Is muscle hypertrophy ever useful for cyclists?



DennistheMennis

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Jul 20, 2005
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Hello folks:

For all the bytes expended discussing weight training for cyclists, the "Gyming to improve power" and "Hypertrophy on the bike - possible?" threads, etc., it's surprising how hard it is to get an answer to the question in my subject. I ask because now I'm getting more into velodrome racing and want to switch my training to suit that better, it that will help.

At present I am skeptical that muscle hypertrophy (big muscles) is useful for cyclists, even sprinters. I even wrote on my blog about that back in 2007:
http://dennispedersen.blogspot.com/2007/09/beer-bellies-and-track-racing.html

Short version why big muscles may not help: "the maximum force on the pedal is well within the limits of any person who can walk up a step." My own guesstimate is that I don't produce more than maybe 200 pounds of force on my pedals, ever. So why should I bother doing squats to get bigger leg musles?

Possible reason why big muscles may help: "Maybe that extra strength somehow translates into better "power" for longer efforts." That is, maybe big muscles don't increase our sprint power, but maybe we can sprint at that high power longer? I don't know, and haven't found a clear answer anywhere. I do know my power drops off after about 6 seconds (my power profile is heavily sprinter type, with best 5-second around 1300W).

Anybody out there have more time, access to better resources and found clear scientific evidence to support muscle hypertrophy for cycling sprinters?

Much obliged!
 

Chapeau!

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Jul 31, 2010
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Originally Posted by DennistheMennis .

Hello folks:

For all the bytes expended discussing weight training for cyclists, the "Gyming to improve power" and "Hypertrophy on the bike - possible?" threads, etc., it's surprising how hard it is to get an answer to the question in my subject. I ask because now I'm getting more into velodrome racing and want to switch my training to suit that better, it that will help.

At present I am skeptical that muscle hypertrophy (big muscles) is useful for cyclists, even sprinters. I even wrote on my blog about that back in 2007:
http://dennispedersen.blogspot.com/2007/09/beer-bellies-and-track-racing.html

Short version why big muscles may not help: "the maximum force on the pedal is well within the limits of any person who can walk up a step." My own guesstimate is that I don't produce more than maybe 200 pounds of force on my pedals, ever. So why should I bother doing squats to get bigger leg musles?

Possible reason why big muscles may help: "Maybe that extra strength somehow translates into better "power" for longer efforts." That is, maybe big muscles don't increase our sprint power, but maybe we can sprint at that high power longer? I don't know, and haven't found a clear answer anywhere. I do know my power drops off after about 6 seconds (my power profile is heavily sprinter type, with best 5-second around 1300W).

Anybody out there have more time, access to better resources and found clear scientific evidence to support muscle hypertrophy for cycling sprinters?

Much obliged!

Dennis, Lifting in any rep range will produce gains in strength and hypertrophy, but to what degree?. Rep ranges from 2-6, as long as you are fairly close to failure, will produce primarily strength with some hypertrophy, while 6-12 will produce less strength but more hypertrophy. Rep ranges in the grey area, 5-7, are a good compromise.

The increase in relative strength (positive power-to-weight ratio) is what you should aim for, along with CNS stimulation, not hypertrophy.

  • Increase relative strength (positive power-to-weight ratio). http://www.gymjones.com/knowledge.php?id=6
  • In the gym emphasize strengthening your posterior chain, mainly the (Glutes, Hamstrings, Hips, Legs, Erector spinae & (quads) with multiple-joint exercises such as; (Deadlifts, weighted hip thrusts, squats, good-mornings, dumbbell lunges, dumbbell step-ups etc) & again, not at the expense of gaining muscle mass.
  • Increase/build "isometric" core strength (planks/supermans), not dynamic (crunches/sit-ups). (See below).
  • http://www.cyclingforums.com/forum/thread/480580/new-to-cycling#post_3974752
 

Chapeau!

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Originally Posted by DennistheMennis .

Possible reason why big muscles may help: "Maybe that extra strength somehow translates into better "power" for longer efforts." That is, maybe big muscles don't increase our sprint power, but maybe we can sprint at that high power longer? I don't know, and haven't found a clear answer anywhere. I do know my power drops off after about 6 seconds (my power profile is heavily sprinter type, with best 5-second around 1300W).
The reason being it's always easier to operate at a lower percentage of one's peak power the stronger you are. Your using comparatively lower percentage of your available strength to complete the SAME task and therefore have extra energy left over for all the other parts of the task.
 

Chapeau!

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Originally Posted by DennistheMennis .

Short version why big muscles may not help: "the maximum force on the pedal is well within the limits of any person who can walk up a step." My own guesstimate is that I don't produce more than maybe 200 pounds of force on my pedals, ever. So why should I bother doing squats to get bigger leg muscles?.
Stronger legs produce greater forces. Squats are hip/knee extension based activities, just as cycling. Stronger/bigger legs also house more fast twitch.

Its pretty simple, the more force you can create, the bigger gear you can turn over from that of a weaker competitior.

We also see having bigger thighs producing results in time trials for the likes of Cancellara & Tony Martin, not just track events.
 

DennistheMennis

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Thanks "Chapeau!" Since I can easily leg-press well over 300 pounds with a single leg (without doing any weight training), maybe I'm already strong enough, by that reasoning. Just not sure doing anything further will help. Haven't seen anything definite supporting that but willing to hit the squats if that will help. Not convinced yet, but willing to consider.
 

Chapeau!

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I don't squat either, nor am I a fan of leg pressing. I'm big into deadlifting, hip thrusts & increasing core strength mainly. I think cycling will be heading in this direction soon.

Originally Posted by DennistheMennis .

Thanks "Chapeau!" Since I can easily leg-press well over 300 pounds with a single leg (without doing any weight training), [COLOR= #ff0000]maybe I'm already strong enough, by that reasoning. Just not sure doing anything further will help. [/COLOR]

Only when you can push in the region of a 52 x 14 & greater, turning it over rapidly with ease, do you have the qualification to say that.
 

fergie

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Originally Posted by DennistheMennis .
For all the bytes expended discussing weight training for cyclists, the "Gyming to improve power" and "Hypertrophy on the bike - possible?" threads, etc., it's surprising how hard it is to get an answer to the question in my subject. I ask because now I'm getting more into velodrome racing and want to switch my training to suit that better, it that will help.

The answer is no.

At present I am skeptical that muscle hypertrophy (big muscles) is useful for cyclists, even sprinters. I even wrote on my blog about that back in 2007:
http://dennispedersen.blogspot.com/2007/09/beer-bellies-and-track-racing.html

Short version why big muscles may not help: "the maximum force on the pedal is well within the limits of any person who can walk up a step." My own guesstimate is that I don't produce more than maybe 200 pounds of force on my pedals, ever. So why should I bother doing squats to get bigger leg musles?

Yup, anyone with access to TrainingPeaks and a calculator can work out that the force requirements of cycling, even sprinting, are pretty low by comparison to sports like weight lifting and field events.

Possible reason why big muscles may help: "Maybe that extra strength somehow translates into better "power" for longer efforts."

No because force of contraction is not a limit to cycling (because the force requirement is so minimal). The limit is ATP supply to the working muscle.

That is, maybe big muscles don't increase our sprint power, but maybe we can sprint at that high power longer?

No, having subjected a fair few cyclists to a Wingate Test the riders peak for a very short time and the power rapidly drops away. The higher the peak the greater the drop off in power. If cycling had a 50m sprint this may help but we don't.

Anybody out there have more time, access to better resources and found clear scientific evidence to support muscle hypertrophy for cycling sprinters?

I would be looking at power to weight and power to frontal surface area. More muscle means more to accelerate off the line and more muscle means more of you punching into the wind.
 

Chapeau!

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Jul 31, 2010
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Originally Posted by DennistheMennis

For all the bytes expended discussing weight training for cyclists, the "Gyming to improve power" and "Hypertrophy on the bike - possible?" threads, etc., it's surprising how hard it is to get an answer to the question in my subject. I ask because now I'm getting more into velodrome racing and want to switch my training to suit that better, it that will help.



The answer is no.



At present I am skeptical that muscle hypertrophy (big muscles) is useful for cyclists, even sprinters. I even wrote on my blog about that back in 2007:

http://dennispedersen.blogspot.com/2007/09/beer-bellies-and-track-racing.html



Short version why big muscles may not help: "the maximum force on the pedal is well within the limits of any person who can walk up a step." My own guesstimate is that I don't produce more than maybe 200 pounds of force on my pedals, ever. So why should I bother doing squats to get bigger leg musles?



Yup, anyone with access to TrainingPeaks and a calculator can work out that the force requirements of cycling, even sprinting, are pretty low by comparison to sports like weight lifting and field events.



Possible reason why big muscles may help: "Maybe that extra strength somehow translates into better "power" for longer efforts."



No because force of contraction is not a limit to cycling (because the force requirement is so minimal). The limit is ATP supply to the working muscle.



That is, maybe big muscles don't increase our sprint power, but maybe we can sprint at that high power longer?



No, having subjected a fair few cyclists to a Wingate Test the riders peak for a very short time and the power rapidly drops away. The higher the peak the greater the drop off in power. If cycling had a 50m sprint this may help but we don't.



Anybody out there have more time, access to better resources and found clear scientific evidence to support muscle hypertrophy for cycling sprinters?



I would be looking at power to weight and power to frontal surface area. More muscle means more to accelerate off the line and more muscle means more of you punching into the wind.

Your success on the track at this years Commonwealth Games again Fergie?.
 

Chapeau!

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More muscle means more to accelerate off the line and more muscle means more of you punching into the wind.
It also means greater force application, the ability to push bigger gears & ease in which you can overcome inertia during acceleration.

No because force of contraction is not a limit to cycling (because the force requirement is so minimal).
In endurance racing force of contraction is not a limit to cycling, but where talking about sprinting. Just as in the 100m in athletics, force of contraction is the main player.

Wrong again.
 

DennistheMennis

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Jul 20, 2005
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"The limit is ATP supply to the working muscle."

Yes, makes sense. But I keep wondering if the greater ATP supply in larger muscles might prolong the higher sprint power, but sounds like you're saying "no."

No, having subjected a fair few cyclists to a Wingate Test the riders peak for a very short time and the power rapidly drops away. The higher the peak the greater the drop off in power. If cycling had a 50m sprint this may help but we don't.

But if the sprint stays at the same power (limited by the mechanics of pedalling in any case) as before hypertrophy, couldn't the power remain at that level for longer? Well, that was maybe my hope.

Thanks for the replies! I'll take what I can from this and... well, dig deeper I guess.
 

fergie

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Originally Posted by DennistheMennis .

"The limit is ATP supply to the working muscle."

Yes, makes sense. But I keep wondering if the greater ATP supply in larger muscles might prolong the higher sprint power, but sounds like you're saying "no."

No, having subjected a fair few cyclists to a Wingate Test the riders peak for a very short time and the power rapidly drops away. The higher the peak the greater the drop off in power. If cycling had a 50m sprint this may help but we don't.

But if the sprint stays at the same power (limited by the mechanics of pedalling in any case) as before hypertrophy, couldn't the power remain at that level for longer? Well, that was maybe my hope.

Thanks for the replies! I'll take what I can from this and... well, dig deeper I guess.
The stored ATP in the muscle is used rapidly as is stored creatine phosphate, all gone within 5-10 sec at best and then it is anaerobic glycolysis.

If you hold power constant but increase weight your power to weight has decreased and your frontal area has increased so you are actually going slower.

I would be spending more time in the red zone developing the anaerobic system for sprint events.
 

DennistheMennis

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Originally Posted by fergie .

<snip>

I would be spending more time in the red zone developing the anaerobic system for sprint events.
Yes, I do that, with 6x5-minute "L5" intervals once a week. And 10x8-second sprints twice a week as the season approaches. I guess I'm doing what I can. Thanks again everybody!
 

DennistheMennis

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By the way, just for fun I went to the below "Bicycle Power Calculator" Web site:

http://www.mne.psu.edu/lamancusa/ProdDiss/Bicycle/bikecalc1.htm

It shows that if I want to maintain 41 MPH I would need to produce 1300W, which takes an average of 118 pounds of force on each pedal.
 

fergie

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Originally Posted by DennistheMennis .

Yes, I do that, with 6x5-minute "L5" intervals once a week. And 10x8-second sprints twice a week as the season approaches. I guess I'm doing what I can. Thanks again everybody!
Was thinking a little more red than that. 60sec efforts with full recovery will really tax the anaerobic system. I wouldn't do them till close till a major event if anaerobic capacity is going to be a factor in the goal race.
 

DennistheMennis

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Oh yeah, pretty much like racing "kilos" (AKA "killers"!)... I save those for the highest priority races. Or for when I need to induce vomiting. Kidding. I discovered that doing these with a PM is much easier than when I did them per HRM. With HR for pacing I did indeed risk my stomach contents, but with a PM for pacing they aren't so bad.

Anyway, I'm sort of relieved that I may not benefit from hypertrophy, but a bit disappointed too. I was hoping new research supported having such awesome-looking legs. ;-)
 

fergie

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Yup good luck on the prowl with an endurance cyclist's body...





Or a former World TT Champion...

 

DennistheMennis

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That ain't my body type! /img/vbsmilies/smilies/smile.gif

BTW, I was on fixedgearfever.com and saw a link to a fairly new study on lifting. Oddly enough, it was related to endurance benefits, not sprinting.

http://www.rappstar.com/pdf/StrengthTrainingEnduranceAthletes.pdf

Man, it sure is hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. All the trackies seem to accept weights as a given, in spite of real evidence... makes me wonder if I missed something??? /img/vbsmilies/smilies/confused.gif
 

fergie

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Well they all drink the Kool-aid to say the least. I have said for years that the demands of sprinting dictate that auxiliary strength training is part of the programme. But it is a matter of priority. Hoy doesn't win so many Keirin's because of his maximal power, he wins because he can hold a very high sub-maximal power for longer than everyone else.

I would challenge Aagaard and company over their comments that stronger muscles mean that less effort is required at sub-maximal levels. When endurance performance is determined by slow twitch muscle fibres that are not trained in the gym. Also that the studies used top level athletes.
 

bbrauer

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I think that reasoning has been taken to the extreme. It's just simply counter intuitive and is counter to nearly every known real world example. If a track sprinter's discipline places an emphasis on maximum force generation, then he needs the muscle cross section, actin/myosin bridges and fast twitch fibers to do it. Guess which image belongs to sprinters and which one belongs to the all around cyclists.

Most of us experience some form of hypertrophy just from our own endurance-based cycling.


http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.pezcyclingnews.com/photos/races10/tdf10/tdf10st11gc-legs.jpg&imgrefurl=http://pezcyclingnews.com/%3Fpg%3Dfullstory%26id%3D8447&usg=__qKi0G1BpTwTguv6wqpELVml2EP0=&h=640&w=465&sz=34&hl=en&start=0&sig2=Bt429IUDD35nETl-91Ct2Q&zoom=1&tbnid=pV8g3dy7ZPM8yM:&tbnh=168&tbnw=122&ei=FnXNTIraGYn2swPD58mBDg&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dschleck%2Blegs%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26biw%3D1418%26bih%3D649%26tbs%3Disch:1&um=1&itbs=1&iact=hc&vpx=501&vpy=295&dur=2715&hovh=263&hovw=191&tx=98&ty=191&oei=FnXNTIraGYn2swPD58mBDg&esq=1&page=1&ndsp=18&ved=1t:429,r:14,s:0

http://www.morrisonbicycles.com/images/sprint_cyclist2_w6wr.gif Bummer....I can't upload images on this forum for some reason.
 

fergie

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Originally Posted by bbrauer .

I think that reasoning has been taken to the extreme. It's just simply counter intuitive and is counter to nearly every known real world example. If a track sprinter's discipline places an emphasis on maximum force generation,

Maximum force generation? I gave the power data from a World level cyclist that showed that his 10sec, 20sec and 30sec power (typical range of power for a track cycling sprinter) was well below his max power. We hear the claim that raising max power will increase the fractional power at various durations but we don't see that. All we see is a greater drop off from the peak. An athlete performing a high jump, throwing a shot put or completing a clean and jerk will use maximal force generation. This is why for a 90kg athlete Chris Hoy's peak squat of 500lbs is well short of the WR of 900lbs and even 100lbs shy of the women's world record.

then he needs the muscle cross section, actin/myosin bridges and fast twitch fibers to do it.

To a limit. A bigger muscle is a stronger muscle but it also means a lower power to weight and increased frontal area. This is quite relevant as air and wind resistance increase dramatically the faster a cyclist goes and most sprinters are racing at 65-75kph.Hoy has stated that while his thigh's are indeed impressive he is of the opinion that if they were smaller he would actually go faster.

Most of us experience some form of hypertrophy just from our own endurance-based cycling.

Yes, this has been shown even in endurance cyclists. I had a road rider switch to track and in a 6 month period he gained 5kg of lean mass just from the increased intensity of training.