measurements as I read the literature There is indications that when you are untrained or moderately trained, that you see an improved cycling economy, when we are measuring like the traditional way, by doing like five minutes submaximal exercise bouts below threshold, and you are in quite fresh state, there is in indications that work economy measure this way can be improved. What we have done in some of our studies we have we have prolonged this submaximal measurements. And in my first study, which was a part of my PhD, we had the right to cycling for three hours at low intensity. And then in the last hour of those three hours, we saw an improved economy, which we did not see in the beginning in the fresh state. And we finalized those three hours of submaximal writing with a five minute all our performance test really should have as high mean power output as possible. And then we saw that strength training group, which improved their economy during the last hour or those three hours, submaximal writing had quite large improvements in five minute power compared to the control group. So maybe then you have to induce some sort of fatigue, in order to see the benefits of the strength training in terms of the cycling economy, which then might have saved energy for the last five minute bouts of that test.
Rob Pickels 11:29
We’d love to talk to you about that research protocol. Because, you know, as you pointed out that traditional way of measuring the economy there, we didn’t really see any improvement there. And that seems to be how most people would fall back to the laboratory based measurement. What inspired you? Did you have any insight into the fact that strength training might improve during longer durations? Why did you choose to do this sort of longer thing? And I love that you did, because I think that that’s very relevant for people who are out on the road.
Unknown Speaker 12:01
Yeah, and that thing you’re mentioning there is one factor. Because we know that in especially the road cycling, that the cyclists are cycling for many hours. And if they are just sitting in the peloton and waiting to go, the final push towards the end of the race. So one part of our choice was to imitate real competitions. And then, of course, we had in back of our head potential mechanisms, why strength training, could, in theory, improve performance and also work economy. And some of those are maybe easier to detect in a more fatigued state, and then the first state and then we had a discussion, actually, whether it should be two or three hours, submaximal cycling, and I was the PhD students who are supposed to do all the work. So I tried to argue carefully, that two hours might be enough. But then I had some supervisors, and there is a reason why you have some supervisors. So then they argue that three hours should be good. So of course, we went for three hours and afterwards, I do not regret that choice. I was
Trevor Connor 13:15
gonna say you are touching, there’s an expression in the professional peloton that you’re touching on, though I hate to tell you, it’s even longer. So I can’t tell you how many top coaches and professional athletes I’ve heard say, you know, cycling is not about how hard you can go for five minutes. It’s how hard you can go for five minutes after four hours. Yeah. Because, you know, professional races tend to be in that four to five hour range. But yeah, for most athletes, a bike race is going to be in that kind of two to three hour range.
Rob Pickels 13:45
Yeah, but for some of us, it’s the first five minutes that matter, Trevor, come on.
Trevor Connor 13:49
Well, yeah. Five minutes off.
Rob Pickels 13:52
When it’s the only thing you’re good at, I’m a one lap wonder when it comes to cyclocross racing and everything else Rob just attacks off, the line gets away. And he’s like, I’m done. Well, that minutes, you get the photo opportunity. Everyone thinks you’re winning the race, and you just dropped to the back after, maybe I need more strength training. But going
Trevor Connor 14:08
back to this, this is something I really loved is at least one of your explanations for why this is. And it touches on something we’ve talked a lot about in the show, which is you are improving the cross sectional area of those slow twitch muscle fibers. So at those sub threshold intensities, you can rely more on slow twitch muscle fibers which theoretically don’t really fatigue.
Unknown Speaker 14:33
Yeah, that’s that’s one possible explanation. Of course, it’s kind of difficult to really investigate it, but kind of seems intuitively like, okay, explanation one. Okay, explanation,
Rob Pickels 14:46
and using some downstream improvements that might be related to that, like increased glycogen content in the muscle after a longer duration of riding. Are there other things that clue us into the fact that that might be what’s happening?
Unknown Speaker 15:00
Well, we don’t have too much information on that. But I think there is a interesting study from from France, actually in three athletes, where they, after a period of heavy strength training, performed a two hour submaximal riding. And in that study, they measured EMG activity, which then, as anticipated, gradually increased during those two hours of cycling at the pretest. But at the post test, during the second hour, this inclination, increase in EMG activity disappeared. And that could be interpreted as the increase was due to an increase activation of type two muscle fibers at the pretest. But then, at the post test may be type one, fibers, were still contributing so much that you didn’t have to recruit type two fibers in the second hour,
Trevor Connor 15:56
which makes a lot of sense, this could be
Unknown Speaker 15:59
an indication of this. Yeah.
Rob Pickels 16:02
And I think that this topic is so broad, there are so many different mechanisms that, you know, everybody has to understand that there are different groups out there that are maybe researching different aspects of it. And so I love that we can pull from all of these different researchers, in addition to yourself, and I think that our audience is happy to hear kind of of all of the different research that’s out there.
Trevor Connor 16:22
Now, going back to your research, you did find other gains of strength training. And I was interested in asking you about these. So the other ones that you brought up, where greater anaerobic threshold power, particularly riders could ride at a higher percentage of their vo two, Max, you also pointed out that the strength training did improve anaerobic power, which is really critical at the end of a race.
Unknown Speaker 16:47
Yeah. So in the study that we performed, yeah, now, I think it’s seven years ago, on female riders, then they measured do two during a 40 minute all out performance test. And we saw that after the strength training period, these females, it was on female riders, so they actually had a higher utilization of your to max, and that correlated with the increase the cross sectional area of the thigh muscles. So yeah, we found that very interesting with increasing the muscle mass, in theory, at least could be explanation of the improved performance. And then by increasing the functional utilization of your to Max,
Rob Pickels 17:33
I want to dig into the increase cross sectional area in a little bit. But you just raised a really interesting point about this male versus female study for the results of that, does that indicate maybe that women, female riders might have an increased benefit from strength training? Or do you think that that’s just something one small finding in part of maybe a larger body of work,
Unknown Speaker 17:53
we didn’t measure functional utilization during the Fourth Amendment performance test in the male study. So unfortunately, we’re not able to direct compare those two studies. But if we see at the percentage improvement in that performance test, it was quite similar between males and females. But what was different was that we also saw an improved cycling economy during the like blood lactate profile, and also during the second hour of the three hours, submaximal cycling. So maybe we can say that the effects of the strength training seems to be even more clearer for females, and maybe, thereby indicating that maybe there is a bigger potential amongst them. Based on these two steps.
Trevor Connor 18:42
You have found a very interesting and you saw improvements in economy and women, but you didn’t see the same improvements in economy and men. Yeah. And I know you weren’t able to elucidate on the mechanisms for that. But it would be a really interesting thing to find out.
Unknown Speaker 18:57
Yeah. But then, of course, the females were likely at a slightly lower training status than the males in our status. So that also kind of complicate the picture. confounding variable there.
Trevor Connor 19:11
So Dr. Ron said, I want to go back to what we mentioned earlier, and just dive a little deeper into this, you said that there is an increase in that peak power, in that that anaerobic ability to generate big power.
Unknown Speaker 19:26
Yeah, and probably that’s related to increase muscle mass, and also maybe improved. Force transmission, could also theoretically be an explanation for that. But of course, that ability is crucial in in many situations in cycling race.
Rob Pickels 19:45
And I think it’s interesting that you bring that up, because oftentimes in research, maybe somebody does a time trial, or time to exhaustion at a steady work rate. But really what we’re interested in is performance out on the road, and oftentimes that can involve changes in power, but it can oftentimes involve going uphill and downhill. And is there a fear that with this increasing cross sectional area that we’re seeing is a benefit? Is there a fear that say somebody’s watt per kilogram or threshold is going to go down? Is their performance going to suffer? Even though all of these laboratory measurements that we’re talking about are improving? Are they going to race their bike better?
Unknown Speaker 20:25
My short answer will be yes. And that’s due to the fact that if we divide the power output by the bodyweight of the cyclists, then we see an improvement in that variable as well, meaning that the increase in power is larger than the increase in body weight or body mass. And that being said, None of our studies actually find a significant increase in in bodyweight for the strength training riders. But of course, I know that many riders fear gaining weight, and they are afraid being, like share on social media or whoever you want to compare it with. But but but it doesn’t seem to be like you get a lot of muscle mass increase. And one of the reasons is probably because a large amount of interest training seems to reduce this, this gain in muscle mass.
Trevor Connor 21:28
Let’s take a minute and hear from Joe Friel, whether he thinks strength training helps cyclists and if there’s truly a concern about gaining weight,
Joe Friel 21:37
I almost always use strength training with the athletes, I’ve coached 13 exceptions. Interestingly enough, I’ve coached a couple of bodybuilders, there’s actually no reason for those bodybuilders to do strength training, we’ve got to do just the opposite, we got to lose some of the muscle mass they’ve created over the decades of lifting weights. So they can have better endurance, less weight to move around. But what I found with most endurance athletes is they, if we, if we’re smart about their training, their strength training, they won’t gain excessive muscle mass, they may start to put on some muscle mass, because in the winter, because in the winter, especially at the start of the base period, like the first six to eight weeks of the base period, we’re going to be doing fairly serious strength training two, maybe even three times a week, and you’re gonna be using some heavy loads toward the end of that six or eight week period of time. And for for some athletes, they’ll start to gain some muscle mass. And usually we’ll see that is in the shoulders, biceps, triceps, chest, that’s where we’ll start to stand out. And what I know is going to happen is they’re going to become much stronger up there. And that’s somewhat of a handicap, especially through cyclists, that’s something we really don’t need. But as we start to move out of that, that phase, where we’re emphasizing strength training and move into more of a maintenance phase, what I know is that muscle mass is going to go away, because we’re going to cut way back on strength training, it’s going to become less than secondary is gonna become tertiary, it’s going to become something we do a very limited way, as we move out of that early base period. So early base period, we’re working on strength and we’re trying to gain muscle mass that is specific to the sport as much as possible. That’s that’s really our focus is sports specific. And as we move away from that period of time, those few weeks, now we’re going to give up some of that strength, or we’re going to maintain all we need to perform at a high level when we’re on the bike or running or wherever whatever the sport may be, we’re going to maintain that as we move into the remaining part of the season. And that excess muscle if they did gain, Na is going to be lost. But again, most athletes don’t endurance athletes don’t put on excessive muscle mass. It’s somewhat unusual to see it happen. But it happens rarely.
Rob Pickels 23:49
And another important fact here too, is that what we’re talking about for strength training, we’re talking about exercises that primarily work the muscles associated with running and cycling. And so when we say there’s an increase in that cross sectional area of the muscle, we’re still talking about an increase in a relatively small amount of body mass. We’re not talking about making big pecs and big delts and big lats we’re talking about improving your thigh muscles, your quads, your hamstrings, your calves, your lower body, your glutes and everything else.
Unknown Speaker 24:22
Yeah, exactly. I mean, if you if you’re if you are so lucky that you’re actually able to gain half a kilo or one kilo of extra muscle mass in those muscles, fitting you forward on the bike making the power and the pedals I have no doubt that that would be an performance enhancer.
Rob Pickels 24:43
Yeah, that’s a useful increase as opposed to Christmas time when my kilos are not so useful anymore.
Trevor Connor 24:48
Yeah, I still have my nephew. He was a junior cyclist and very serious about a cycling and I still remember my mother’s that his grandmother asked him to help carry in the groceries From her car and he refused, because he was worried about putting muscle mass. Arms right for him just carrying
Rob Pickels 25:09
some some milk gallon bicep curls on the way in the door.
Trevor Connor 25:12
But I can tell you, I always use when I was at my most serious about cycling, I did a lot of lifting. And I am actually somebody who can put on muscle mass fairly easily. And even despite that, with all the heavy lifting I did, I would say the difference in my body mass, when I was doing heavy lifting versus the several years where I did no lifting at all was less than a kilogram. Now, as you said, you’re not going to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger, do you
Rob Pickels 25:41
not? Do we want to dive into the mechanisms for that a little bit? Why endurance training doesn’t make people small or prevents them, you know, from from getting bulky, like everybody fears
Trevor Connor 25:52
is an interesting question. Dr. Onstad, do you have any thoughts on why you don’t see a lot of endurance athletes get really big?
Unknown Speaker 25:59
Yeah, well, there are suggestions on the molecular level, for top of my head, and I think maybe we don’t have to complicate it that much. Because if you are doing a strength training session after enduring session, because what we are talking about, though, is people like training, seven, eight, up to 25 hours per week of endurance training. And in that case, the strength training has to be performed somewhat close to our engineering session. And then then we see that then during session, your ability to lift, like for the first six hours after a session is reduced, and they are able to lift as much and maybe also the quality, I mean, the the mobilization of lifts are not that good. And your glycogen stores might be lower, which we also know affect the strength training adaptations, and also the anabolic response to strength training session. So and yeah, and the residual fatigue from the Juris training. So I think there are some, some kind of obvious explanation as to why you don’t respond in the same way, when you have all these hours with endurance training packed around the strength training sessions. And in addition to that, to optimize muscle gain, you should be in a slight positive energy balance, which is rather seldom for endurance athletes to be. So there are some some explanations as to why you might see that the strength training stimulus is not optimal. And thereby, maybe you don’t get the optimal muscle growth from the strength training.
Rob Pickels 27:56
I think it’s interesting if we broaden this out a little bit, and I know that we can be very cycling focused, I think that we’re all cyclists, we all love riding. But we also know that there are benefits and implications in the running world as well. And one study that I was reading and of the dozen to prepare for this, I forget which one indicated that perhaps, endurance running training would impair strength improvements in runners more so than in cycling. And I believe that they hypothesized it was some the acute damage, you know, that occurs from the essential contraction. But what I also found really interesting is that there is a great potential for improvement in running because of strength training, when we talk about a economy and everything else. So it’s just interesting to see how we know that there is a net positive across these two different endurance sports. But that running is just a slightly different situation, giving the method of that exercise. Yeah,
Unknown Speaker 28:53
I think the evidence for improving running economy is actually larger than improving cycling economy. And we are reading the literature. And probably that’s due to what you just mentioned, by the eccentric phase of the running stride, where probably, you kind of optimize the muscle tendon stiffness in order to utilize the elastic energy. So yeah, so for sure for running is also great benefits. In terms of modes of strength training, it seems like both plyometrics explosive strength training and kinda more traditional heavy strength training, all those modes of strength training seems to have a positive effect on running performance. While it might not be so clear that all these options is beneficial for cycling performance.
Trevor Connor 29:46
Yeah, I found that interesting in your research, because I’ve seen studies that have said otherwise. But you did bring up that for strength training to be beneficial for cyclists. It needs to be heavy and there needs to be sufficient volume and you pointed out that the more explosive so using much lighter weights and listened lifting and very rapidly, that that type of strength training doesn’t seem to have benefits for cyclists.
Unknown Speaker 30:12
Yeah, thereby I read the literature, that seems to be be the case and nature should suggest something I would suggest that this this kind of lower load, but explosive type of strength training is very likely to affect the muscle tendon stiffness, which for sure have an important impact on the running economy. But the impact in running or cycling with almost only concentric movement doesn’t seem to be so clear. And we know that that type of training is not so beneficial for the muscle cross sectional area.
Rob Pickels 30:50
Because we’re talking about there’s maybe a threshold in the strength training that induces these beneficial adaptations. I want to address the question that least 50% of our listeners are thinking right now, which is, well, I do my strength training, I ride up hills at low cadence, I put a lot of tension on my muscles, I don’t need to go lift weights. Does that cross the threshold? Is that enough? I suspect not. But I want to hear it from you.
Unknown Speaker 31:16
Yeah, I agree that your your thoughts on that, that I don’t think that is sufficient for what we are discussing now.
Rob Pickels 31:23
Yeah, so locate and cycling is probably beneficial for things in general. But when we talk about these strength adaptations, maybe that doesn’t induce that adaptation? Well, there was a whole study
Trevor Connor 31:33
on that comparing big gear training to strength training, and the conclusion of the study was, they’re not the same thing. They don’t produce the same benefits. The only exception they found in that study was, if you put in a ridiculously big gear, and just try to grind it over for 667 seconds, you sort of get the same effect.
Rob Pickels 31:54
Yeah, and patellar, tendonitis and everything else to go with it. So
Trevor Connor 31:59
yeah, before we dive deeper into the mechanisms behind how strength training helps endurance athletes, let’s check in with Jess Elliot and hear her thoughts on the matter. Why is it beneficial for cyclists to weight train?
Jess Elliot 32:12
Well, I think it just it improves performance, you know, makes your body a more efficient machine. It’s kind of one of those things, we talk about a car on a racetrack, right. And so I’m not going to make you better at racing, per se, like, you still have to drive the car, you still have to ride the bike. But I can build your body to generate more force and be more resilient to force, which is going to improve your performance. So essentially, my job is to make sure if we go back to that racetrack analogy, I want to make sure that the car is just a finely tuned machine that can actually do everything that the driver wants it to do. So same thing, I want your body to be another tool that’s going to empower you to race at your full capacity, I don’t want it to be something that’s going to hinder your performance and take away from where you’re trying to go.
Trevor Connor 32:58
I know sometimes cyclists struggle with this, because they’re always looking for what’s gonna give me more watts, is this gonna give me 10? More watts? Is that going to give me five more watts. So what you’re saying is, this is not so much, you’re gonna, you’re not gonna so much see big improvements in your watts, what you’re gonna see as your body’s ability to maintain what you you build on the bike better? Is that what you’re saying?
Jess Elliot 33:21
Ah, actually, I don’t know that, I’d say that. Because still, you know, I’m looking for force production and rate of force development. And so you know, my, my supportive heavy weightlifting. And obviously, you know, you don’t do that every single day, you know, you’re not pushing to your max every single time you go into the weight room. But what it teaches you is it teaches your body the ability to strain. And so if I can lift something at 300 pounds, 100 pounds is going to feel a lot better. Versus if my you know, kind of repetition weight is 100 pounds, 50 pounds is going to feel a lot better. But if I can train you to be stronger at 300 pounds, 100 is going to feel like nothing. But if all the time you’re training like bodyweight, or maybe 20 to 50 pound weights at a given time. 100 is still going to feel like a lot of work. So we’re going to see a lot of that adaptation, yes, you’re going to see some power output changes, both in increased force production, but also that increased rate of force production. So that time factor the time rate of performing work. But in addition to that, it’s going to change that RPE rating. And so things that maybe were really taxing before it’s going to feel like nothing because your body has learned to generate force at much higher levels and tolerate that. So everything else is going to feel significantly easier. So it’s going to give them more gas in the tank to work with.
Trevor Connor 34:43
So that’s kind of what they’re saying in the research that you’re not necessarily going to see vo two Max and prove which is entirely aerobic anyway, yeah. You’re going if you are writing a 250 watts with the strength training that 250 Watts is going to feel easier and be more assist Animals. So what you’re saying, yeah, absolutely,
Jess Elliot 35:01
I mean, you’re gonna see all sorts of physiological adaptations, you know, your vasculature is going to change, your blood pressure is going to go down, you’re going to see that change, your ability to tolerate higher levels of lactate is actually going to change as well, too. So instead of getting completely tanked at three to four millimoles, you know, you’re actually going to be able to withstand some of those higher lactate levels for longer because you’ve trained your body anaerobically. But because of that aerobic Foundation, your body is also going to be able to clear it, so it’s going to make you more tolerant to performing at higher levels, and at higher demands for longer periods of time.
Ryan Kohler 35:43
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Trevor Connor 36:10
So we talked about the mechanisms. And I did want to dive into this because you particularly in a recent review that you wrote, you covered some of the mechanisms that may explain the strength gains, and I just quickly jotted them down and there’s a ton. So you’ve we’ve already talked about that greater contribution of type one fibers. But you also brought up the the shift of fast twitch fibers from the the to x phenotype to the to a, you mentioned, increased tendon stiffness, you talked about spreading the work across greater muscle mass, and also the rate of force development. So it seems like there’s a lot of ways in which strength training can help endurance athletes.
Unknown Speaker 36:50
Yeah, so yeah, so there are a lot of possibility to explain that it can improve performance.
Rob Pickels 36:59
One thing that I found really interesting reading this, and my apologies, Dr. Ron said, I don’t remember if this was your research or a different groups is on the rate of force development. And the potential mechanism for that being beneficial is that by increasing the rate of force development in the muscle, there was also increased time where the tension was lower. And because the tension was lower, there could be improved blood perfusion, into the muscle and through the capillary beds and deliver more nutrients. And it just it’s so funny to think that there’s something so small, right? Because we’re talking force development in milliseconds, that might have an effect that ultimately leads to improved performance, that a few more milliseconds of blood flow could make a difference.
Unknown Speaker 37:45
Yeah, well, we had one study where we actually saw that the strength training group, the angle of peak torque, during the pedal stroke, usually it’s around three o’clock, or if you use degrees, it could be like, 90 degrees. And what we saw was that it, it occurred a little bit earlier, not much, but like going from 91 to 87. So a little bit earlier. And that small increase that the changes in earlier peak torque, actually correlated with improvement in 40 minute main power outputs. And that was actually quite surprised for me that that we actually would see a correlation between earlier peak torque and improved me in power and recycling for the minute. All.
Rob Pickels 38:41
That is interesting. Can I ask one follow up question on that? Did they begin their torque increase sooner and hold it to the same endpoint? So did they apply force for a longer duration? Or was the duration the same? It just occurred earlier in the in the cycle?
Unknown Speaker 38:58
Well, we don’t have data on on when they started.
Rob Pickels 39:03
You just have the peak sort of data was occurring. Okay. Yep. Exactly, exactly.
Unknown Speaker 39:07
But in theory, as you say, it could improve blood flow. And then very many people say, okay, yeah, and that’s the explanation why you can improve work economy. Sure, but I do not follow that rationally. Because then then we say that, okay, we gave the muscle more oxygen. Okay, and then we expect the muscle to react by using less oxygen. I’m not quite sure that will happen. But I totally agree that it’s likely to improve the performance, as you said, By improving the blood flow, like improving the oxygen supply and taking away the waste produced in the muscle cell. So in theory, it could explain the improved performance. Yeah, so
Trevor Connor 40:00
Something I’ve been interested in in and this has wasn’t touched on in any other studies that I read. So it might just be this hasn’t been researched. But there certainly has been research and cyclists showing that one of the things that can hurt economy is CO contraction, where you have antagonist muscles that are firing at the same time during the pedal stroke, and that can reduce the power you can put out. You know, one of the reasons I’ve always explained to my athletes that they should do strength training is it does improve that neuromuscular recruitment and can reduce some of that CO contraction. Have you seen anything about that? Is there anything to that?
Unknown Speaker 40:38
No, I haven’t seen anything on that.
Rob Pickels 40:42
Well, you heard it here first. Dr. Trevor Connor Wheatley. Reading hogwash. I know what side I’m on Dr. Ron’s dad’s side on this one, you know, Trevor, he has all the credibility, and you just lost all of yours. So listeners.
Trevor Connor 41:00
So that was basically I sounded really smart. And that was totally pulled out of nowhere. So there we go.
Unknown Speaker 41:07
If I’m, if I’m going to comment on it, I don’t actually think that what you’re doing in the in the gym will affect the coordination, or the muscle activation, activation during the pedal stroke. Because we know that neural adaptations is extremely specific to what you train. And there’s a quite big difference between what’s happening in the gym, and the movement on the bike. And most of these people, they have been performing this pedal stroke quite many times, and much more than what they are doing for those contractions in the gym. So that the gym stuff should improve the coordination and muscle activation during the pedal stroke. I’m not quite sure of that.
Rob Pickels 41:56
So at the very local level, we know that we have improved motor unit recruitment with strength training, right when we get really, really detailed, but perhaps if we backup larger, and we look at whole body coordination of muscle groups, we might not be able to affect that with pure strength training alone.
Unknown Speaker 42:15
Yeah, I think so. And then maybe the good alternative is to do really short term sprint efforts on the bike or while running or like cross country skiing, then you get the specifics in the neuro muscular system.
Trevor Connor 42:33
So we mentioned this at the beginning of the show, and I think this is a really important thing to bring up about concurrent training, because I know this is is a bit of a controversy in the research. There’s differing opinions on this. But there is this question of the interference effect does combining these two modalities hinder one another? So we’ve already talked about the doesn’t seem to be a ton of evidence that strength training hurts endurance performance of matter of fact, we just had a long talk about how it benefits endurance performance. But there is this question of does endurance training hurt? strength gains? And I know, there’s been two meta analysis that have died into this, and one of them was yours, which you published back in 2021. I’m really interested in what were your conclusions?
Unknown Speaker 43:23
Yeah, well, for most of us, performing two to three strength training sessions per week and two, to three endurance training sessions per week. The overall message is that there is almost no interference effect, if any thing may be on the ability to exert force rapidly rate of force development. But when you have like two, two sessions per week of strength and endurance training, meaning a quite moderate, low to moderate training volume, that doesn’t seem to be an interference effect.
Rob Pickels 44:04
And when you say, maybe a decrease in the rate of force development, I’m not sure that the average person would even be able to detect something like that. I think perhaps, right, if you’re lifting or you’re you’re doing, you know, a plyometric exercise on a Force plane, then we can measure the change in this curve. But to the end user, I mean, come on, right? It’s not like it’s a it’s not like it’s altering your life. And suddenly you’re, you’re a wimp, and you can’t lift anything and everyone makes fun of you
Trevor Connor 44:35
watch me do some plyometrics you will see my decrease in force production.
Rob Pickels 44:40
Ever kick it off the ground. I’ve had coaches
Trevor Connor 44:43
tell me you know, jump off of this box and then do a second jump the plyometric move and then do my second jump in there like you were supposed to get off the ground. Like I tried.
Unknown Speaker 44:53
Yeah, so. So I totally agree. So overall, there is no interference. Yeah.
Trevor Connor 44:58
So the thing I want to ask you about because we basically just said there really isn’t an interference effect. But there’s been so much written about this the ANP K theory, which is this notion that endurance training, and I believe it was Dr. Atherton who proposed this theory. But it was a theory that endurance training upregulates am PK in a NPK seems to then essentially block the pathways used in the development of hypertrophy and strength gains. So that’s my intro is your you’re basically showing there is no interference effects. So why is so much been written on this?
Unknown Speaker 45:35
Yeah, well, those studies in the beginning, were performed in animals. And it seems like this, the signaling, kind of blocking seems to be more pronounced in animal models than in human models. So yeah, even though it’s a kind of appealing hypothesis, it seems to at least, like some support for, at least everyday people had training, like four sessions per week, it might be a bit different when you’re training 10 hours of endurance per week, but every day, or the the normal person, it doesn’t seem to be the case,
Rob Pickels 46:20
if we stay kind of in that rabbit hole. You know, mTOR is something that people are going to call on a lot when we talk about strength training. And I think that we all associate that with increases in muscle mass and more the anaerobic side of things. But in preparing for this, I read at least a half a dozen studies that tied mTOR to mitochondrial biogenesis, on to oxidative capacity. And so if we are utilizing mTOR regulation with our strength training, that alone could have improvements in our oxidative capacity, and other pieces of that pathway. One particular study, you know, when when they introduced rapamycin, you know, there was a decreased gene expression for PGC, one alpha. So, even though we always assume that the strength only can improve one thing, because of this one pathway, that pathway also has aerobic and endurance implications as well. I don’t know if that was a statement or a question. But
Unknown Speaker 47:28
I mean, the big point that you actually are making, I think, is that the body is quite complex. And if and I think it’s too simplistic just to focus on one small piece of this big complex picture. And also, when you when you’re looking at these acute studies on signaling, and the effect of different training modalities, it seems like everything is exploding, and you could conclude that to maximize the muscle gain, you should perform a concurrent session, or both strength and endurance in an untrained person. But then the picture seems to slightly change when you are getting more trained than at least to make the job easier for us.
Trevor Connor 48:16
And to take a quick step back, we throw out a lot of big terms there. And Rob, that’s my job,
Rob Pickels 48:21
whatever. I can do it too. I just choose not to,
Trevor Connor 48:26
we threw out a lot of big terms. So the simplified explanation of this is, in early research, they basically said there seems to be one molecular pathway for endurance gains, and there’s another molecular pathway for strength gain. So the endurance is at ANP K, which then activates PGC, one Alpha strength gains appears to involve mTOR, mammalian target of rapamycin. And so they had them quite distinct and basically said, you got the one pathway for endurance, you got the other pathway for strength. And Dr. Ron instead, what I’m hearing you say is it’s really not that simple. And you’re seeing both pathways being involved in in both forms of of adaptations, so we just can’t simplify it that much.
Unknown Speaker 49:12
Yeah, exactly. And also recording PGC one alpha A, you have a splice PGC one Alpha four, that actually is involved, mostly in strength gains in muscle hypertrophy.
Trevor Connor 49:26
Going with what you’re also saying that seems to only really activate and well trained athletes. Yeah. All right, let’s pull back a bit from the heavy science and hear from World Tour pro Tom squinch, and his thoughts and how to incorporate strength training. So my question to you is do you lift?
Unknown Speaker 49:43
I do, I was thinking, you’re gonna finish what do you even lift bro? But yeah, I actually always do start in November, but I always try to keep it going as long as possible, but usually the obstacle to keep it going In, like, let’s say into may even is that you start doing stage races. And if you do a week of zero weightlifting, and then five days later you have the next race, then you can’t really throw a session in between those two because you just have to recover. And if you even if you do get in one session, you’re just going to destroy yourself. Because the body yeah, easily sometimes forgets how to deal with the strain of weightlifting. But yeah, I am, I am a fan of hitting the gym, not just for heavy weights, but also mobility. And it’s nice to do it in a gym just because it changes the environment, and you kind of can focus on it a little bit more.
Trevor Connor 50:47
Do you have a concern about putting on excess muscle mass? Who do you find that it’s not an issue.
Unknown Speaker 50:53
That is also sometimes why I don’t really restart in the second part of the year, because in the second part of the year, you do hit those long mountain passes in France quite a bit. So I do skip the weight training in the second part of the year. But I think that if you are sensible enough, you can definitely manage to keep the weight down and still be weightlifting. And obviously, cycling in general is pretty easy on the bones. So getting some weightlifting, getting some running in is always good for bone density and overall health and being more than just the human body that can pedal bicycles, but also exist.
Rob Pickels 51:38
Well, all of this is is really deep. Yes. Should we take a step back? Should we talk about some practical applications for people, some just nice actionable things to take away? How do we implement this? I’m just so excited. We brought up PJ so on alpha. So I’m happy. I’m just excited. I didn’t say P CG. Because I always transpose it. In my mind. I know what it is. But I always think and say it backward. And I’m embarrassed by that. But I shared it with everyone. So now it’s out there. So the
Trevor Connor 52:04
Dr. Ronstadt, you’re new to the show, but we’ve actually had listeners of our show propose that we create a cycling kit with the show’s name, and we just put PGC one alpha on it, because apparently I mentioned that a lot in the show
Rob Pickels 52:17
here. You can just hang on that right there.
Trevor Connor 52:20
That is our thing, right? So yeah, let’s let’s go to the practical.
Rob Pickels 52:24
I want to know a few things. I asked the big question before what we were talking about in terms of strength training, we stated that, hey, there’s there’s probably a threshold to the amount that’s worthwhile. What are the recommendations, you know, be our strength coach, right now, if you’re saying use strength to increase your endurance performance? What’s the recommendation?
Unknown Speaker 52:46
Yeah, so I would recommend to be within a range of repetitions that is between four and 10. so heavy that you’re able to lift from four repetitions maximum to 10, to strength training sessions per week, to have improvement, and then one session per week to maintain at least two, two to four, exercise for the important muscles for your sport. And then the thighs are often used quads for for most sports, and three sets.
Rob Pickels 53:27
Okay, so three sets of three to four exercises, do that twice a week, at a load that you can lift I think that you said four to 10 times maximum, right then. So that’s not a light load, and you only lifted eight times, it’s a load that you can max out you’re lifting at eight times and you couldn’t do a ninth. So to say,
Unknown Speaker 53:48
yeah, and then I would start with higher reps and then gradually decrease it as race season starts.
Rob Pickels 53:57
Okay, interesting. And I think in general, one of the big messages and I don’t want to we’re not ending the episode now. But a general message I think so far is that strength training doesn’t really seem to impair cycling performance. No, you know, and one one clarifying thing I want to know, though, is when we talk about strength training, are we talking about people doing a normal amount of endurance training and adding strength on top of it? Are we talking about people substituting endurance training for strength, just for context in our conversation?
Unknown Speaker 54:33
Yeah, I think there is evidence for strength training, improving performance in both scenarios. So when we in our research there is there is no difference in total training volume between the control group and the strength training group. So meaning that the strength training group is performing a little bit less endurance training than the endurance training group. So overall, they’re they’re performing similar amount of training?
Trevor Connor 55:01
And what about timing? Should you be doing this right after a runner? Raj, you’d be doing it before? Or should you be trying to separate them?
Unknown Speaker 55:09
Yeah, I would try to get as long distance as possible between the endurance and the strength training. That being said, it’s more important to do to strength training than not. So sometimes you just have to do it before you’re going out for a ride. And then it’s better to do it than not do it.
Rob Pickels 55:30
Sure. I wonder if you can tackle this one for me. Oftentimes, when people ask, they say, Should I do the strength training on a rest day? And I usually say, No, you shouldn’t keep the rest day the rest day, I would rather have them doing on the same day that they’re training. But maybe the ride is in the morning and the strength is in the evening to separate it by some hours. I don’t know if you know, any recommendations there? Is there anything to that? Or am I being a Trevor and just throwing out hogwash, I make up
Unknown Speaker 56:00
that, well, I am not aware of any research on it. So what I would throw out is that the athlete can actually try both and then make his or her opinion, what’s best for the individual.
Rob Pickels 56:13
So what you’re saying is, I’m not wrong? No, you heard it. Again, this is my favorite guest. He’s just, he’s lining them up and knocking them down.
Trevor Connor 56:25
One comment there is going to be strength training is not rest. As a matter of fact, strength training could be more damaging to your legs and going out on the bike or going for a run. So when I work with athletes, and they try to do the strength training on the recovery days, I always say, Look, you need at least one day, that is a true recovery day, meaning you do nothing.
Rob Pickels 56:48
Yep, I agree. And I think that we can talk about it from energy systems, we could talk about that, say from stress, hormone release, or whatever else. But you know, to keep it high level, let’s not lift on our rest days moving forward. If you want to be a researcher, maybe you can try it and see what happens. But
Trevor Connor 57:06
I’m still getting over that that original study that you’re talking about where they were doing hard endurance, six days a week and strength training five days a week. So you
Unknown Speaker 57:14
did yeah, and those, those two sessions were separated by two hours, both etc. Except for one subject, which only had 15 to 20 minutes break in between. It says in the paper.
Rob Pickels 57:31
I feel like you know what, back in the day, oftentimes it was the researcher themselves were the subjects right, I love looking they used to include, oftentimes the initials of the subject in the in the data, and you could easily match the subjects initials to the authors of the paper, you know, so that guy, you know, didn’t have much time between teaching and lunch. So he had to do it in the 15 minutes, he didn’t have the time to, to wait, exactly.
Trevor Connor 57:58
I will say the most brutal study I’ve ever heard about which was never published. But they they did this down in Australia, they wanted to simulate the Tour de France and see the effects on athletes. So they had these poor athletes do 21 days in the lab on the trainer five to six hours a day.
Rob Pickels 58:19
Now, bright room really did something out of University of Montana up in Missoula, that was real similar. It took normal people and induced them to three weeks of overload. Well, anyway, we digress. Well,
Trevor Connor 58:36
we’re getting to that time. So Dr. Onstad, you’re new to the show, we always finish the show with what we call our one minutes. So we are going to give you one minute and don’t worry, we don’t actually have a timer. So this is on the honor system. But we are going to give you one minute to give basically your summary of our discussion or what you feel is the most salient point of this particular conversation. So are you feeling ready? You’re ready to give us your your your summary?
Unknown Speaker 59:08
Rob Pickels 59:10
He was born ready to go.
Unknown Speaker 59:13
Okay, yeah. So the literature seems to indicate that strength training can improve both running and cycling performance. And if you’re going to do that you should perform and to strength training sessions per week with a load that you’re able to lift between four and 10 times and you do three sets of three to four exercise for the for the legs for the main muscles in your sport. And then it’s also important to maintain this improvement in strength gains by approximately one session per week.
Trevor Connor 59:59
So My take home here, I was actually really surprised at how recent all the research is particularly on concurrent training, that it’s only been a few decades that has been going on. And there’s still a lot that we don’t know. And so Dr. Rana said thank you for all the research you’ve been doing on this, because you have explained a lot that just wasn’t known before. But it does seem the research is showing that there is a lot of benefits to doing the concurrent training. And this is one of those cases where I would say do be careful about the recommendations you get, because I’m also surprised by the number of coaches who are still saying, Don’t do strength training, it’s bad for you. And that’s not really what the research is backing up. And apparently those coaches are making up things as much as as I do. So Rob, what’s your one minute,
Rob Pickels 1:00:50
my one minute, my one minute might be closer to one minute, not gonna lie, my takeaway from this my summary, Oh, hold on, if you’re claiming there gonna be one minute I’m timing this, there was a five minute timer behind me if you want to use that, okay, here we go. Got your one minute go. If you’re going to strength train, you need to actually strength train, you have to be lifting heavy weights, there is a threshold to this, where if you’re just dabbling, if you’re messing around, you’re not going to get any benefit from it. At the very least, there’s probably no performance loss for cycling due to strength training. So there’s no reason not to do it. And, and we didn’t mention this, there’s probably quality of life improvements, right? We know that bone mineral density increases, your risk of fracture goes down, because of the loading, maybe overuse injuries will go down, increase metabolism, all of those things. So there’s a lot of positive things with strength training, even if you don’t believe it, it’ll improve your cycling, there are still other positives that we know. So ultimately, everyone should be strength training, and we should all be doing it hard. Now, we ought to either know what we’re doing or get somebody to help us, you can hurt yourself, we are talking about lifting heavy, right. And so make sure that you have a strength coach, or make sure that your form is good, don’t just jump into this because we’re all weak endurance athletes, we’re gonna get sore, don’t hurt yourself. But if you involve this in your training, in shorter events, you’re going to get better, you’re going to get better because you’re going to have higher power outputs. And in longer events, you’re going to get better as well, because that’s what we’re seeing these economy gains. So across any duration across running across cycling across life, strength training is worthwhile, if we actually engage in it.
Trevor Connor 1:02:28
Fantastic. Dr. Ron is dad, we’ve been excited to get you on the show. It’s been a real pleasure having you thank you for making this your first podcast.
Unknown Speaker 1:02:36
Thanks for inviting me.
Rob Pickels 1:02:37
You’re the best. Thank you very much. We’ll have you on again. There’s so many different topics we could talk about, and I’m sure that it’s going to be worthwhile every time. That was another episode of fast talk. Subscribe to fast talk wherever you prefer to find your favorite podcast. Be sure to leave us a rating and a review. The thoughts and opinions expressed on fast talk are those of the individual. As always, we love your feedback. Join the conversation at forums dot fast talk labs.com to discuss each and every episode. Become a member of the fast talk laboratories at fast talk labs.com/join and become a part of our education and coaching community. For Dr. Bent runestad Joe Friel. Jess Eliot, Tom squinch and Trevor Connor. I’m Rob pickles. Thanks for listening.