Strength Training Without Additional Body Mass – 3

I often hear that cyclists skip strength training because they are afraid they will gain additional body weight. In this series I will try to explain how cyclists can strength train without gaining extra body weight. This article is number 3 of the ‘Strength training without additional body mass series’. You can read the rest of this series here:
1. Why additional body weight should be avoided
2. Nutritional tips to avoid hypertrophy
3. Training tips to avoid hypertrophy
4. Tips about strength training

3. Training tips to avoid hypertrophy

When you start to strength train you will make progress in the beginning with little effort. This is not due to hypertrophy, but rather neural adaptations. This explains why beginners experience great improvements in the first couple of weeks when they begin to lift weights.

Maintaining a low body weight is essential in both road cycling and mountain bike, since carrying extra pounds (dead weight) decrease your performance. Actually 1kg can cost you around 1 minute on finishing time on Alpe d’Huez.

I have a couple of training tips that can help you to avoid hypertrophy of your muscles when you strength train:

Short sets of 1 to 5 reps
Sets of few reps apply very little damage to the muscle fibres (protein degradation). This damage is normally one of the parameters responsible for stimulating the muscle fibres to grow. Body builders would prefer sets from 6 to 15 reps, because these longer sets cause more protein degradation which stimulate the muscles to grow. 

Long recovery periods between sets
When you train for neural strength you are interested in a full or almost full recovery between each set. This little move, which is a very social and comfortable time of the training session, makes it possible to keep protein degradation at minimum. It also makes you able to perform lifts at higher level, which in the final end makes you stronger. I recommend you to take a break of at least 2 minutes between sets.

Avoid failure training
This training type is a big mistake when you train for neural adaptations. It might also be a big mistake if you train for hypertrophy, but that is another story. The point is that failure training might trigger your muscles to grow and also there is a risk that your strength gains will reach a plateau too early.

Avoid forced reps
This training type is not made for strength gains. It is from 80’s where people believed in ‘No pain, no gain’. Again, if you focus on strength gains, forced reps are not a topic. Forget about the ‘No pain, no Pain’ attitude, well if you like to suffer, it is much better for you to suffer during som effective interval programmes made for your aerobic system. 

Be explosive
Well, this advice does not exactly protects your muscles from growth, but I think that it is an important advice for serious cyclists or other people interested in neural strength gains. In the concentric phase of the lift, you should try to barbell as fast as possible in the concentric phase (lifting phase).

22 comments… add one

  • alex

    “Avoid failure training
    This training type is a big mistake when you train for neural adaptations. It might also be a big mistake if you train for hypertrophy, but that is another story”

    How is failure training a big mistake for hypertrophy? not questioning what you’re saying i’d just like to know why

  • Alex,

    Thanks for commenting.

    Failure training in the right amount is great for hypertrophy, but done too often there is a great risk that your progress will reach a plateau very soon. The ‘No Pain, no gain’ attitude is not the scientific way to hypertrophy. Your nervous system suffers during these training sessions. There is a great risk that the adaptation to this kind of training is inhibition which will reduce your strength. Thus you will no longer be able to continue you progress.

  • AndresG

    If failure training or forced reps are to be avoided what ia the percentage of strength that i should use to not stimulate hypertrophy?

  • collin

    you see i want to be stronger and better than bruce lee but i dont want to get huge . i keep reading that if you use light weights with 5 to 6 reps you get stronger or if you use heavy weights with 2 3 reps you get stronger im confused on this whole situation and dont know what to do.

  • 3 reps ~ 85% 1RM.

    5 reps ~ 80% 1RM.

    Please note that you might need to adjustments to the above recommendations.

  • Ozgur

    I thought you need to use 3-4 Reps with %90-95 of 1 RM, so that you cant lift it one more time? Is this wrong?

    And can you check this article and tell me what you think? http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/wotw57.htm

  • Failure training is not recommended when you train for neural adaptations. I recommend you finish your sets at least 1 or 2 reps from failure.

    There are several articles on the link, but I suppose you ask to the sections in the beginning of the page?! I think there are some good principles described in the part ‘Workout Fundamentals’. They support my basic theory about how to strength train without hypertrophy.

  • Ozgur

    Jesper, such a training avoids both sarcomere and sarcoplasmic hyperthrophy right?

    Also in the ebook “Power To People” which also advocates almost same principles you do here, the author suggest thats you should lift weights slowly. What do you think about it?

    And is there a private email that i could reach to you?

  • The eccentric phase should be controlled (not very fast, not very slow, but ‘controlled’) and the concentric phase as fast as possible (explosive lifting style). Focus on acceleration in the concentric phase.

    Slow eccentric strength training does make sense but I don’t use it much for my athletes.

    You can use the contact formula on http://www.training4cyclists.com/about/

    Jesper

  • Ozgur

    I see no form in the above page?

  • Andres G

    Hey Jasper i have a question. Does it matter if in my workout lets say i do Bench press and butterflies. Will doing two exercises that work the same muscle twice (while doing 3 sets and 5 reps per exercise) estimulate Hypertrophy?. Should avoid this or it doesn’t matter.

    Thanks

  • Przemek

    2 mins recovery seems like a waste of time to me as I can afford only 30-40 minutes in the gym 2-3 times per week. Is it OK to mix exercises to ensure longer recovery for the particular muscle group? Ie. do the bench press set in between of 2 squats sets?

  • I disagree on several points, Jesper, but I won’t go into all of it here. I think that the basic premise of not wanting to increase muscle mass is flawed. Larger cross-sectional area of muscles equals greater capability for force productions. Which means that without some form of hypertrophy training, power training can only progress so far. In other words, perhaps for some cyclists the sacrifice of adding additional mass may cause slower finishing times and less pleasing race results. But for other cyclists, the additional mass may be worth it for the increased force production. Outright strength and outright weight don’t matter nearly as much in cycling as strength-to-mass ration and watts produced/kg of body weight. If a 66 kg cyclist can hold 300 watts (4.54 watts/kg) on the Alp d’Huez but could hold 315 at 68 kg (4.63 watts/kg), the weight gain has been worth it, and he’ll probably finish faster.

    As far as neuromuscular training, I’ve found plyometrics to be much more effective than doing a power lift (i.e. executing the concentric phase as quickly as possible). But plyometrics and/or power lifting should only be attempted after building a solid foundation of strength through a more controlled weight routine.

  • Jamie, thanks for sharing your different view on strength training and hypertrophy.

    I would like to explain a bit more why hypertrophy is not that attractive:

    Type 2 muscle fibres are much more likely to grow. Thus hypertrophy training makes the cross sectional area of your type 2 muscle fibres larger. There is only slighty hypertrophy observed in type 1 muscle fibres.

    As we know, type 1 muscle fibres are the primary source for force development in endurance events, thus we will not see any positive significant increments in performance due to hypertrophy. Remember, hypertrophy training does not produce any significant peripheral adaptations that improves endurance. Actually there might be some dilution of mitochondrias.

    Hypertrophy will improve force production and increase your overall power, but that will only make you faster at anaerobic skills like sprints and short jumps. Hypertrophy will decrease your endurance skills.

    Sorry, but your example does not make sense. What if he carried an extra 2l CocaCola and was able to push 350W / 5,0W/kg? Conclusion: Carrying an extra bottle of Cocacola would make him faster.

    I guess not. I hope you can see my point.

    I think plyometrics can be great way to train. Also I would suggest people who are more experienced with strength train to add eccentric strength exercises with overload weights 100-130% 1RM.

    Finally, it’s worth to notice that cyclists and triathletes who are not strictly focusing on performance may have several benefits by adding hypertrophy training to their strength training. Also it’s worth remembering that it’s still uncertain whether strength training actually makes top cyclists better.

    Best regards,

    Jesper

  • Thanks, Jasper. That helps. I agree with some points, but I still think there are some cyclists (mostly cat 5, cat 4, masters) for whom hypertrophy might be beneficial. An athlete who has a larger bone structure is going to need to be heavier than someone more sprightly. The more bone and tissue a cyclist has to carry, the more weight in muscle it will be appropriate to have. Having too little muscle is a disadvantage. That’s where my wattage example comes in. A bottle of soda isn’t going to help anyone ride faster. But an extra pound worth of muscle might help a cyclist achieve higher wattage levels, provided mitochondrial density can be maintained.

    This article provides a more articulate summation of my point:
    http://alancouzens.blogspot.com/2010/01/importance-of-strength-to-endurance.html

  • Rob

    Read Alan Couzen’s blog on the importance of aerobic muscle mass for endurance athletes, and that makes a lot of sense. The additional muscle mass makes for greater weight, but as Jamie points out the strength to mass ratio is what matters. The largest amount of muscle you can support within your aerobic capacity (VO2 max) will be the optimal amount, even for endurance sports. I’m training for a triathlon and do a weights and core routine three times a week in addition to the swim bike run thing. Been on this program for about 4 months, I’m 6.2, weighed 185 lbs at the start and have lost perhaps 2 or three pounds due to simultaneous loss of body fat. I’m finding it actually not that easy to just bulk muscle and get heavy, perhaps also because of the running etc. I have heavy bones and know I need a good amount of muscle to reach my maximum performance potential.

  • Hypertrophy will improve force production and increase your overall power, but that will only make you faster at anaerobic skills like sprints and short jumps. Oxygen uptake per kilogram will decrease. If mitochondrial density is maintained it will never be due to hypertrophy specifc weight training principles per se.

  • Rob

    I agree that hypertrophy specific weight training alone will not result in increased aerobic performance. The concept here is that muscle mass is increased, and then this new muscle tissue is put through an aerobic training regimen, to build endurance. Just take a look at the finish foto’s of the guys and galls that win triathlon events. They are buffed and lean. If they were just lean they would not be crossing that line in first place. Take a look at the leg muscles in competitive cyclists. Or how about speed skaters, even in the longer distances – e.g. Sven Kramer. Their legs are massive. That’s all muscle, trained for aerobic performance.

    Still, for most sports enthusiasts your basic premise still holds: increase strength without increasing body mass. It’s just that muscle mass increases and fat declines, so the athlete’s net weight remains close to where it started.

  • Mark

    Jesper, love the articles. I’m a huge proponent of strength training. I was a javelin thrower in college, raced on the road and track (kilo) and now race masters. I’m about 6’2″,180, and can put out 1600+ watts on an all out sprint. I want to incorporate strength training into my cycling, and i’m thinking of doing something simple like dead lifts, 3x a week, 5 sets of 2-3 reps, 5 min rest between sets, with some jump rope in between for 30 seconds or so. Thoughts? I do believe that this type of strength workouts where there is no fatigue will be very beneficial and will still allow me to complete my workouts on the road. Do you have any thoughts or comments? Would love any advice… thanks.
    Mark

  • zanemassey@hotmail.com

    Just focusing on the more broad aspects of strength training and hypertrophy, there have been a few studies focusing on how strength training, particularly mass building can improve performance for rookie cyclists. Which is after all probably the market focus of this article (I’m sure the pro’s with their sponsorships, coaches, strict schedule’s and what-not won’t really be concerned about these arguments). I can’t provide a reference off the top of my head – I’m sure if you googled it you would find something – but there was some comparative research carried out on two groups (aerobic group vs strength group). After a whatever set amount of weeks of training the strength group ended up with better overall performance. It would be interesting if they could carry out more research on this, but im sure its safe to generalise the conclusion. Also, strength training is a major component of track cycling, and some of the best cyclists in the world have been born from this division of cycling – mark cavendish, to say the least.

  • Norbert

    Hello Jesper,

    I am not clear what you mean by “Short sets of 1 – 5 reps (1 set @ 1 rep?) Surly not. I refer to seated leg presses.

    So what is a “short set”?

    Are we talking 3 sets @ 5 reps?

    Also, how heavy should the weight be?

    Thanks

  • @Norbert – You should read it as “1 to 5 reps”.

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